One of the benefits of working at The Spice House is the opportunity to have new and unique sensory experiences on a regular basis. Just how our senses are stimulated depends on the nature of the task we are handling at any given moment, but the truth is there is very little work to be done at our store that won’t open the eyes, clear the sinuses, or intrigue the taste buds. Indeed, there is a lot to take in at our little shop, from exotic sights and scents to vibrant flavors and even sounds (our founder, the late Bill Penzey Sr., often proclaimed there was music in the spices themselves, although it might go undetected by the untrained or inattentive ear). Of all the work at The Spice House, however, there may not be a job that so deeply buries the hand in sensory stimuli as blending spices.
There is a tasty tradition at the Spice House (at least in our Old Town store), which we typically celebrate with the return of a manager or another from vacation or travel. Many of us spend a good amount of time taking food very seriously, and our connections as spice retailers often bring about opportunities to sample a lot of seriously high quality food and treats from kitchens around the city. So, from time to time it is refreshing, as a change of pace, to lower our standards a bit and indulge in something that is not overtly culinary, but still very delicious: snack chips.
Last week, a kind gentleman representing the fine spiced liqueur, Bénédictine, stopped by the shop. He was looking to procure a wide variety of herbs and spices, each representing prime flavor notes in Bénédictine’s closely guarded secret recipe. Using these, he would create an aroma kit, like those used by wine tasters, to demonstrate his liqueur’s depth to costumers. With the aid of Bridget, Old Town’s manager, the gentleman was so pleased with the Spice House that he offered a bottle for us to enjoy. So the question was posed, “how best to honor such a fine gift?” With a custom cocktail, that’s how! This is how the “Spice House Sling” was born. Continue reading
Please allow me to introduce Tom Erd, Spice Boss. My husband and I have owned The Spice House for 20 years. For many years prior to that we both worked there, for my parents, who founded our business in 1957. It is a long, long time to be doing the same thing, but hopefully we have gotten pretty good at it over all the years. We sometimes find we need to challenge ourselves with things a little outside of our everyday spice box, in order to keep our creativity flowing. Interesting propositions come our way all the time, mostly because we are a very approachable small Mom and Pop business. We have not figured out the rhyme or reason behind why on some days these just get shot down, and other days the ideas take on a life of their own. My scientific guess would be it just depends on which side of the bed we got up. When Tom started mulling over the idea of doing You Tube videos as Spice Man, I thought it was a passing fancy. Continue reading
At the IACP conference in New York this spring, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion at the Bon Appetit test kitchen. This was held at their newly designed kitchen, which I believe served as more of a showpiece kitchen for hosting functions, than an actual test kitchen. The panel contained designer Adam Farmerie, David Rockwell, author of the book Spectacle, Matt Lightner of the newly opened Altera and restaurant consultant Clark Wolf. Perhaps restaurant design is not a subject I had given much thought to before, so their thoughts about design were quite enlightening to me. Continue reading
Many wonderful things have happened to us over the years we have been in business, but very few have touched us as much as this event. On March 9th, we were particularly moved when a very special wedding took place. Elizabeth Theis married Landon Hall. What made this so heart warming to us, was that they met while working at The Spice House. Elizabeth had worked for us for a few years, we love her, she is a delight to her coworkers and our customers, and no one will take better care of you in the shop. Continue reading
Kosher Spices from The Spice House
Most of our customers who keep kosher already know that the Spice House offers kosher spices. Our Milwaukee customers in particular may have noticed the symbol on their spices consisting of an outline of Wisconsin containing a “K”, indicating kosher certification. However, we are often asked why spices from our Milwaukee store bear a kosher symbol while spices from our other locations do not.
Though the basic principles of kashrut (kosher law) are simple, the interpretation and implementation of these rules can be quite complicated. Fortunately, since vegetable material is generally considered kosher by default, most whole spices can be assumed to be kosher without specific certification*. For the most part, kosher certification for spices means supervision of how the processing is done.
