#1
Old 03-20-2000, 05:21 PM
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Dear Cecil,

Why does the spice saffron come in such small quantities and cost so much? I mean, a little vile of the stuff can put you back close to $10.00! If it's so freakin' valuable, why isn't somebody growing fields of saffron and reaping drug-dealer profits? Is there a cartel of saffron producing nations holding back on production to keep the price artificially high? While your at it - is the taste worth it?
#2
Old 03-20-2000, 05:26 PM
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Cecil rarely reads this board.

Saffron is expensive because of it's difficuly in retrieval. IIRC Saffron is taked from the stemen of certain flowers... tulips come to mind, and each flower only has about 5 grains per flower, so you can imagine the effort and time it would take to harvest a jar full, let alone a pound of the stuff.

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#3
Old 03-20-2000, 05:30 PM
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It's from a small purple crocus...[i]crocus sativus.[/b] Each flower produces only three stigmas, which must be picked by hand.

It takes over 14,000 of these stigmas, dried, to make an ounce of saffron.

You want the job of saffron-pusher, you can have it. I'll stick with these opium poppies here.

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Uke
#4
Old 03-20-2000, 05:32 PM
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My mistake it's in a crocus flower... this web site gives a little more detail:
http://saffron.com/what.html



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#5
Old 03-20-2000, 11:07 PM
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Not only have I stood in front of an IMMENSE barrel of saffron in the Sook in Marrakech,Morrocco, but I apparently am about to go back there. I was sorely tempted to buy Mom a pound bag of the stuff. Terribly cheap, they use it as a dye there for carpets !!! Truth... the burnt oranges are saffron, and the blues are indigo.
My guide saved me the hassle. He said that is what all of the Americans do, they buy a bag of Saffron. Which is then confiscated by US Customs. SINCE it is so rare, and so expensive..a 1 pound bag puts you into the realm of Importer. No thank you !! However, for sheer volume-shock effect, that barrel will stay with me forever. Next month, I should take a photo of it. That was the same gentleman who had small and evil-looking vials of fluids, for " Wife ! Wife ! It's good for you and wife! " ( followed by internationally recognized crude hand gestures for sexual intercourse). I passed on that, too.

Cartooniverse

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#6
Old 03-21-2000, 06:01 AM
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Cartoon, what they may have been offering on the cheap as the fabled saffron was actually tumeric, which has a similar colour and consistency, though much less flavour. In the better spice shops in Saudi they had saffron for sale, but in tiny little vials and at commensurate prices.
#7
Old 03-21-2000, 08:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Moonshine:
Cartoon, what they may have been offering on the cheap as the fabled saffron was actually tumeric, which has a similar colour and consistency, though much less flavour. In the better spice shops in Saudi they had saffron for sale, but in tiny little vials and at commensurate prices.

I was wondering about that too. Unless the town cartoon was in had an immense Saffron crocus field near it.

Anyway, in Mexican food sections of many supermarkets (and i'm sure in Mexican groceries), i've seen bags of "Mexican Saffron", which i've heard really are the petals of the safflower (IIRC). I've heard it gives color, but not really much flavor.


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#8
Old 03-21-2000, 10:36 AM
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I've got a big zip-lock bag of the stuff from Indonesia. Dirt cheap and tasty- sometimes economic crisis are good (for the tourist that is). Yep, its the real thing. My suggestion: Spanish Paela(sp?) with a good pinch of the stuff. Yum!
#9
Old 03-21-2000, 10:47 AM
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In the Martha Stewart's Living magazine for March (or maybe it was February), Martha tells how to grow and harvest your own saffron and also provides some handy recipes and ways to dye your clothes.

That Martha, she cracks me up.
#10
Old 03-21-2000, 12:44 PM
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There are two popular and commercial varieties of saffron. One from Spain and the other from the Kashmir valley.

The price of the former is tied to the Spanish economy and varies drastically with the rate of exchange.

