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Apr 28, 2012 05:09 AM

What are/were "aloes"?

I'm pretty sue I'm NOT talking about aloe vera.

Natalie Scott's <i>200 Years of New Orleans Cooking</i> has a recipe for Cafe Brulot that calls for 4 aloes:
4 all-spice
2 cloves
8 lumps of sugar
6 parched whole coffee beans
4 aloes

It seems they should be some kind of spice/flavoring/I have no idea. I've googled to no avail. It might be possible she was talking about chunks or leaves of aloe vera, but that just doesn't seem likely to me.

Any thoughts on this obscure topic would be greatly appreciated!

Bucky Edgett

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  1. Looks like it is the same plant. Do a google search with "aloes for cooking" and it will bring up lots of sites for you to look at

    1. I wonder whether it's a typo and is supposed to be sloes? (I don't know if sloes are used at all in New Orleans!)

      Btw, the same recipe can be found in Natalie Scott's "Mandy's Favorite Louisiana Recipes" and you can read that page (page 61) at Google books

      The recipe is prefaced with the following comment: "This -- no longer possible(?) -- is a cherished old after-dinner tradition, dear to memory".

      I didn't understand the "no longer possible(?)" until I realized this book was published in 1929 -- during Prohibition.

      13 Replies
      1. re: drongo

        Drongo, you're a genius! Sloe Gin Fizz is a signature New Orleans cocktail. The original recipe MUST have called for sloes. Yes! Chowhound comes through again. It doesn't seem that Google has digitized any early editions of either Mandy or 200 Years, and at $50 bucks used I have to pass. So no way at the moment to check when the mistake occured.

        But I'm sure you've cracked the case. Thanks Immensely!

        1. re: BuckyE

          It is aloes. But not aloe vera.

          It is the resin, Lignum aloes or Aloeswood, which is a perfume or incense. In the 1700-1800's resins/incense were commonly used in hot and cool or room temperature punches. Ambergris, the incense/perfume was used in a lot of punches, I've had Dave Wondrich serve me punch with ambergris numerous times. Cafe Brulot is a hot, spiced, coffee punch.

          I'm going to have to order some and play with it in punches. If I can get any at a semi-reasonable price. It is extremely rare nowadays, and insanely expensive.

          1. re: JMF

            Dear JMF,

            Yes, thanks, I read about the aloe incense. ..."myrhh and aloes..." is a Biblical quotation; came up in thousands of hits during my Google searching.

            But it can't be the solution to my mystery. Natalie Scott's recipe specifically calls for "4 aloes." Not 4 drops of aloe, or 4 somethings of aloe, just "4 aloes."

            Many of her and Mandy's recipes are a bit lax on quantities. Some of them are positively sloppy! So if Ms. Scott specified 4 of something, that something has to have been something that comes as discreet items. Sloes are berries, of which one could obtain 4. The aloewood spice might have come in discreet units or pieces or items or nuggets. But really, "4 sloes" just makes so much more sense as a measure than does "4 aloe(wood)s."

            I'm looking for sloes! Thanks again.

            1. re: BuckyE

              Is this posted twice? Because I could swear I clicked on a link that someone posted and there was a picture/illustration of the coffee cup, steaming, with leaves and berries behind it.... hmmmmm..... sloes?

              1. re: wyogal

                Dear Wyogal,

                I've only posted it once. But a thread with an association of sloes and coffee would be interesting!

                1. re: BuckyE

                  There was a post with a link that said it was indeed "sloes" with a copy of the cookbook page. I clicked on it and looked carefully at the picture.... hmmm I'll go try to find it and repost.

              2. re: BuckyE

                I am positive I am right, this is part of what I do for a living. By aloes, they mean a small chunk of the resinous wood, which is how it was sold in the 18th & 19th century. (Cafe Brulot was created at the end of the 19th century.) Old recipes always called for a certain amount of this or that, but the size was either left up to the person preparing it, or the item always came in a standard size. This is typical of recipes older than the last few decades. So calling for "four aloes" was a known quantity. I spoke about this with Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh yesterday, who is one of the two top cocktail and spirits historians in the world, and he agrees with me. (The other being Dave Wondrich, who I haven't seen in a few weeks, but will bring this up when I do.)

                1. re: JMF

                  That first link... I thought the post was a bit different when I first read it, but that's the picture!
                  (Jeez, I should have checked it again earlier)

                2. re: BuckyE

                  Sorry, but it is absolutely not sloe berries. Sloe berries would add no noticeable flavor to the recipe. I've worked with sloe berries, both fresh and dried.

                  1. re: JMF

                    Sloe gin? Are the berries only for color? Don't think I've ever tried sloe gin!

