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  • Martin Castle

A man who is stingy with saffron is capable of seducing his own grandmother.

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

I hope that you all had a good weekend and you all seem to have enjoyed the guest blogger on Friday. How did your version of the cake turn out? I was thinking to ask Katayoun to give you the jewelled rice recipe - apparently I'm not qualified! It is quite spectacular and may include the secret of tahdig - let me know if you are interested.

You may remember that at one time rhubarb was more valuable than saffron but it is the latter that continues to have real value. It is the most expensive spice in the world, and more valuable, by weight, even than gold. Each flower has to be hand picked and then the three delicate stigmas removed and carefully dried. I grew the saffron crocus on the Southsea allotment and, much to my surprise they grew and flowered. There was great excitement and I picked the stigmas from the three flowers - a really valuable crop until I realised that I only needed another 191 stigmas to have a whole gramme!

The name saffron comes to us from Old French, safran, which derives from the Arabic za'faran, meaning 'yellow'. The spice, saffron, comes from the red stigma of the autumn flowering purple Crocus Sativus. The story of the history of saffron is interwoven with myths. Ovid, in Metamophoses, wrote that Crocos was a mortal youth who, because he was unhappy with his love affair with the nymph Smilax, was turned by the gods into a plant bearing his name, leaving the red stigma as a symbol of his passion. Smilax is believed to have been given a similar fate and transformed into bindweed - a bit of a bum deal if you ask me.

Another myth describes Hermes, the messenger to the gods, accidentally killing Crocos during a game of discus. Blood dripping from Crocos's head fell on the ground, where Hermes changed it into the flower. Zeus is also said to have slept on a bed of saffron.

Saffron seems to have originated in western Asia travelling from there to India. By the tenth century it was being grown by the Arabs (Moors) in Spain. The Moors are said to have brought it to Italy, France and Germany by the thirteenth century and then it came to England in the fourteenth century. The Cornish traded their tin for Spanish saffron. It is then thought to have been grown in England around Bude. Hence the beautiful Cornish saffron bread and buns. Saffron growing became widespread in Essex and also Suffolk and Norfolk. Chipping Walden even changed its name to Saffron Walden. Saffron has many traditional uses. It was used as a hair and clothes dye - Buddhist monks' robes are dyed a saffron yellow. It is a sign of wealth and Cleopatra is depicted bathing in a saffron bath. Saffron has many medicinal benefits and its culinary uses are many and varied, being an ingredient in both sweet and savoury dishes. Today saffron is grown in many parts of the world in countries as diverse as Iran, Afghanistan, India, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and of course England.


In my opinion, there's nothing quite like saffron when added to any recipe and a big thank you to Susan for sending today's recipe courtesy of Greg & Lucy Lalouf that appeared in The Week of 11/4/20... look out for its use in a savoury dish in a later blog

Saffron Fruit Loaf

Part cake part bread this is equally delicious at breakfast or teatime. Keeps well and great toasted with plenty of butter - that's your cue Katayoun.


20 saffron threads

300ml/10fl oz hot milk

500g/ 1lb strong bread flour

1 tsp salt

150g/5 oz unsalted butter, diced plus extra for greasing

50g/1½oz soft brown sugar

2 tsp active dried yeast (7g)

60g/2oz currents

40g/1½oz mixed fruit or mixed dried citrus peel

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tbsp of plain flour for dusting


1. Stir the saffron strands into the hot milk and allow to infuse for at least an hour.

2. Grease a 20cm x 10cm loaf tin with butter

3. Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl then rub in the butter to form a fine crumb, adding then the sugar and mixing before making a well in the centre of the mix.

4. Reheat the milk to blood temperature (leave in the saffron threads). Combine a few tbsp of the milk with the yeast then add the remaining milk and tip into the dry mix.

5. Using the dough hook, knead for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and satiny.

6. Toss the dried fruit in with the extra flour to stop the fruit sinking during baking. Add the fruit to the dough in two stages, kneading after each addition.

7. Transfer the dough to the prepared tin and cover with a tea towel and set aside in a draught-free space for 1 - 1½ hours.

8. Preheat the oven to 180°c

9. Once the dough is risen brush with the beaten egg and use a sharp knife to slash the surface.

10.Bake for 50-60 minutes When cooked the base should sound hollow when tapped.

11.Cool on a wire rack. Do not cut until fully cooled.

Robert Macfarlane's Word of the Day is ...

"cairn - stone-stack that stands as path-marker, guide-giver; there to show a way ahead when the weather is bad, the going hard, the route uncertain (from Gaelic, càrn)."

The cairn, doing its job and marking the top of a misty and wet Pike of Blisco (705m) in the Langdale Valley, Lake District.

ps: in case you were wondering, the title is a quote from Norman Douglas (1868-1952) a British essayist and novelist who lived and wrote about Italy.


"For all those people finding it difficult at the moment, the sun will shine again and the clouds will go away." - Capt Tom Moore.
and I rose up, and knew that I was tired, and continued my journey” - Edward Thomas.
"Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." - St. Francis of Assisi
“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”. - Julian of Norwich

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Martin Castle
Apr 21, 2020

Good luck - tell him the yellow tone is a special flour!


Sarah Harvey
Sarah Harvey
Apr 21, 2020

I'll try the loaf and will see if Karl notices the saffron - he's declared a dislike!

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