And the rate of production of the latter variety is also tied to the general unrest in that region of the world. I am not aware if much of the Kashmir variety gets exported, but I recall seeing a special order package -- 1 kg of the stuff. The container was [b]huge[b]. Nobody needs saffron in such large quantities, but this was for a super-rich wedding. Besides it is best stored in smaller quantities and kept air tight to preserve the fragrance and flavor.

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#11
Old 03-22-2000, 09:40 AM
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Anyone who thinks they have a bag of 'saffron' which they acquired 'dirt-cheap' has been sold a bag of fool's gold.

Saffron is incredibly difficult to harvest and process. The labor involved is something that only food or religion could inspire.

For some more on saffron, including a great place to buy some from, look at Penzey's.

For more on the flower in general, see Encyclopedia Brittanica

If someone offered you a bag of 'gold' for a few dollars, or had a barrel of 'platinum' from which you could buy as much as you wanted for a small price, would you be so silly as to believe them?
#12
Old 03-22-2000, 09:46 AM
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Yep, expensive and tasty. What's not to like?

My saffron is an excellent Latin-American brand called Badia. I have a little tiny box of it that cost only a few dollars. If you can find Badia spices, I would check them out. The quality is very good and they are quite inexpensive. You only get a little saffron for your few dollars, but that is okay if you just want to try it or do not use it often.
#13
Old 03-24-2000, 07:06 AM
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OK, gloves are off:

[QUOTE]Originally posted by DSYoungEsq:
[B]Anyone who thinks they have a bag of 'saffron' which they acquired 'dirt-cheap' has been sold a bag of fool's gold.

A) I am not exaggerating.
B) I am an economist by profession, I know all about the laws of supply and demand.
C) I am the chef in my family- I know my spices. I will concede that this might not be the world's best, BUT it tastes as good, if not better, than the saffron I have bought at the store in little vials.
D) Indonesia went through a terrible economic kick to the balls. The Asian Flu hurt the economy SSOOOOO much that they were doing whatever they could for a few US dollars. Their currency went from around 2,250 rupiah/US$ to 17,000 rupiah/US$. A simple analogy would be that one day your short latte cost $2.25 and a year later it cost $17.00. Now, GDP per capita had been around $1000 a year (the average person makes that every year), that then dropped to a few hundred. Divide that by a year of work hours (c. 2000)and you get a nice hourly wage of $0.17. Now, if I bought ANYTHING for $10 (although I think I paid less for the Saffron) then that comes to around 1.5 weeks of work. I think someone could fill a ziplock bag full of Saffron in that time, don't you?
#14
Old 03-24-2000, 08:48 AM
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So, I was seeing a barrel of fools gold? Perhaps, it was the Sook in Marrakech, Tourist Trap Central. However- if I was looking at Turmeric, then I ask this: Does Turmeric appear in it's natural state in those fine threads? If it doesn't, then someone went to a LOT of trouble to glue 380 gazillion bits of Turmeric onto fake threads, just so I would think I was looking at a barrel of Saffron. Also- I knew better than to assume that just because I was looking at a large barrel with Saffron on top, did NOT mean it was actually filled with said spice.
By astonishing luck, I am going BACK to Marrakech in two weeks. ( Second time in three years. Strange....) Not only will I have two days alone, when I am not shooting, but I will surely wind up in the Sook to buy the family some tchotchkas. I shall purchase said Saffron, at great personal peril, JUST so we can see if what I saw was what I think I saw, or what someone else here thinks I saw. See?
I shall have it examined by an impartial third party, my friend Doris- who knows spices at 50 yards. She's been known to do battle with the spice merchants on 9th Avenue behind Port Authority, because of inferior grade stuff. I shall report back to the T.M. after I return. By April 23rd-ish, we shall know. Stamping out Ignorance INDEED !!!!

Cartooniverse

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#15
Old 03-25-2000, 03:01 AM
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Coupla'possibilities:

1. the Indonesian variety is actually achiote (or achuete, depending on which Spanish name you prefer), not quite as tasty, but much cheaper, and common in S.E. Asia and West Pacific isles, in my experience including Indonesia and the Philippines.

