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Spices of Autumn

Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, allspice — the exact blend varies, but paired with pumpkin, this combination is synonymous with the taste of fall.

An autumn wave of pumpkin-spice foods was boosted more than a decade ago with Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, which actually contains no pumpkin. Now everything from Oreos and Hershey’s Kisses to Terra chips and pumpkin beer have tapped into Americans’ taste for pumpkin-pie spice.

Although most closely associated with its namesake dessert, pumpkin-pie spice is far from a one-trick pony, says Central Point resident Amy Spence. Both sweet and savory recipes using autumn’s signature spices are planned for her free cooking class Monday, Nov. 3, in Grants Pass.

“It’s the pumpkin season,” says Spence, a part-time culinary-arts instructor at Cascade Christian High School in Medford.

Instead of using the spice blend, Spence plans to break down its components and highlight them individually. Honey-glazed pork chops with cinnamon, ginger and cloves anchor the menu, with a side of mashed, spiced sweet potatoes. Pumpkin streusel concludes the meal, while spiced nuts, either almonds or pecans, make for a “super easy” snack, says Spence.

Warm, earthy spices perfectly accent nuts. To candy them, simmer a pound or so of pecans in simple syrup until softened, then toss them in sugar flavored with pumpkin-pie spice. Spread them out on a baking sheet and gently toast until completely dried. A festive nibble, they also lend crunch and richness to fall salads. Or toss them with dried fruit for a simple party or trail mix.

In addition to offering recipes, Spence will guide class participants through matching flavors, particularly savory, with the featured spices. Cinnamon complements beef or lamb, she says. Ginger plays well with chicken, likewise cloves with pork, she adds. Nutmeg is almost essential in white sauces, such as the one Spence spreads over spinach manicotti.

The origins of each spice also will be discussed, says Spence. Contrary to its name, allspice, she says, is not a mixture of several spices but rather its own dried berry. Cloves are the dried flower buds of a tree native to Indonesia. Cinnamon is the dried, inner bark of laurel-type trees, primarily cassia bark (native to Southeast Asia) and the less-sweet but more-complex Ceylon, or true cinnamon. Nutmeg is the hard, olive-sized seed of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia.

“Wars were waged back in the 1400s over nutmeg,” says Spence. “As a teacher, I just think it’s interesting to share tidbits like that.”

She’ll also share how to combine individual spices in the right ratio to make pumpkin-pie spice. If cooks have only the ready-made blend in their cabinets, she says, they could use that in a pinch for some of her recipes.

Spiced, Candied Pecans

4 cups sugar, divided

1 pound raw pecan halves

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1-1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Heat oven to 275 F.

In a large saucepan, combine 3 cups of the sugar with the pecans and 3 cups water. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer; cook pecans until softened, for about 10 minutes. While pecans are simmering, combine the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice in a small bowl, along with remaining 1 cup sugar.

Drain pecans (discard pecan simple syrup or save for another use) and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle over spiced sugar and toss to coat pecans completely.

Spread pecans on a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Toast pecans in preheated oven until sugar is hardened and pecans are dried through, for 40 to 60 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes or so.

Cool pecans on baking sheet. Nuts will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container in a cool place.

Makes about 1-1/2 quarts candied nuts.

Pumpkin-Spiced French Toast

3 eggs

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (canned is OK)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

8 (1-inch-thick) bread slices, such as challah or brioche, somewhat stale

1/4 cup butter or bacon fat, more as needed

Powdered sugar, for garnish

Warm maple syrup, preferably grade B, for serving

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the cream and pumpkin puree, then the vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice. Pour batter into a wide, shallow baking dish.

Soak the bread slices in egg mixture on both sides, for 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until hot. Melt the butter or bacon fat in hot pan, then add 2 slices of bread. Reduce heat and fry slices gently on each side until bread is crisp and golden-brown, and inside of bread is cooked through, for 3 to 4 minutes per side. Cover pan while cooking so bread toasts evenly and thoroughly.

Remove toast and hold on a baking sheet in a warm oven until all slices are toasted. Repeat with remaining slices.

Slice toast and divide it among 4 plates. Dust each serving with the powdered sugar, if desired, and serve with the warm maple syrup.

Makes 4 servings.

Pumpkin-Spiced Eggnog

3/4 cup heavy cream

6 eggs, separated

1/2 cup, plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided

1 cup dark rum

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon finely ground ginger

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (canned is OK)

Cinnamon sticks or ground nutmeg, for garnish

In bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large, chilled bowl using a hand mixer, beat the cream to stiff peaks, for about 3 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the 1/2 cup sugar until combined and frothy. Whisk in the rum.

Set bowl over a large pot of simmering water, making sure bottom of bowl does not touch water. Continue to whisk until mixture increases in volume and thickens, for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and place it over a large bowl of ice water, whisking to cool mixture. Refrigerate until needed.

In bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites until frothy. Gradually sprinkle over the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger and remaining 2 teaspoons sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk and pumpkin puree until smooth. Set aside.

Fold whipped cream gently into chilled egg yolks, then, again very gently, fold in beaten egg whites and milk mixture, each a little at a time, until incorporated. Refrigerate until ready to serve. To serve, pour into chilled glasses or eggnog cups (or demitasse cups), with a stick of cinnamon or pinch of nutmeg. Cocktail will keep for 1 day, covered and refrigerated.

Makes 12 servings.

— Recipe adapted from “The Elements of Taste” by Gray Kunz and Peter Kaminsky.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

Pumpkin-spiced egg nog can warm up a fall evening. Pumpkin pie spice also goes well with savory foods. - Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times