I have a favorite spice mix commonly used in Western Europe to flavor butter, served on steak. The mix is known, in French, as “Café de Paris,” and I’ve seen it called “Dip Frankreich” in German; I also have a jar in front of me that is marked “Gewürtzmischung für Kraüterbutter.” I’m pretty sure that the French name for the spice mix translates to “Cafe of Paris,” while the German monikers render as “Frankie dip” and “Gross mistakes for buttering Krauts.”
Be that as it may, the jar has a list of ingredients in French and German. Since the list of ingredients for buttering Krauts is presumably less appetizing than that found in a Parisian cafe, I’ll concentrate on the French list.
The label says, and I quote, “persil, coriandre, poivre, ail, muscade, gingembre, romarin, feuilles de laurier.” Googlefish helpfully clarifies this to mean “parsley, coriandre, pepper, garlic, nutmeg, gingembre, rosemary, sheets of bay-tree.”
Well, it’s a start. I’m gonna take a wild guess here and express my sentiment that “coriandre” is corn on the cob, whilst “sheets of bay-tree” must refer to laundry drying in a rural seaside community. This only leaves the mystery of “gingembre” to parse.
Because “gingembre” looks and sounds much like “December” and “November,” I deduce that the spice must then be also the name of a month. While I could look up the names of all twelve French months in a book or even online, moving the mouse to the top of my browser and initiating a fresh Google query is simply too much effort. Heck, remembering the names on my own is even too hard. So we’re going to do this the easy way, by using free association and guesswork.
“Gingembre” must be the month named after gin, which in turn gave its’ name to gingivitis. As gingivitis is a well-known disease of the bloody gums, it must be, like gin, associated with the British. Since this clearly establishes a link to “scurvy dogs,” “gingembre” must therefore be the month in which scurvy was most commonly known to affect a crew at sea in the days before the invention of Rose’s Lime Juice. As clearly no-one with a lick of sense would ever set foot on deck between October and March, we’ve narrowed the choices down to the remaining three months of the year: June, July and August.
Gin, of course, was invented by Father Junipero Serra, as a means of keeping the Indians drunk and near the California missions that still bear his name (which, in English translation, is “Taco Bell”). The Hammerin’ Friar, as I have just dubbed him, used the waste-product from his many bark-cloth production facilities. These factories primarily used the Friar’s namesake plant, the Junipero bush, and junipero berries and stems are the basis of most gin produced in the world to this day. The father’s industrial empire, of course, gave us the common coinage we still use today. Who can employ the phrase “gin mills” without summoning the adobe walls of those early palaces of industry to mind?
And here, of course, we find the key. “Gingembre” is clearly the French word for both “June” and “juniper.” Our mystery ingredient must, therefore, be: “gin”.