2. The "costly" saffron is the pollen - no stems. You can get it cheaper as the "raw" product - sorta like buying seeds and stems as opposed to seedless MJ - and sometimes you can be buying the ground-up seeds and stems. Respectively 3rd and 2nd grade, I suppose. Not as you'd notice the difference without experience, and then only in the simpler dishes with little if any other spice, such as saffron custard, or in a consomme, etc...
#16
Old 03-27-2000, 03:49 PM
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I love it when people can't accept they have been duped.

I have just spent quite a bit of effort investigating saffron. While there is certainly some 'controversy' regarding the spice ongoing, and while prices of saffron are coming down some, I can assure you that no saffron is available anywhere for anything less than about $40/oz. And it appears that even that isn't easy to find.

Let's review the basics of saffron:

Saffron is the stigmas of the crocus crocus sativus. If it don't come from that plant, it ain't true saffron. Originally found in Asia Minor, it has been grown for some time in Greece, Iran, Kashmir, and Spain. A recent addition has been Tasmania (see TAS-SAFF). It is grown in Morrocco, also (presumably started there by the same Moors who started growing it in Spain), though in lesser quantities than other places. See Saffrocco for ordering information.

Saffron has historically been a very valued spice. Enclyclopedia Britannica has a basic outline of what sorts of things it was used for, from food to dyes to perfume to aphrodisiacs. The value comes from two factors: it is VERY potent, and it is extremely difficult to produce. Production consists of growing the crocus in the right conditions, then cultivating it at just the right time, in order to avoid damage to the blossoms. The blossoms are then hand-stripped of petals, whereupon the stigmas are plucked by hand. In truly high-grade saffron, the bottom of the stigma is cut off, removing the yellow attachment to the style. The stigmas are then spread out on trays and dried over charcoal fires. They are then wrapped and packaged for sale.

Typically, to color and flavor a dish for 6 to 8 people, you use a VERY small amount. Penzey's says that one gram of saffron can be used for two pots of paella, several bread loaves, etc. Erma Rombauer in The Joy of Cooking talks about using 1/4 tsp., which is about an eighth of a gram(!) to infuse water for making rice. This gives you an idea of the extremely efficient coloring/flavoring that saffron is.

WHICH leads us to the discussion of powdered saffron versus whole saffron. In the past, powdered saffron was avoided because it often was not 100% saffron; usually it was cut with turmeric or some other ingrediant that mimicked saffron. This caused inferior coloring and taste. If you bought the stigmas whole, you knew you were getting stigmas (though whether it was crocus sativus was still arguably in question). It might be noted that turmeric is commonly grown in India and Indonesia.

Nowadays, however, there has been established a standard for measuring the ability of saffron to colorize. Supposedly, according to the boosters of powdered saffron, if the colorization is high, so will the flavoring and aroma. If you want to know some more about how powdered saffron is checked for potency, go here: Vanilla, Saffron Imports of San Francisco. Or you can read the web site of Ellen Szita, who apparently is an instructor at the California Culinary Acadamy: Saffron. Ms. Szita's site details the harvesting and processing of saffron, and explains some of what she considers the 'myths' of saffron economics. On the other hand, although without any explanation of why, several sites, including the Penzey's Spices site (Penzey's) claim that powdered saffron is inferior, because it looses potency. Further, the TAS-SAFF site noted above states that saffron that releases its color too quickly is not the best saffron.

Which leads to the next issue: pricing. TAS-SAFF offers its saffron in 100 mg. or 500 mg. amounts, with 500 mg. equal to $25.00. That is about $1400 per ounce! Perhaps this isn't American dollars... Penzey's offers Spanish saffron at $34 per .25 oz (not the coupé, or highest grade, lacking any style); this is equivalent to $136 oz. Cost for Morroccan saffron from Saffrocco (website above) is $126 per ounce, sold in 2 gram bottles ($9 per 2 grams).

