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Break out 5 ‘flavor notes’ of fall

Break out 5 ‘flavor notes’ of fall
Break out 5 ‘flavor notes’ of fall
Suetta Tingler

October is like an overflowing cornucopia of unique events, sights, sounds, smells and eats. Once again, it’s time to enjoy the warm seasonal spice of the “five flavor notes of fall.” Break out the hot chocolate and cider mugs. Sit by a bonfire and roast hot dogs and eat s’mores. Slip into your fuzzy socks and flannel shirts. Hear the honking sound of geese overhead while watching dry cornstalks wave in the wind.

Resting patiently for months in pantries have been jars of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and allspice. These “five flavor notes of fall” are ready to play their magic in creating delicious whiffs and bites for the season.

Here is a glimpse of their spicy history.

Cinnamon

Someone says, “Cinnabons,” and you begin to salivate while thoughts of cinnamon swirl in your head. Who would ever have believed that the dried bark of a tree could make such difference in food?

Cinnamon has a long history for its varied uses beginning in ancient Egypt when the spice was used as an embalming agent. Sweet sorrow was shown by the Roman Emperor Nero, who, to show his remorse for killing his wife, ordered a year’s supply of cinnamon be burned at her funeral.

Today, one of two kinds of cinnamon fills our spice jars: cassia (Chinese) or Ceylon, the sweeter variety. Ceylon is the more expensive, therefore, less likely to be used by most cooks in North American kitchens. For health purposes and potency of flavor, Ceylon cinnamon is the healthier choice because it contains a lot less or no coumarin. Too much coumarin can play nasty tricks with our livers. Despite the hype, Saigon is not an upgraded cinnamon, but only another form of cassia.

An easy method of identifying the more common cassia from the Ceylon variety of stick cinnamon, simply study the shape of the spice tube; if filled, like a cigar, it’s Ceylon. Cassia appears as a definite hollow tube.

Nutmeg

Holiday eggnog and creamy rice pudding scream of nutmeg. Nutmeg pairs great with lemon zest as well. It’s better to use nutmeg with a bit of caution since a “little goes a long way.”

The spice comes from the seed of an evergreen tree that requires seven years to bear fruit. The tree grows easily to a height of 90 feet. Nutmeg spice comes from the seed of the tree while another popular spice called mace is extracted from the shell that surrounds the seed.

Nutmeg was used by the Romans as an incense to combat the spread of Black Plague. It remains extremely popular in Italy and the Netherlands.

Cloves

You may have seen them as the dark colored “studs” pushed into the holiday ham. Those studs, better known as whole cloves, are actually the dried, unopened flower buds of an evergreen tree.

Cloves is bought whole or in ground form. It’s the spice that gives zing to pumpkin pie as well as imparts that distinguishing taste to a bottle of Worcestershire sauce.

Cloves continues to earn high respect as a painkiller, antioxidant and as an anti-inflammatory in the practice of Chinese medicine. Early records in China reveal that no one was allowed to approach the emperor without having chewed a few cloves in his mouth to sweeten the breath. Even at home today, clove oil is used for dental emergencies.

Ginger

The world wouldn’t be the same without gingerbread, ginger snaps and a host of Asian dishes, all tastes that rely upon the root of the ginger plant.

The actual origin of this spice remains a mystery. It is known that the spice was first cultivated by the Chinese, but ginger has never been known to have ever grown in the wild; therefore, it’s much like the “who came first” story of the chicken and the egg.

Ginger comes in the form of fresh raw root, dried and ground, as an oil, fresh juice or as being “crystallized” with sugar.

In the early 19th century, it was popular to keep a container filled with ground ginger sitting on the counter of English pubs for patrons to shake into their drinks; thus, the launch of ginger ale. Ginger continues its reputation for soothing stomach problems. Like the other “flavor note” spices, ginger has a long history of culinary and medicinal uses.

