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7 Reviews
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Spicy Book Indeed
Pat Willard has described a passion, in _Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World's Most Seductive Spice_ (Beacon Press). It is a three-fold work: the history of the spice; Willard's personal history with it (a foundation for pleasing essays from a sensuous woman); and assorted recipes. I have not had enough saffron to consider myself a fan, and I have not...
Published on July 15, 2001 by R. Hardy

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Crocus lite......
I read SAFFRON during my lunch break and as it is a small light-weight book I was able to complete it in 2 weeks or 10 lunch breaks. SAFFRON is exactly the kind of book I like to take to work for lunch-time reading: small enough to carry in my backpack; interesting enough to induce me to put my work aside and take a much needed noon-time break; compartmentalized enough...
Published on February 2, 2002 by Dianne Foster


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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Spicy Book Indeed, July 15, 2001
Pat Willard has described a passion, in _Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World's Most Seductive Spice_ (Beacon Press). It is a three-fold work: the history of the spice; Willard's personal history with it (a foundation for pleasing essays from a sensuous woman); and assorted recipes. I have not had enough saffron to consider myself a fan, and I have not tried the given recipes for saffron-soaked custard, pork, lobster, or paella, but I can tell you they sound good, and that Willard has written two previous well-regarded story-and-recipe books on pie and on broths. Cooks are probably in good hands.
It is enormous fun, with Willard as a laughing guide, to see world history as saffron history. She speculates that the makers of Persian carpets found saffron a useful yellow dye and its smell from the vats turned it into a perfume, and then the cooks tried it. The Egyptians used it as perfume, but especially liked the bright yellow for the clot in which to wind their dead. Alexander the Great had plenty of chances to soak up the cultures of his conquests, and liked saffron baths and tea and rice, and before dinner he had wine with saffron mixed into it. Saffron, unlike other spices, could be grown in England, and it still was costly, so it made the fortunes of such towns as Walden, which became Saffron Walden. It was only when new discoveries like capers, sugar cane, and vanilla came from the new world, and banquets were pared from forty dishes to a puritanical ten or so, that saffron began to wane. The ounces of saffron that could be harvested from acres of crocuses eventually became tons of potatoes and corn, crops that were dependable and less fussy.
Willard's history is good, but her personal stories are the best writing in the book. Her bittersweet recounting of going to the Saffron Festival in Spain, where Saffron isn't grown in any quantity anymore, is fine travel writing, and her introduction to the spice by a mysterious stranger who came to call on her has the bittersweet extended into eroticism. She has a rich memory of what happened after her mother's death: "Of all the things that go through your mind when you watch death approach, thinking of food may seem the most absurd, maybe even a little obscene. And yet it is what the living almost always turn to... the living's way of breaking away, the body understanding before the mind fully does what is the necessary and correct order demanded in the wider world." The way Willard writes about the subsequent effect of the saffron crème brűlée pie (recipe, of course, included here) would have made her mother proud. Willard can tell us also of her own successful growing and harvesting of saffron, in Brooklyn. This is a book of many delights, a gathering of all sorts of saffron stories and histories, tasty, pungent, and wonderfully personal.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Crocus lite......, February 2, 2002
I read SAFFRON during my lunch break and as it is a small light-weight book I was able to complete it in 2 weeks or 10 lunch breaks. SAFFRON is exactly the kind of book I like to take to work for lunch-time reading: small enough to carry in my backpack; interesting enough to induce me to put my work aside and take a much needed noon-time break; compartmentalized enough that I can read it in installments without losing track; and about food which generally increases my enjoyment of my midday meal which consists of raw carrots, boiled eggs, yogurt and an orange.
SAFFRON is not as well researched or comprehensive as TULIP by Anna Pavord nor is it as informative or well written as the "cooking" books of Elizabeth David whom Willard clearly admires. (In fact, Willard suggests the reader use David's books for recipes.) Willard explains in the opening section that she has not written an historical book documented with citations, nor has she provided recipes that work in all cases. (She says she has not tried many of them--in some cases the ingredients are no longer available or unknown, or the weights and measurements are unknown.)
Willard has gathered together interesting tidbits from a variety of sources -- autobiographical events which are probably the most entertaining part of the book as she is very forthcoming; tales, stories, quotes from literature and history, some sources mentioned in passing, other not, some researched others not. Willard's take on history is flawed but amusing. My sense is that that she selected material based on it's entertainment value not it's verismilitude. Willard's book provides the reader with a bit of diversion, and I for one need frivolity sometimes.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Where's the saffron?, October 9, 2005
This review is from: Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World's Most Seductive Spice (Paperback)
The author writes about saffron the way I cook with saffron - sparingly. The book was probably 70% autobiography and 30% saffron. There were times where I would finish a chapter thinking, "Where was the saffron in that?"