However, Vanilla, Saffron Imports sells saffron for $45.00 per ounce (powdered or whole), which it guarantees to be superior grade saffron, tested and authenticated. That cost rises to $112 per ounce if you buy it in 2 gram bottles of powder. Ellen Szita claims to get her saffron from Greece for $36.00 per ounce powdered, but again she buys it by the ounce or more. Clearly, dealing in the stuff gets a bit cheaper if you can increase the order.

With this in mind, let's address the commentary in the posts in this thread:

Cartooniverse has seen an 'immense' barrel of the stuff in a market in Morrocco. Ignoring for a moment the fact that, at $9.00 per 2 grams (equal to $126/oz. or $2000/lb) he would have been looking at a small fortune (and here the brain kicks in and says, not bloody likely is some vendor in a market in Morrocco selling a fortune of saffron for a fraction the price!) we can do some basic calculations. According to Saffrocco, it takes about 2.5 acres to produce one kg. of saffron; most growers in Morrocco would be growing on one acre plots. Any large barrel would have several kg.s meaning that a substantial portion of the production in Morrocco would be in that barrel. Perhaps some light can be shed on this when Cartooniverse returns.

Achiote, discussed by Jorge, is what we call annatto, crushed or ground seeds that have an orange-yellow color. Used to flavor and color cheese, and in Mexican and Indian cuisine, I haven't found any indication that it is used to cut saffron; perhaps the tastes are incompatible. Turmeric IS used historically to cut saffron; apparently the tastes are closer. I have to suspect that the 'saffron' bought by Tomcat was at least adulterated by turmeric, a common spice in Indonesia, although Tomcat doesn't say if the stuff he got was powdered or whole. My only comment to Tomcat is: Indonesia doesn't grow saffron, so far as I can tell, so I don't think you'd be buying Indonesian saffron; and thus the economic picture you paint would be somewhat different; they seller would have to be wholesaling and THAT would mean someone in Indonesia that had the scratch to buy it elsewhere (Iran or India, for instance) then resell it. On top of which, if it WAS true saffron, don't you think that all the chefs in the world would be snapping the 'dirt cheap' stuff up? For this reason, absent some corroborating evidence, I can't believe Tomcat got true crocus sativus stigmas.

Green Bean mentions saffron from Badia, a Latin-American company. I can't locate them on the web; perhaps someone else can help? However, he talks about a little box for a few dollars, consistent with the idea of receiving a gram or two for under $10, which price equals the Saffrocco and Penzey's prices.

And now, some common sense.

People have been using saffron for several thousand years. In all that time, it has remained a spice that had tremendous value. Even in the present day, it remains quite valued for cooking, to say nothing of dyes and perfumes.

IF someone had managed to discover a way to make money selling saffron for a price considerably below the main market price, don't ya think the saffron users of the world would be stampeding to get it???? This isn't some quaint out of the way sort of spice used only by an eccentric few. As it is, the only price differential seems to be related to quantity (stop and think, if you use as little as .125 a gram at a time, how long will it take you to USE an ounce, and will it still be any good???) and the issue of now gradable powdered versus old fashioned insistance on whole saffron stigmas. If you REALLY think you can get your hands on saffron for substantially less than $50 an ounce, I suggest you do so, and re
#17
Old 03-27-2000, 03:49 PM
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#18
Old 03-27-2000, 03:59 PM
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I love it when people can't accept they have been duped.

I have just spent quite a bit of effort investigating saffron. While there is certainly some 'controversy' regarding the spice ongoing, and while prices of saffron are coming down some, I can assure you that no saffron is available anywhere for anything less than about $40/oz. And it appears that even that isn't easy to find.

Let's review the basics of saffron:

Saffron is the stigmas of the crocus crocus sativus. If it don't come from that plant, it ain't true saffron. Originally found in Asia Minor, it has been grown for some time in Greece, Iran, Kashmir, and Spain. A recent addition has been Tasmania (see TAS-SAFF). It is grown in Morrocco, also (presumably started there by the same Moors who started growing it in Spain), though in lesser quantities than other places. See Saffrocco for ordering information.

