Although the temperatures may still be summer-high, there are hints of fall in the air. Leaves on trees are yellowing slightly and falling to the ground in lazy circles. The sunlight is filtered and not quite as bright. Summer is waning and Autumn is nearly here.
Fall weather invites us to use the last of the harvest in our daily cooking, and as the weather cools, we find we want to do more baking and create healthy soups and stews. We want a hot cider laced with cinnamon and cloves, or a beef stew seasoned with allspice.
Our favourite fall spices are versatile—they can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Here is some basic information about each one and some suggestions for using them.
Contrary to the sound of the name, allspice is an individual spice coming from the dried allspice berry. (Pimenta dioica) It resembles a peppercorn. In flavor it resembles a combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and pepper. It is used in the Caribbean, Middle East and in Latin America. It is used in baked goods, spicing for sausages, and glazes for ham. It is part of the recipes for jerk chicken and Swedish meatballs. Use whole allspice berries for meat dishes such as jerk chicken, and ground versions for baking. Allspice streusel muffins are a good choice.
Cardamom (or cardamon)
This aromatic spice is found whole or ground, or in seed form. It comes from the plant Elettaria Cardamomum which is a perennial plant from the ginger family native to south India. It is commonly used in chai, the Indian tea. It is also used widely in baked goods in Nordic countries such as Julekake or sweet buns known as Kardemummabullar. In the Middle East it is ground in a wooden mortar and used in coffee. In Asia it is used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Try it in creamy savoury cardamom rice.
Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several trees of the genus Cinnamomum. It is an aromatic condiment used to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes and is found in both whole rolls of the bark and ground. It is most often paired with fruits such as apples and pears. It is also used in savoury lamb and chicken dishes. It is a common ingredient in baked goods. Cinnamon rolls make our mouths water while Bavarian pot roast is a wonderful savoury dish using cinnamon.
Cloves are the aromatic flower bud of a tree in the Myrtaceae family. They are native to the Maluku islands of Indonesia. Cloves are used both in food preparation and in products such as toothpastes and soaps. They are used either whole or ground and are used to spice up curries, meat dishes, sauces and to flavour baked goods. You’ve probably seen whole cloves inserted into the surface of a baked ham. The flavour is strong and delicious. Sweet dishes using cloves include clove apple cake and pumpkin custard.
Ginger, or ginger root is actually a rhizome (underground stem) of Zingiber officinale, a tropical flowering plant in the same family as cardamom and turmeric. Ginger can be used in freshly grated form or in powder but is most potent in the grated version. Ginger is often used in stir-fries, curries, in hot tea and in seafood dishes. And of course, is popular in baked goods such as gingerbread, gingersnap cookies and ginger cakes.
Nutmegs are the pits found inside of the fruit of the nutmeg tree found in Indonesia. It can be bought in pit form or ground. Freshly grated nutmeg, done just before using, produces the strongest flavor. Nutmeg is popular in pies, custards, white sauces, and in spinach and squash dishes such as butternut squash soup. It is a staple in holiday dishes such as pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin Pie Spice
Perfect for holiday baking, pumpkin pie spice is a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice and mace. It has it all. It’s widely used in baked goods, breads, muffins and pies. Other uses include adding it to coffee drinks, such as lattes, oatmeal, cooked grains, and in savoury stews such as lamb tagine.
Star anise is the fruit of an evergreen tree native to South China. The pod is shaped like a star with sharp points which each contain a tiny seed. Its licorice flavor is wonderful in stews, soups, braised meats, sauces and also in baked goods. Both the pod/seed and the oil of this spice are used. Anise is commonly used in alcohols and liqueurs such as anisette and ouzo. It is used in some candies.
If traditional holiday baking is on your fall agenda, you might begin by choosing your favourite fall spices and searching for some new and interesting fall soups or stews for cooler days and decide which breads, cookies, and other sweet delicacies you want to serve friends and family this year.