I'll probably only ever read one book about saffron, and it was a mistake to have it be this one.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for saffron lovers, December 20, 2001
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Saffron is, in my opinion, one of the greatest flavoring agents in the world. I'm partial to it in baked goods and dairy products, and have developed my own recipe for saffron ice cream which is so addictive that I don't dare make it often. The finest (and incidentally the most expensive) wine I ever drank had a distinct saffron note to it which made the experience of drinking supremely heady. Saffron is mysterious to most people, even experienced cooks, and for many an acquired taste.
Pat Willard's book, though it does offer a number of saffron-rich recipes, is primarily a history of the spice and its travels. But even more compelling is the personal content, the stories of Willard's own involvement with saffron which range from amusing (her red silk bodice and almost-but-not-quite association with the SCA) to poignant (her saffron-rich creme brulee pie, created while trying to hold off the worst of the grief over her mother's death.) Willard has a gift for personalizing her work, and even though some of what she writes has an almost confessional quality, her stories are never less than graceful.
The recipes she includes are often quite old, and can be difficult to follow for modern cooks, but there are also more contemporary recipes which will whet your appetite for saffron. If reading about food is as pleasurable for you as cooking and eating, then this book will be a good addition to your shelves.
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5.0 out of 5 stars It's a song of love, a poem of joy in the spice, September 14, 2014
Sat down to read a book with dinner. Picked up Pat W's book. Dived into the pages; OMG what did I have for dinner? When a book is so well written that you leap into the pages (the mundane world including dinner being left behind), the magic doors open. Mundanely, I sell spices and spice blends, including saffron. Here is a paean of praise for this most expensive of spices. It's not a doctoral dissertation. It's a song of love, a poem of joy in the spice. Dang, I wish I could write as eloquently as Ms Willard does! If I read a phrase aloud, it sings in the air. For example: (p. 20) "Far away from the aggressive strife that prevailed in surrounding kingdoms, the Persians ate with slow, deliberate relish, pausing to breathe the jasmine-scented air, to listen to the birds settle for the night in the upper branches of the almond trees, to appreciate in the murmur of their private paradises this exquisite union they had wrought between earth and heaven." Sheer poetry. Some folks write scientific books about spices (you should see my library!) but then there is the dreamer, the lover, the dancer. Pat Willard's words dance. I think that tomorrow's dinner will be roast lamb with saffron rice.Yum. Thank you, Ms Willard, for the joy in your book!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Everything You Wanted to Know About Saffron, But Were Afraid to Ask, March 16, 2014
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This review is from: Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World's Most Seductive Spice (Paperback)
You will always look at paella twice knowing the deep and fascinating history of saffron. Pat Willard's paean to this unique spice covers much of the world and much of history. The Romans, Greeks, Minoans, Moors, Persians, and more make an appearance in this book.. Originally favored for its dye and perfume, saffron has an ancient history. Willard takes around the ancient and modern spice trade, tantalizes us with a variety of recipes, and fascinates with her own personal history.

By tying together the allure, growing, trading and use of saffron Willard brings into the engrossing story of this aromatic spice.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World's Most Seductive Spice, November 30, 2012
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MadWriter "MadWriter" (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA) - See all my reviews
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I was pleased when Secrets of Saffron arrived in excellent condition soon after I ordered it. To my surprise, it had been signed by the author with a personal and familiar note to the previous owner. I have to admit to feeling a bit like an intruder, but after reading the preface and introduction, I felt like Pat Willard could be one of my very best friends, too.

Her writing style is open, personable, and warm, sharing the needed factual and mythical details in an easy manner that more than suggests that she enjoys both her subject and her activity. The story that I just read of her introduction to this most mysterious spice adds her personality to the mixture, making me want to connect further with the secrets she promises in the title. I also hunger to taste and smell its flavor as soon as my plants share their flowers with me. For now, I will savor this lovely book, hoping that she does tell the tale of saffron in India.

I know that I will enjoy this book and, adding her to the list of favorite writers, seek out others of Pat Willard's writing.
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Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World's Most Seductive Spice
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