fall flavors pumpkin spice and bread
Illustration by Lauren Wood, The Ohio State University
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fall flavors pumpkin spice and bread
Illustration by Lauren Wood, The Ohio State University

Here’s a culinary guide to the tastes of autumn.

After the country just endured a wild heat wave, it might be hard to think about the crisp air that comes with the changing of the seasons. But fall is the time to reap the benefits of the summer sun. As the days get shorter and the air gets colder, the flavors of fall emerge, centered around flavors and spices that remind us of warmth. Officially, fall began Sept. 22, and it is the season when the days get shorter, the nights get longer and where the holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving shine bright. These holidays are the perfect place to find traditional fall flavors but the whole season is a good time to indulge in its cozy and comforting tastes.

Pumpkin

Every year, Starbucks seems to insist that fall has arrived sooner than it really has. In August, the return of the pumpkin spice latte signals that it’s time to pull out boots and sweaters and dress for fall. This year, the PSL returned just as we braced ourselves for a record heat wave across the nation. Even Costco began baking their crowd-favorite pumpkin pie long before the season actually started. Prepare to see the flavor of pumpkin everywhere now that fall is officially here. Pumpkins require one of the longest growing times, starting in May and finally being harvested in October and November, explaining its appeal during Halloween and Thanksgiving across the country. Pumpkin made its first appearance in North America thousands of years ago, perhaps a reason for its mass popularity stateside.

Autumn Fruit Planting
Autumn Fruit Planting

In fall, pumpkin can be found in both savory and sweet dishes. On the savory side, pumpkin can be used in any squash dish, such as pumpkin soup, but for a new way to try pumpkin, try it roasted as a pizza topping. Tasty has a list of surprising ways to use pumpkin in savory dishes to add a new flavor profile to fall cooking, but where pumpkin will always shine this season is in the sweet dishes. Breakfasts through desserts find pumpkin as the centerpiece, surrounded by notes of fall-favorite spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Starbucks may spend its advertising dollars on the pumpkin spice latte but its pumpkin scone should be crowned the official dessert of fall.

Apple

Another fall favorite is the apple. While the apple is not indigenous to North America, the United States has embraced the apple pie as a symbol of America. Most apple varieties are harvested during the month of September, making fall the perfect season to enjoy their crisp freshness. Like the pumpkin, the versatility of the apple spans all meals of the day. Traditionally, the most popular place to find savory apples is in a Thanksgiving stuffing but brave chefs everywhere this fall will be featuring apples in a wider variety of dishes. This chicken salad is the perfect lunchtime meal to include the crispness of apples paired with savory ingredients.

Of course, when talking about fall and apples, the conversation is usually about apple pie or some other apple pie-inspired way to serve apples. Combining apples with notes of brown sugar and cinnamon will fill the house with warm, welcoming notes and hot apple desserts served alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream is a comfort food that is loved from coast to coast. Here are easy ways to take advantage of the bountiful apple harvest this fall.

Spices

Of course, fall has its own brand of spices that are popular during the darker, colder months. This flavor profile is often packed with bite and brings out the tastes of the more muted produce that is harvested during fall.

Allspice

You can find allspice in most dishes during this season. Allspice tastes like a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves (it’s actually a fruit!), explaining its appearance in desserts like apple pie and carrot cake. It can also be seen in savory profiles like jerk chicken, roasted pork and even as a glaze on a Thanksgiving ham. A favorite way to enjoy allspice this fall is in a chai tea latte that can be served hot for a cozy moment with a book or iced when fall brings on the last remnants of hot days before marching into winter.

Cinnamon

One of the quintessential fall flavors, cinnamon is probably the most used spice in the autumn. It makes its appearance in dishes left and right throughout the season. Everyone loves waking up to a warm, giant cinnamon roll waiting for them and apple desserts featuring cinnamon are a popular way to end a fall day. Historically, cinnamon has been around for thousands of years, but it first gained popularity in the Middle Ages as a way to prevent meat from spoiling. Today we use cinnamon in room sprays, cleaning products and even as a diet aid (not recommended). In the cinnamon flavor families, you’ll also find nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Adding cinnamon to your baking this season is a sure way to make friends and wow your family members.

Cardamom

A spice found all year in dishes in eastern Asia, cardamom shines stateside in the fall and winter in both savory and sweet dishes. Cardamom ranges from a zesty citrus flavor when used in its green form, to a richer spicier note (think gingerbread) when used in its dry, darker form. It’s popular in savory Indian dishes and chai and once you intentionally seek it out, the flavor is immediately recognizable. Sleeping on cardamom in fall baking is a mistake as this spice adds cozy notes of love to warm fall treats.

As the weather chills and fall creeps in with darkening afternoons, falling leaves and crisp air, enjoy all the flavors the season has to offer. Spend time elevating your palate and sharing new and interesting flavor combinations with friends and family. Fall favorite activities are enhanced by all the rich and spicy goodness that comes with the tastes of the season.

Writer Profile

Megan Miller

Arizona State University
English/History

Megan has lived her whole life in Southern California where she enjoys all the local attractions, especially the beaches. She enjoys reading, writing and cooking. She is obsessed with her dog, Moose.

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