“He who controls the spice, controls the universe.” — Frank Herbert
Love it or not, sassy Pumpkin Spice has captivated our senses and taken over our food supply.
Strolling down the supermarket aisles, I was accosted by a mountain of Pumpkin Spice items to herald the fall season starting in produce with jars of spreads, butters, and preserves strategically paired with bins of apples.
In the bakery, Pumpkin Spice ubiquitously appeared in everything from bagels, scones, cookies and quick breads to biscotti, donuts and frosted cakes. I then headed to the refrigerated areas where I spied limited editions of goat and cream cheeses, yoghurts, hummus, and even bacon, enhanced with Pumpkin Spice.
There’s more. The shelves were popping with Pumpkin Spice pancake, pudding, brownie, rice and chili mixes, nuts and seeds, oatmeal and assorted cereals, crackers, teas and coffees, corn, kale and kettle chips, along with assorted condiments (barbecue sauces, ketchups, salsas) all infused with the spice blend.
Heading to frozen foods, my mouth watered at the sight of Pumpkin-Spiced gelatos, sorbets and other icy delights. (Don’t forget the non-edibles like Pumpkin Spice candles, room fresheners and facial scrubs.)
Although Starbucks introduced its Pumpkin Spiced Latte 15 years ago setting the explosively popular trend for autumn sips, the mocha magnet does not lay a solid claim to the creation of the spice blend. Recipes for Pumpkin Spice Cakes appeared in various publications in the 1930s, while McCormick and other spice pioneers concocted a seasonal blend in the 1950s called “Pumpkin Pie Spice,” including cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and allspice to amp up autumn delights.
• Cinnamon with a warm, woodsy fragrant aroma native to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) comes from the crumbly inner bark of the Cinnamomum zeylanicum tree, while a close imposter lurks from the Cinnamomum cassia plant, aka “Saigon” Cinnamon. The latter has a more reddish tinge, and less toothsome disposition than the real McCoy.
Ceylon Cinnamon is a healing food packed with calcium, iron, zinc, immune-boosting Cs, fiber and manganese with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, and anti-inflammatory properties. This super spice has been found to regulate blood sugar levels and help control insulin resistance in Type 2 diabetics, jack up energy and vitality, and increase circulation. Just a whiff seems to tweak brain activity, especially focus and memory.
• Nutmeg, from the tropical evergreen plant native to Indonesia, has enraptured royals, writers and healers for centuries with its heady aroma and healthful properties. The fruit or drupe the size of an apricot is covered with orange lacy arils called Mace. When the fruit ripens it exposes the hard oval kernel or the nutmeg seed that can be freshly grated for intense flavor.
Loaded with essential oils and other phyto-goodies, nutmeg has been used in traditional Chinese and Indian homeopathics for nervous and digestive disorders, to ease arthritic joints, alleviate fever, migraines and toothaches. Dial up seasonal sips, along with Alfredo sauces, soufflés, risottos, lasagnas, roasted roots and cobblers — a little dash’ll do you.
• Although available year round, Cloves’ sweet and aromatic flavor enhances autumn treats of all manners. Cloves are a dense little package of essential oils, heart-healthy omega-3s, calcium, and immune-boosting Cs. The first breath mint in history, Chinese courtiers sucked on fragrant cloves before sittings with the emperor.
• The spunky tuber with fibrous flesh, Ginger is either grated fresh or ground into pungent powder. It gives a warm kick to soups, stir-fries, nut breads and cookies. while providing a digestive aid and nausea remedy. For milder, less stringy ginger, pick immature, stubbier stems.
• Allspice, aka Jamaica Pepper, comes from the dried pimenta berries of the West Indian myrtle plant. Ground to a fine powder, allspice was so named by British gastronomes in the 1600s for being reminiscent of the combined tastes of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. This versatile spice enlivens a slew of sweet and savory dishes.
• Create your own Pumpkin Spice blend to suit your palate and pocketbook. Pricey Cardamom is well worth the investment, as a pinch of this potent, expressive spice — a staple in Indian cuisine — goes a long way. Cardamom adds an exotic accent to pie crusts, strudels and cakes, while perking up a cup of joe. A dash of Black Pepper imparts another layer of interest, while mighty Turmeric gives a glorious golden color and anti-inflammatory oomph.
Recipe: My Pumpkin Spice Blend
• Ingredients: 3 tablespoons Ceylon cinnamon; 1 tablespoon turmeric; 3 teaspoons powdered ginger; 1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg; 1 teaspoon allspice; 1 teaspoon ground cloves; 1 teaspoon cardamom; 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
• Method: Blend ingredients in a bowl and transfer to an airtight container or spice jar. Store in cool, dry place.
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com