The Chicago Rabbinical Council considers the following spices to be kosher without specific supervision (original at http://www.crcweb.org/spice_list.php):
Spice blends and some whole spices do require rabbinical supervision to be considered kosher. For this reason, Rabbi Tuvia Torem visits the Spice House in Milwaukee every few months in order to oversee their operations and certify the products as kosher.
Each Spice House location contains its own processing facilities. Most of our ground spices and all of our spice blends are processed “in house” in the store at which they will be sold. Currently, only the Milwaukee Spice House has its facilities certified by a rabbi. What this means is that, although all of our locations sell “Sunny Spain”, only “Sunny Spain” produced in Milwaukee is certified Kosher.
All of the Spice House locations obtain their spices from the same sources, and process spices in much the same ways. The reason that only the Milwaukee Spice House has rabbinical supervision is simple; kosher certification in Wisconsin is much less expensive than certification in Illinois, and the staff in Milwaukee are more familiar with kashrut requirements.
Those customers seeking spices with rabbinical kosher certification should call the Milwaukee Spice House and place orders with them directly. They can be reached at 888-488-0977.
Our Kashrut Certificate can be viewed at: http://www.thespicehouse.com/file/misc/kosher-cert-2011-12
*It is important to note that, except in our Milwaukee store, our spices may have come into contact with equipment that is not considered kosher.
It is with an extremely heavy heart that I share the news of the death of the founder of The Spice House, my father. Our loss is magnified in that we have also lost our mentor, the man who taught my husband Tom and I our craft, his teaching has bee
n an evolving process, one that we did not see coming to an end so soon. My Dad never stopped reaching out to us, pushing us to go further, look harder, re-examine our dedication to quality, to our customers, to our staff. He constantly challenged us to explore other vendors, new countries of origin, different connections, a twist in flavors, novel combinations. Yet his teachings were not just contained to the spice world, he also had some strong feelings and connections to, the inner spiritual world, and his tendencies toward philosophical teachings were perhaps the place where we struggled the hardest as his students. He believed that the spices had music in them, if you just knew how to listen. Our thoughts are that his spice work continues on through our stores, this gives us great comfort, and something to strive for.
A story in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune listed some bests of the Taste of Chicago. “Best vegetable: O’Brien’s Celtic corn on the cob. Whatever spices are hiding in O’Brien’s “Celtic Seasoning” shaker sure do bring out the flavor of those juicy corn kernals.” Guess who makes that blend for our neighbors in Old Town? I have wished on more than one occaison that we had a patented system for each blend we seek to create, but each seasoning seems to come with it own formulation of trial and error. We might want to create a new blend because it is the hot trend of the year, or people are doing more ethnic cooking from this country, this year, there are a whole variety of reasons we might choose from for making new blends. Rarely is it to honor the request of our landlord! “So, you guys are masters of spice, why don’t you come up with a Celtic blend that we can shake on O’Brien’s Irish corn that we grill during all of our summer festivals. We will buy it, the lable will have your name on it, and it will be a great way to drum up business.” We have a very savy landlord in Peter O’brien and he has always been good to us about giving us business. So off we went to create our Celtic seasoning. I did my diligent research, knowing already that spices do not actually grown in Ireland, the climate needs to be very tropical. Continue reading
A most wonderful byproduct of answering the company email is learning how many customers of ours are doing really fun and interesting things. Recently a total stranger and I became acquainted via this email.
“Hello, I wanted to let you know that a recipe i created using your King Creole Spice has been selected as one of 5 finalists at the Nueske’s Amateur Cook-off at Baconfest Chicago on April 10th. Here is the link to my Recipe.
Here is the link to the Baconfest announcement http://baconfestchicago.com/2010/03/22/announcing-the-5-finalists-for-the-nueskes-amateur-cook-off-competition/
I really enjoy the quality and freshness of your spices and have featured them in other recipes on my food blog as well.
I’m hopeful that the King Creole Seasoning will help my recipe shine above the competition! Have a great day.
Okay, we are from Wisconsin, where it goes without saying that Nueske’s bacon is THE BEST. Also, no one loves chicken wings more than I do. I had never dreamed of putting the two together. Add King Creole seasoning, and I have to believe in this recipe. Go Brad.