I have been buying spices from Penzey’s for years. Originally, the Rocket Scientist would have layovers in Minneapolis when he had trips to D.C., and he always brought back spices Penzey’s and clothes from Lands’ End. Then a Penzey’s store opened in Menlo Park — I go there at least several times a year. I use Penzey’s cocoa whenever I can; other cocoas — even Ghiradelli, are second best. (Vahlrona’s better, but then Vahlrona is a special case.) When the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy left for New York, and when the Red-Headed Menace left for San Diego, we gave them spice sets from Penzey’s. I had never particularly thought of them in political terms, at least until last year.
It started with an opinion piece in their quarterly newsletter. The newsletter, which came out in March, 2016 was a celebration of Pi Day*: recipes for pie, showcasing their apple pie spice blend, etc. The letter from the head of the company celebrated science, and spoke out about the needs for reliance on facts and critical thinking. The letter sent a shot across the bow of the ship of fools carrying climate-change deniers. You may have seen it: it was covered by various media, a lot of which ended up being linked to on Facebook. Whether or not you thought it was a good thing would be entirely dependent upon your political beliefs. Right-wingers called for boycotts; liberals called for people to buy Penzey’s in solidarity. Liberals with some familiarity with the company said “No! Buy them because they have such terrific products!”
Their political presence has continued. My favorite was earlier this year, when it was clear that the Russians had meddled in the election but the White House was doing whatever it could to derail the investigation, Penzey’s had an offer for a few days that if you purchased five dollars of their stuff, you would get a small jar of their Russian spice blend called, ahem, “Tsardust Memories.” (Only five dollars? I have been known to go in and buy fifteen dollars worth of crystallized ginger alone. Oh, my God, their crystallized ginger…. forget cooking with it (it is essential for the top of my key lime pie and for my star anise-pineapple cranberry sauce), eating it out of hand is delightful.) I needed cocoa so that worked for me. (There was such demand that they were out of the spice blend and had to give me a raincheck.)
After the January 21st Women’s March, Penzey’s offered to send anyone who participated a heart shaped pin with “kind” written across it. I got mine a few days ago, and it has taken up permanent residence on the front of my backpack. I am proud of having been part of that uprising of political will, and do not hesitate to show it.
When I opened the small box containing the pin, I was greeted with a rush of intoxicating odors. Most pronounced was the warm smell of sage, but I could detect other notes as well. Rosemary, maybe? Oregano?
I have been fighting despair lately. That smell was a reminder that others are in this battle as well. Encouragement comes from unlikely places in unforseen forms. That a little box could carry hope with it — more so even that the pin it contained.
People say that smell carries memories. I certainly hope that is the case here.
*World’s geekiest holiday: celebrated on 3.14. I first learned about it when at some point my kids starting requesting — demanding — I make or get pies for them for middle school math class.