Saffron has historically been a very valued spice. Enclyclopedia Britannica has a basic outline of what sorts of things it was used for, from food to dyes to perfume to aphrodisiacs. The value comes from two factors: it is VERY potent, and it is extremely difficult to produce. Production consists of growing the crocus in the right conditions, then cultivating it at just the right time, in order to avoid damage to the blossoms. The blossoms are then hand-stripped of petals, whereupon the stigmas are plucked by hand. In truly high-grade saffron, the bottom of the stigma is cut off, removing the yellow attachment to the style. The stigmas are then spread out on trays and dried over charcoal fires. They are then wrapped and packaged for sale.

Typically, to color and flavor a dish for 6 to 8 people, you use a VERY small amount. Penzey's says that one gram of saffron can be used for two pots of paella, several bread loaves, etc. Erma Rombauer in The Joy of Cooking talks about using 1/4 tsp., which is about an eighth of a gram(!) to infuse water for making rice. This gives you an idea of the extremely efficient coloring/flavoring that saffron is.

WHICH leads us to the discussion of powdered saffron versus whole saffron. In the past, powdered saffron was avoided because it often was not 100% saffron; usually it was cut with turmeric or some other ingrediant that mimicked saffron. This caused inferior coloring and taste. If you bought the stigmas whole, you knew you were getting stigmas (though whether it was crocus sativus was still arguably in question). It might be noted that turmeric is commonly grown in India and Indonesia.

Nowadays, however, there has been established a standard for measuring the ability of saffron to colorize. Supposedly, according to the boosters of powdered saffron, if the colorization is high, so will the flavoring and aroma. If you want to know some more about how powdered saffron is checked for potency, go here: Vanilla, Saffron Imports of San Francisco. Or you can read the web site of Ellen Szita, who apparently is an instructor at the California Culinary Acadamy: Saffron. Ms. Szita's site details the harvesting and processing of saffron, and explains some of what she considers the 'myths' of saffron economics. On the other hand, although without any explanation of why, several sites, including the Penzey's Spices site (Penzey's) claim that powdered saffron is inferior, because it looses potency. Further, the TAS-SAFF site noted above states that saffron that releases its color too quickly is not the best saffron.

Which leads to the next issue: pricing. TAS-SAFF offers its saffron in 100 mg. or 500 mg. amounts, with 500 mg. equal to $25.00. That is about $1400 per ounce! Perhaps this isn't American dollars... Penzey's offers Spanish saffron at $34 per .25 oz (not the coupé, or highest grade, lacking any style); this is equivalent to $136 oz. Cost for Morroccan saffron from Saffrocco (website above) is $126 per ounce, sold in 2 gram bottles ($9 per 2 grams).

However, Vanilla, Saffron Imports sells saffron for $45.00 per ounce (powdered or whole), which it guarantees to be superior grade saffron, tested and authenticated. That cost rises to $112 per ounce if you buy it in 2 gram bottles of powder. Ellen Szita claims to get her saffron from Greece for $36.00 per ounce powdered, but again she buys it by the ounce or more. Clearly, dealing in the stuff gets a bit cheaper if you can increase the order.

With this in mind, let's address the commentary in the posts in this thread:

Cartooniverse has seen an 'immense' barrel of the stuff in a market in Morrocco. Ignoring for a moment the fact that, at $9.00 per 2 grams (equal to $126/oz. or $2000/lb) he would have been looking at a small fortune (and here the brain kicks in and says, not bloody likely is some vendor in a market in Morrocco selling a fortune of saffron for a fraction the price!) we can do some basic calculations. According to Saffrocco, it takes about 2.5 acres to produce one kg. of saffron; most growers in Morrocco would be growing on one acre plots. Any large barrel would have several kg.s meaning that a substantial portion of the production in Morrocco would be in that barrel. Perhaps some light can be shed on this when Cartooniverse returns.

