( Originally Published 1851 )
Ginger is a native of the southeast of Asia ana the adjacent isles. It was naturalized in America very soon after the discovery of that country by the Spaniards; indeed, at so early a period that it is scarcely believed to be an exotic, and is supposed to have been found indigenous in the Western World. Acosta relates that a person named Francisco de Mendoza first transplanted it from the East Indies into New Spain, where its cultivation was diligently pursued by the Spanish Americans to no small extent, as, from the testimony of the same author, 2,053 cwt. were exported thence to Europe in the year 1547.
The plant is now cultivated in great quantities in the West Indies, especially in the island of Jamaica. Ginger is imported into this country under the form of dried roots, and as a preserve. We receive it both from the East and West Indies, but that from the latter is much superior in quality to the former.
The ginger plant has a perennial root, which creeps and increases under ground in tuberous joints, from each of which arises in the spring a green reed-like stalk of about two feet and a half in height, having narrow and lanceolate leaves The stem is annual; the flowering stalk rises directly from the root, ending in an oblong scaly spike; from each of these scales a single white and blue flower is produced. The ginger of commerce is distinguished into black and white; but the difference of color depends wholly on the modes of preparation. For both of' these kinds the tubers are allowed to be ripe, that is, the roots are taken up after the annual stalks are withered. For the black, they are scalded in boiling water and then dried in the sun; and for the white, they are scraped clean and dried carefully without being scalded. The best and soundest roots are selected for the latter process, and therefore white ginger is, independent of the manner of preparation, superior to the black, and it always beats a much higher price in the market. When a preserve is to be made of the roots, they are dug up in the sap, the stalks not being then more than five or six inches long. For this purpose the young roots are scalded, then washed in cold water and afterwards carefully peeled. This process lasts for three or four days, during which period the water is frequently changed.
When the cleansing is complete, the tubers are put into jars, and covered with weak syrup of sugar. After a day or two the weak syrup is re-moved, and replaced by a stronger; and the shifting is two or three times repeated, increasing the strength of the syrup each time. The preserve thus formed is one of the finest that is made; and the removed syrups are not lost, but fermented into a pleasant liquor, which gets the name of " cool drink."
The manner of cultivating ginger is extremely simple, requiring little skill or care; it is propagated with as much ease and nearly in the same manner as potatoes are in this country.