What the hell is Cardamom?- Sweet Cardamom Crackers- 13 eggs, 5-3/4 cups of sugar, 5 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 7 cups of flour used so far- 168 recipes to go!

March 16, 2010


André's Sweet Cardamom Crackers

Martha's Sweet Cardamom Crackers

Today’s treat comes from Martha’s Crisp & Crunchy section. While it is called a cracker due to its shape and texture, it is definitely a sweet cookie sprinkled with coconut, sugar, and chopped pistachios. Absolutely delicious and a breeze to make.

I also love the name. It makes me think of a nineteenth century exclamation, such as  the rural prospectors of the old West might have used.

Sweet Cardamom Crackers! There’s gold in them there hills!

Sweet Cardamom Crackers! The flood waters are a risin’!

Sweet Cardamom Crackers! Why can’t I quit you?

You get the idea.

So, what is cardamom? I was first introduced to cardamom by John, my partner Dan’s brother. I would refer to him as my brother-in-law but that would indicate that Dan and I were legally married and I don’t want to confuse anyone. (Tick-Tock, California- just sayin’)

This past Thanksgiving, John came over to our house for the traditional celebratory feast and brought us a treat. He had roasted mixed nuts using cardamom as the secret ingredient. For those of you that have tasted cardamom know, it makes for a terrible ‘secret’ ingredient. Nothing in the world smells or tastes quite like it. It’s unmistakable. It is fragrant and cool on the palate. A bit like an exotic mint which leaves a very slight burn on the tongue. It is extraordinary, unique, and not very subtle.

John gave me the recipe and I roasted about eight pounds of nuts as gifts for our holiday  party guests. The house smelled so fresh and crisp with the tingly odor of cardamom wafting through the air.

I was thrilled to see Martha has a few recipes featuring this exotic, and rather pricey herb.

Cardamom is technically a ginger from India. Instead of the root being harvested, as you would with the ginger plant, a pod produces the cardamom seeds which are ground into a fine powder and used in various foods and drinks in the Indian region.

In South Asia it is used medicinally to cure the following:

  • infections of the teeth and gums
  • throat troubles
  • congestion
  • tuberculosis
  • inflammation of the eyelids
  • digestive disorders
  • kidney and gall stones
  • snake and scorpion venom

So, not only is it tasty, it will cure just about anything that’s wrong with you, except depression. We will have to lean on chocolate for that.

I love the Indian culture. I love the food. I love the music. I even love the effect it had on The Beatles.

Back in the ’90s I had received a State funded grant to study with a group of Indian musicians to develop a musical adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s short story, Rikki Tikki Tavi, for a children’s theatre company. It was a remarkable experience. I learned that in Hinduism, prayers are sung. Music is the vehicle of prayer. What a beautiful thought. I like the idea of God coming up with a system of filtering prayers. He reached out through the drone of millions of voices calling upon him and said, “I’m sorry. All questions must be submitted in the form of a song.”  If I ever ascend to a higher level at my workplace, I might institute this same practice.

It was through this musical connection that I became imbedded in the local Indian community.

Hira, a slight, older woman from Madras approached me after a performance of Rikki Tikki. She had a proposition for me and invited me to her home to discuss, what she referred to, as an impossible task.

I had not been to any of my new Indian friends’ homes. Upon arrival I noticed the shoes lined up besides the doorway. I removed mine and rang the doorbell. Hira greeted me decked in a silk sari of rich, deep, violet. She invited me into her barely furnished home.  I sat as she poured tea. Brightly colored paintings of Hindu deities stared down from the walls. Hira presented me with a large, heavy book. I read the title. The Mahabharata.

“I want you to adapt this book for the stage.” she said, staring at me with the utmost sincerity.  Oh, Boy… I thought. What had I gotten myself into?

Hira pressed on. “I’ve seen the Christian passion plays performed at your churches.  I have seen the movie ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told.’ Well, we have a great story to tell, too, and our children need to learn it. You will adapt this play and direct it using our congregation’s children as the performers. They will learn by doing.”

Hira was a no-nonsense communicator. There was no question of will you? or can you?  I didn’t know what to say.

“We will pay you. Anything you want. The elders of the temple think you are the right person for this task and I agree. When can you start?”

Not thinking this through completely, and in need of income, I agreed.

The next two months were spent reading this impossible text. In order to track the foreign-sounding names I created a cheat sheet. Arjuna = Bob. Duryodhana = Frank. Dhritarastra = Bob’s Dad. I spent hours with Hira learning pronunciation and history. She was a wonderfully impatient teacher. She let me borrow comic books from India which illustrated the stories from the book. I learned theatrical presentations of the Mahabharata were a regular occurrence in India, with the entire story told in a year’s cycle. I learned the British director, Peter Brooks, had adapted it for the Parisian stage with a running time of thirteen hours.

How was I ever going to finish this?

Hira never doubted me. I would complain to her and she would listen. We would argue about what was important to the story and what was not. We would yell at each other and pout.

Two months later, we had a script.

The auditions began. As the director, I assumed I would choose who would play which role. The counsel of elders had other plans. They delivered their cast list to me with the lead being played by, of course, Hira’s son, Ravi.

Rehearsals began. I had never operated under such an intense learning curve in my life. I strived to learn and respect the culture, the customs, the prayers, the stories, and the philosophy of Hindu thought. I tried to understand what they valued and what they considered petty.

It was an amazing, frustrating, and exhilarating experience.

The performance itself was mediocre at best. No worse than watching children and teens of any church anywhere else in the world perform their passion plays. Kids forgot their lines. Parents snapped photos. There was a lot of inappropriate scratching.

Looking out at the sea of saris, dhotis, and proud parental smiles, I realized this mediocre, amateur, three-hour presentation was doing something special. This meager theatrical offering connected each and every person to a place they called home, so very far away. The tabla drums bursted with percussion, the sitar droned,  and the nasal resonance of Hira singing rang out the invocation to open Act II. All eyes closed, faces to heaven, the audience sang as one, pleading voice-

Om shuklambaradharam vishnum shashi warnam chaturbuhjam
prasanna wadanam dhyayet sarva wighnopashantaye

(Translation)

Om Lord Vishnu – attired in white and all-pervading,
O moon-hued, four-shouldered One
with smiling face so pleasing,
upon You we meditate
for removing all obstacles.

It was one of the most beautiful, purest moments I had ever witnessed. It was community, plain and simple. It was love.

I grew up quite a bit that evening.

I watched as the children performed a scene from the Bhagvad Gita.

Krishna, the divine, stops time to offer words of strength to his mortal friend, Arjuna as he stands, ready to fight a seemingly unbeatable foe.

There was little Ravi, dressed as a tiny deity.  With his crooked, crinkled foil crown, he looked down on the tiny Arjuna with great love. Smiling, he recited his line-

My friend, resist what resists in you. Become yourself.”

Not a day goes by I don’t hear this child’s voice reciting these simple words of encouragement.

It makes my heart sing a little prayer.

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3 Responses to “What the hell is Cardamom?- Sweet Cardamom Crackers- 13 eggs, 5-3/4 cups of sugar, 5 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 7 cups of flour used so far- 168 recipes to go!”

  1. Susan Says:

    I am thinking I can not tell Andre’s from Martha’s this evening!! Good job!

  2. Rachael Koske Says:

    This was lovely. The recipe and the story. Thanks 🙂

  3. Russ Says:

    Nice memories….but the cookies sound a little weird. I have Chips Ahoy in my desk. Shhh


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