                    Emily Post's column lists aloes, as well. Difficult to believe two people would have had the same mistake, unless of course she or someone was copying Natalie Scott without really knowing what was being described.

                    Okay, we need some deeper research into "aloes" in old time recipes. I'm not coming up with much!

                    1. re: BuckyE

                      Sloes=sloe berries,used tomake sloe gin which is a sloe berry/ gin liqueur. Usually homemade in the UK. best commercial brand that is readily available is made by Plymouth Gin.

                      The Emily Post article is obviously a copy of the Natalie Scott recipe. Which is the only cafe brulot recipe that I have found that includes aloes.

                      You won't find much on the internet about aloes since references are in books that have been out of print since the 19th and 18th century.

                      The only internet reference is the Natalie Scott and Emily Post references already cited.

                      I have found references both online and in old texts in my library to aloes/lignum aloe/aloewood and its use in perfumes, incense, and herbal/medicinal teas. references are only to the resinous wood produced after infection, and oils made from this wood.

                3. re: JMF

                  I just got agarwood from two different sources. Five grams for $25-40, and that is for low quality. Recently someone paid $1,000,000 for one pound of the highest grad agarwood resin.Nice to add to my botanical library. I now have 216 botanicals, all also in tinctures, and 31 as distillates.

              3. re: drongo

                Because the recipe contained brandy or whiskey, not a reference to the aloes.

              4. His life had also its sorrows sore,
                For aloes had a part. . . Ivory Palaces | Henry Barraclough


                Aloes wood is sold commercially in a powered condition simply as “aloes.” --

                The only times I have ever run into this word are in the Bible and in an old hymn. I had to look it up and the above quote is what I found. Where one would find powdered aloes wood, I have no idea.

                1. Ha ha! I may be on to something. Beginning to suspect JMF and I are correct, AND incorrect. This is a tangled web, but a certain strand may be emerging.

                  Aquilaria malaccensis is the tree whose fungus-infected heartwood produces the incredibly expensive and now technically illegal Oud resin perfume. The tree is known colloquially as Agarwood, Aloewood, Eaglewood and Lign-aloes.

                  However, there is ANOTHER tree, Aquilaria agallocha which is ALSO called Lign-aloes. It is much more common. It has seed pods that are supposedly fragrant.

                  So I'm wondering if the much less expensive pods of the latter were once sold as spice? THAT would explian the reference to "4" of them. Hmmm?

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: BuckyE

                    Can you post those references to the seedpods, and whether there are references to the pods being harvested and used as an herbal or food ingredient. I couldn't find any references to the pods actually being harvested or used.

                    There are actually over a dozen types of tree in this family that produce the resin once infected or stressed.

                    1. re: JMF

                      Dear JMF,

                      Short answer: as yet no actual reference to pods being used. I'm out of my depth here!
                      Picture of a seed pod of A. hirta"
                      A mention of the "little tents" seed pods of some kind of "aloe/agar-wood" species without a species ID:
                      This text is cribbed on several different sites, without any elucidation or references.

                      Post's list of ingredients isn't exactly the same as Scott's. Post omits orange rind and coffe beans, and substitutes granulated for lump sugar. Their descriptions of the making differ slightly.
                      But you're right, "aloes" is common to both. Intriguing!

                      I'm pretty much stumped. The Internet is letting me down! I think we need someone down at Tulane with access to period original source documents to research exactly what "aloes" would have been.

                      1. re: BuckyE

                        I'm pretty solid on my research on this. Small pieces of the resin impregnated wood were called aloes.

                        I've had Cafe Brulot many times in New Orleans.It's a pretty basic recipe. the Post/Scott recipe with the mention of aloes is unique in that regard. Otherwise it is a sweetened orange and clove/cinnamon/allspice spiced coffee with brandy. The "Diabolique" comes in with ladling flaming coffee down a long spiral of clove studded orange zest. great presentation.

                        1. re: JMF

                          Dear JMF,

                          I'm corresponding with some folks who might be able to provide contemporary documentation on "aloes," which they claim were indeed the aloes-wood, as you claim. Neato!

                          Would you care to share your documentation with us, or is it a secret?


                          1. re: BuckyE

                            Some references in old cocktail and spirits books in a friends library. Don't have exact names of texts. Plus stuff I remember from reading in my own library, which is in storage now. The rest I base on many years of research, attending and presenting seminars, etc. on herbs and other botanicals, spirits, cocktails, food history, etc.

                  2. Now that we've solved that, can we move on to the next mystery? What are PARCHED WHOLE COFFEE BEANS? Roasted, maybe?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: pdxgastro

                      Yes, parched as referring to coffee beans, means roasted. (As an aside, parched referring to Maize/Corn means popcorn.)