Achiote, discussed by Jorge, is what we call annatto, crushed or ground seeds that have an orange-yellow color. Used to flavor and color cheese, and in Mexican and Indian cuisine, I haven't found any indication that it is used to cut saffron; perhaps the tastes are incompatible. Turmeric IS used historically to cut saffron; apparently the tastes are closer. I have to suspect that the 'saffron' bought by Tomcat was at least adulterated by turmeric, a common spice in Indonesia, although Tomcat doesn't say if the stuff he got was powdered or whole. My only comment to Tomcat is: Indonesia doesn't grow saffron, so far as I can tell, so I don't think you'd be buying Indonesian saffron; and thus the economic picture you paint would be somewhat different; they seller would have to be wholesaling and THAT would mean someone in Indonesia that had the scratch to buy it elsewhere (Iran or India, for instance) then resell it. On top of which, if it WAS true saffron, don't you think that all the chefs in the world would be snapping the 'dirt cheap' stuff up? For this reason, absent some corroborating evidence, I can't believe Tomcat got true crocus sativus stigmas.

Green Bean mentions saffron from Badia, a Latin-American company. I can't locate them on the web; perhaps someone else can help? However, he talks about a little box for a few dollars, consistent with the idea of receiving a gram or two for under $10, which price equals the Saffrocco and Penzey's prices.

And now, some common sense.

People have been using saffron for several thousand years. In all that time, it has remained a spice that had tremendous value. Even in the present day, it remains quite valued for cooking, to say nothing of dyes and perfumes.

IF someone had managed to discover a way to make money selling saffron for a price considerably below the main market price, don't ya think the saffron users of the world would be stampeding to get it???? This isn't some quaint out of the way sort of spice used only by an eccentric few. As it is, the only price differential seems to be related to quantity (stop and think, if you use as little as .125 a gram at a time, how long will it take you to USE an ounce, and will it still be any good???) and the issue of now gradable powdered versus old fashioned insistance on whole saffron stigmas. If you REALLY think you can get your hands on saffron for substantially less than $50 an ounce, I suggest you do so, and re
#19
Old 03-27-2000, 03:59 PM
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#20
Old 03-28-2000, 11:33 PM
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Quote:
Green Bean mentions saffron from Badia, a Latin-American company. I can't locate them on the web; perhaps someone else can help? However, he talks about a little box for a few dollars, consistent with the idea of receiving a gram or two for under $10, which price equals the Saffrocco and Penzey's prices.
DSYoung--Instead of looking for Badia spices on the web, perhaps you should look at the Shop-Rite.

But, seriously...when I saw your post, I decided to look at my box of saffron. It is in the form of threads, and it is 0.4 of a gram. (Told ya it was a really little box!) It also says "Mancha Saffron." I am not sure what this means, though.

Oh, and since we seem to end up on a lot of the same threads (pardon the pun) I ought to tell you that I am a she.

Thanks for all your information, DSYoung. It was very interesting.
#21
Old 03-29-2000, 10:22 AM
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(Looking embarrassed) The, um, sun was in my eyes.... yeah, that was it!
#22
Old 03-30-2000, 01:05 AM
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Aw, now don't be embarrased, Friend DS.

You observed my stellar logic, my impressive range of knowlege, my cool and unemotional responses to challenges...of course you thought I was a man!

::ducks and runs::
#23
Old 03-30-2000, 01:24 AM
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Location: London, Ontario
Posts: 12,903
Bought mine in Kashmir!
Yes, I'm sure it's saffron.
Skeptics indeed.
Yes it was dear.

------------------
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#24
Old 10-01-2013, 03:00 PM
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You joined to respond to a 13.5 year old thread?
#25
Old 10-01-2013, 03:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chimera View Post
You joined to respond to a 13.5 year old thread?
I'm just mad about it.
#26
Old 10-01-2013, 04:03 PM
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