One of the fascinating aspects of spices is the way they travel from their native lands and areas of major production to become more popular in other places around the world. The biggest use of Madagascar vanilla is in American ice cream. Arabs and Scandinavians use most of Guatemala’s cardamom. Somehow, Eastern Europe became the major customer for Jamaican allspice, using it in pickling its enormous herring catches.

Jamaica, however, unlike some other producing nations, is an avid allspice user itself. Although we think most frequently of allspice as a baking and dessert spice, Jamaicans like to use it with meats and vegetables, as seen in the recipe below. Note this recipe’s underlying savoriness, supplied by thyme, onion, garlic and black pepper; its nip of hot red pepper; and the fact that twice as much allspice is meant to be noticed.

This tripartite approach is characteristic of many Jamaican main dish spicings. Jerk pork is another island creation that relies heavily on allspice in combination with savoriness and bite. Jamaicans say the “jerk” comes from the way the meat is pulled back and forth to keep it from burning over the hot fire. Bay leaves, onion, garlic and black pepper make a savory base; crushed red pepper adds the hot accent; and a remarkable amount of allspice berries provides the distinction.

Although Europe remains the main allspice user in terms of volume, authentic recipes from other parts of the world call for this spice, too. For example, a lamb stew in North Africa includes dates, apricots, eggplant and a spicing of cinnamon and allspice.

Makloubehis an Arabic stew that becomes a meat pie when served. In this unusual dish, a layer of meat (placed first in a skillet) is topped by layers of eggplant and rice. At service, the pan is inverted on a plate, leaving the meat on top of the rice base. Spicing is somewhat complex--small amounts of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom combined with a heavier accent on cumin seed and allspice. The rice glows with saffron.

A Caribbean recipe demonstrates a more familiar use of allspice--in bananasflambe, as prepared in Antigua. Baked bananas are sprinkled with lime juice, then doused with flaming rum and sauced with sweetened allspice butter.

Pilot recipes for these articles originally had been adapted exclusively for Prepared Foods by the test kitchen of the American Spice Trade Assoc.  (FR0391)  

Jamaican Beef Soup

2 lbs bone-in beef chuck
3 c diced, peeled butternut or acorn squash
10 c water, divided
2 c carrots, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 c turnips, cut in 1-inch chunks
2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp salt
1 tsp thyme leaves
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1⁄4 tsp ground black pepper
1⁄4  tsp ground red pepper
11⁄2 c peeled potatoes, cut in 1⁄2 inch chunks
11⁄2 c peeled sweet potatoes, cut in 1⁄2 inch chunks
parsley flakes

Remove meat from bones; cut meat in 1-inch cubes; reserve meat and bones. In a Dutch oven or large saucepot, add squash and 2c water; bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, until tender, about 15 minutes. Using a potato masher, mash squash until smooth. Add reserved beef and beef bones, carrots, turnips, allspice, salt, thyme, garlic and onion powders, black and red peppers, and remaining 8c water; bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, until meat is tender, about one hour. Add potatoes and sweet potatoes; simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender, 20-30 minutes longer. Remove and discard beef bones. Sprinkle with parsley.

Yield: About 4 quarts.