Allspice

This spice is not what you’re thinking. It’s not a blend of several spices despite its name. Some do admit that its taste resembles a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Allspice is the dried, unripe berry of a tropical evergreen tree found in Central America and the Caribbean.

Jamaican cooking often gets its spicy kick from using jerk seasoning which often contains Scotch bonnet peppers and allspice as ingredients. Allspice is responsible for giving Cincinnati-style chili its distinct aroma and flavor. Commercial food producers like using the spice in ketchup and pickles.

In Germany, large quantities are used in making sausages. In the United States, allspice was more popular before World War II than nowadays where it tends only to be used in desserts.

Food bites:

Cloves and allspice are common substitutes for each other.

Ground ginger can be a substitute for cardamom.

Cinnamon can serve as a substitute for pumpkin spice.

In most recipes, 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger can be substituted for 1 tablespoon fresh grated.

Use a kitchen microplane to grate whole nutmegs and fresh ginger root. The edge of a spoon is also good to scrape off the peel of fresh ginger root.

Pumpkin pie spice: 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon plus 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger plus 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves. Try adding to sugar cookie batter, whipped topping, baked butternut squash dishes and as a sprinkle to hot chocolate.

Apple pie spice: 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon plus 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg plus 1/8 teaspoon cardamom.

It’s best to store whole cloves in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

Finely ground nutmeg and cinnamon can stay fresh for 2 to 3 years when properly stored. Whole spices such as cloves and cinnamon sticks keep for 4 to 5 years. Ground allspice when stored in a lidded container stays fresh 3 to 4 years. Store fresh ginger root in a brown paper bag for up to 3 weeks in the fridge or freeze for six months.

Try adding 1 teaspoon ground allspice to angel food or white cake mix for a change in flavor. Adding 1/4 teaspoon to 2 pounds of ground beef will give meatloaf or hamburgers a unique taste.

October recipes welcome the taste of warm, seasonal spice.

MONGOLIAN BEEF

1 pound of sirloin steak

1 tablespoon cornstarch

4 tablespoons peanut oil, divided

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

2 green onions

1 teaspoon fresh gingerroot

1 teaspoon garlic

Cut partially frozen beef into 1/8-inch slices. Toss beef, cornstarch, 1 tablespoon oil, salt, sugar and 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce in a glass bowl; cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Cut green onions into l-inch pieces. Heat wok; add 3 tablespoons oil. Add ginger root and garlic; stir fry until light brown. Add beef; stir fry until brown. Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce; stir to coat beef. Add green onion; stir fry 30 seconds. Serve over cooked rice. Makes 2 to 3 servings; easy to expand recipe.

The common white button mushrooms used in this next recipe will give the soup a mild flavor; shitake a rich, meaty flavor. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different kinds of mushrooms. For a heartier soup, add 1 cup cooked wild rice.

FRESH MUSHROOM SOUP

(“America’s Best Loved Community Recipes” cookbook)

1/4 cup butter

12 ounces (4-1/2 cups) sliced fresh mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup snipped parsley

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons dry vermouth (optional)

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add mushrooms and garlic to the saucepan; cook and stir for 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, blending well. Slowly add the broth, followed by the milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add parsley, salt, nutmeg and pepper. Add vermouth; cook until mixture is heated through.

Diabetics can count on this next recipe.

SUGAR-FREE

OATMEAL COOKIES

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 cup oatmeal

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon EACH ground nutmeg, allspice, ground cloves

1/2 cup raisins

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/4 cup water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup finely chopped nuts

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat well. Drop by spoonful onto lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until light brown. Makes 4 dozen.

CALIFORNIA MULLED CIDER

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 quarts apple cider

1 teaspoon whole allspice

1 teaspoon whole cloves

3 cinnamon sticks

Dash of nutmeg

Simmer all ingredients together for 20 minutes then add a twist of orange peel. Serves 10.

GOOD FOOD,

GOOD MEMORIES

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