Faithful readers of this column have probably learned by now that (1) They should probably seek professional counseling to understand why they faithfully read this column every week; and (2) I almost always wait until the third, or at least the second, paragraph before I go off on a tangent.
But today’s column actually begins with a tangent. Because its original opening phrase was: “I was preparing to crock this evening’s dinner.” An immediate tangent is required to explain that I intentionally wrote “crock” rather than “cook.”
Because just a few moments ago, I threw a bunch of foodstuffs into our trusty crock pot where they will magically simmerate for the next eight hours, thus producing a hot and hearty meal that my kids will say “tastes gross,” requiring me to microwave chicken nuggets for them for the sixth night in a row.
I must further tangentialize to say that (1) I should’ve called my cooking utensil a “slow cooker,” because “Crock Pot” must always be capitalized and accompanied by one of those little “R”-in-a-circle thingies, because “Crock Pot” is a registered trademark of a company called Rival; and (2) I don’t know if “tangentialize” and “simmerate” are actual words, but if they make it past the Republican’s faithful copy editors, then it means they doesn’t know either.
(I hope you’ll allow me a sub-tangent to this tangent, to pass along the hot news that Crock Pots - the “R”-in-a-circle thingie kind - can be purchased in 15 different designs that honor top NASCAR drivers, including a pot sporting the image of Rushville guy Tony Stewart. However, there isn’t one for near-permanent NASCAR champ Jimmy Johnson, which the president of Jimmy’s fan club has publicly declared a real crock of [something you would NEVER want simmerating in your Crock Pot].)
Which finally brings us to the curious subject of today’s column, something that at this moment IS simmerating in my Crock Pot. This curious substance is a spice called a clove, and today I’ll bring you the knowledge learnings I motivated myself to learn when I asked myself the question “What the heck IS a clove?”
The first thing I learned is that cloves are dried flower buds from the clove tree, a species that was once only found in exotic faraway places called Bacan, Makian, Moti, Ternate, and Tidore. These are islands near Indonesia that make up a chain called the Maluku Islands.
I’ve actually heard of these islands, and I showed off a bit for my family by telling them so. Then I wished I hadn’t, because they asked how I’d heard about them. I had to confess it was from “reading” a piece of in-depth, investigative photojournalism that was shot on those islands for a Sport Illustrated swimsuit issue.
The word “clove” comes from the French word “clou,” which means “nail.” Apparently, the Frenchpersons of the 1700s believed that the little clove tree buds looked like some sort of little French nail, which makes you wonder why they’d bother trying to eat them.
Sometimes people smoke cloves, in an Indonesian cigarette known as “kretek,” and in China and Japan, they’re used as an ingredient in incense. Centuries ago, the royal personages of China’s Han Dynasty required anyone appearing before them to chew cloves beforehand. Thus, even if their subjects were mad enough to spit nails, the royals could still enjoy their delightfully fresh breath.
Along with these uses, cloves are also classified as a natural antihelminthic, which is a substance that rids the body - NOT mine, let me hastily emphasize! - of parasitic worms called helminths. The helminths are initially stunned by the cloves, then flee from the body. The website offering this information doesn’t identify which part of the body the helminths flee from - or more importantly, whose body they flee TO - but it does mention that they do so with delightfully fresh breath.
But of course, the most common and popular use of cloves is for cooking, and personally, I’m counting on them to make a big difference on our dinner table. I’ve heard their strong aroma and flavor masks a lot of cooking mistakes. I sure hope so, because my family keeps complaining that my meals taste like a bag of clous. Which is why my wife has also eaten microwaved chicken nuggets the last six nights in a row.