|The saffron carpels and the flowers of saffron|
We can find the first traces of the Saffron some 3500 years ago, in the Palace of Knossos, in Crete. Here we can find a fresco representing a man harvesting saffron, and the fact that such a scene is depicted in a luxurious palace tell us much about how refined was to use the saffron at the time. We know that also Phoenicians knew and commercialized saffron, and they brought this spice to the western Mediterranean, in islands like for instance Sardinia or to Spain. Making a big historical leap, it is said that Cleopatra herself, when bathing, used to add a fourth of a cup of saffron infusion, as a sign of her richness and power.
When Nero entered in Rome, it is said that was welcomed by the exhulting crowd tossing him flowers of saffron all the way until his Imperial Palace. In the ancient Rome, the saffron was used a sort of pigment and also as a sort of natural and expensive make up. The empereor Marcus Aurelius, known for his refined culture and called the "Empereor philosopher", used to have baths only in water perfumed with saffron.
After the fall of the Roman empire, the cultivation of the saffron witnessed a decay, as the rest of areas and economical sectors. Only around year 1000 the Arabs, with both commerce and conquers in the Mediterranean, brought back to western Europe this spice.
One may ask why the saffron is so expensive, and the answer is because every step is literally hand made! Every saffron flower has three carpels, each one of them has to be extracted by hand and dried. For each gram of saffron are required up to 150 carpels. The saffron used in our kitchens is a kind of saffron typical of Crete, and it is cultivated in Italy (overall in Sardinia, in Abruzzo and also in Marche, Tuscany and Umbria), in Spain (saffron of La Mancha and saffron de la Tierra of Tenerife, somewhat less tasty but also much cheaper), in Greece (in the hot and dry regions).
|The risotto giallo, oro e zafferano by the starred chef Gualtiero Marchesi.|
So, if you do not know how to surprise your special one, why don't you give her/him a jewel case containing some saffron instead of a very banal and cheap golden ring? :)
Just joking huh?