Cloves are the unopened flower bud of a conical evergreen tree of the myrtle family. The nail-shaped bud is picked just before the blossom opens out and turns a pink-red color. Native to the Moluccas, the famed Spice Islands, cloves were almost priceless in ancient times. During the Han period in China, courtiers were required to sweeten their breath with cloves before approaching the emperor.
In AD 176 cloves were imported into Alexandria and by the fourth century were known in Europe.
Sweet and pungent cloves are used in their whole form as much for garnishing as for flavor. Ground cloves are used in spice cake, fruitcake, and pies and in many other foods.
Here's an old favorite cookie recipe that draws heavily on cloves. This variation of Hermits is from ``Joy of Cooking.''
Beat until soft, l/2 cup butter, then gradually add l cup packed brown sugar. Beat until creamy. Beat in l egg and 1/2 cup cultured sour cream or buttermilk. Sift before measuring, l l/3 cups all-purpose flour. Resift with 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Add sifted ingredients to butter mixture. Beat until smooth. Stir in 1/4 cup nutmeats and 1/2 cup chopped raisins (chopped dates, apricots, or citron can be substituted). Drop batter from a teaspoon onto greased co okie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees F. for about 15 minutes. Recipe makes about 50 cookies.