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Beyond pumpkin spice

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GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
It’s autumn, the pumpkin spice everything season, variously known as the time of “mandatory kvetching about pumpkin spice.” But whatever your opinion on the annual ubiquity, pumpkin pie spice does carry the most evocative scents of the changing seasons — allspice, cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg.

Red Gravy chef/owner Eric Brenner considers these, plus star anise, to be America’s classic autumn spices and has offered his advice for incorporating them in your cool-weather cooking.

Generally, he prefers to store them whole before using, ginger included.

“I can’t think of any time that I would use clove or star anise ground,” he says. However, he finds that ground cinnamon and ginger powder can be convenient for baked goods. He prefers to grate fresh nutmeg, which gives more control over the flavor. Peeled ginger, star anise pods and cinnamon sticks are great for steeping in sauces or autumn beverages like mulled wine. Cloves present a challenge because they’re small, but they can easily be stuck into another ingredient, like an onion or citrus peel.

“If you use these intense, earthy spices, you need to balance them with something citrusy or bright,” Brenner says. He suggests citrus fruit and vinegar as go-to acids, but he says wine or tart apples can do the job in some instances. “Ginger is a good balance for some of these spices... [Just] make sure you’re always balancing.”

As for sourcing the freshest spices, he suggests buying as small a quantity as possible unless you’re going to be using it regularly. Spices don’t really go bad, so much as they lose flavor and potency. For sourcing the freshest spices, he recommends going to a specialty shop like Savory Spice Shop or Penzey’s Spices.

“[The employees are] passionate about it, so they’ll talk to you about different applications,” Brenner adds. For storage, the enemies of flavor are air and moisture. Use an airtight container and add a few grains of rice or, if convenient, a silica gel pack.

“I always tell everyone to go through their spices every six months,” Brenner says, “and if you haven’t used it in six months or a year, throw it out.”

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