Uncovering the History and Mysteries of Pumpkin Pie Spice

It seems like everyone can’t get enough of Pumpkin Pie Spice. Pumpkin pie is a favourite fall desert but its signature spice has permeated into all other sorts of products like lattes, cakes, muffins and scones to name a few. It may appear a modern fanaticism but it is truly rooted in a history and in mysteries that go back centuries.

Spices have always been very important. Originally from India and the Orient, they have an infamous reputation for being exotic and valuable. There have been wars and obsessions over spices for centuries. In fact it was because of the war over spices, which was a reason for the search for better routes to the East, that the Europeans originally discovered North America, without which there would be no Pumpkin Pie Spice.

Pumpkin pie spice (or just Pumpkin Spice as it seems to be more commonly called now) is a signature American spice blend. There is no set discovery of the first mixing of Pumpkin Spice. That is destined to be a mystery hidden in the sands of time. However, it is known that this spice blend has its heritage with the pilgrims. We say it is a mixture of “warming” spices. Pumpkin is a food found the New World. So the creation of is an example of the interaction of Old World meets New World.

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What makes this signature spice blend? The spices in pumpkin pie spice are cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice. Cinnamon will always be featured in the greatest amount and quite a lot more than the other spices. Next, ginger and nutmeg are featured in second highest amounts with cloves and allspice being featured in the lowest amount. This is because cloves and allspice are fairly strong and pungent spices and will not be as pleasing in large amounts as cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg. The precise amounts of spices may vary but the proportions in relation to one another of the other spices will remain similar.

You can buy the spice already premixed or you can by individual spices to create and customize your own special blend.  Spices should be stored in air-tight containers in a cool, dry dark place for up to 6 months.

Here’s a quick recipe for Pumpkin Spice. Simply mix all the ingredients together.

  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • ½ tsp cloves
  • ½ tsp allspice

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Not only does this spice mix add flavour to your cooking and baking but they also provide hidden benefits to your health. Spices add flavour which reduces the need for extra sugar, salt and fat to recipes helping you to cook and eat healthier. There is some research into the antioxidant activity of spices which contributes to keeping us healthy by reducing free-radical damage to our bodies – protecting our cells and reducing the risk for many diseases.

The Story Behind the Slice – Do You Know Where Your Loaf of Bread Came From?

There is nothing quite like the smell of freshly baking bread. The moment I say this you know what I mean. It casts a spell, stimulates the senses, lifts the spirit and has an overall incomparable effect on the human psyche.

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Bread is one of the principal and most important sources of nutrition ever known to human beings. It has been with us since the beginning and, in many ways, it was a spark for the growth of all civilization. There is much more that lies behind the bread you contemplate at the bakery; that you slice and toast for breakfast; that you pack or pick-up for lunch; or even the ordinary dinner roll. Where did it come from? How did it all come to this? Questions that lead to a fascinating story.

The domestication and cultivation of grains like wheat caused our nomadic ancestors to become stationary. This was a revolutionary lifestyle change. The discovery of bread making closely followed. Non-leavened flat breads (think of Indian naan or chapattis, Middle Eastern pitas, Mexican tortillas) were the first types of bread, produced by mixing flours with water to make a paste and then heating this to bake bread. This method made food more compact, easier to store and transport, and last longer. But bread making did not stop there.

The first recorded leavened bread (what you see now when you visualize bread) is traced back to ancient Egypt around 3000 BC. It was the discovery of yeast, also used for making beer, changed the course and preparation of bread forever. Apparently, the discovery of leavened bread was accidental, occurring when an air-born yeast randomly landed on some unbaked bread, thereupon reacting and catalyzing a transformation in the process of bread making. Yeast produces carbon dioxide gas which is what gives bread it’s puffiness. From there leavened bread became the new norm and popular throughout the globe.

Bread has maintained a singularly important role in history, culture and religion. Bread symbolizes prosperity. The bread riots of the French Revolution are infamous. For Christianity the reference to bread is common throughout the bible. In Judaism, the gorgeous braided Challah featured as part of the Sabbath and important holidays. Even in popular culture “bread” or “dough” is synonymous with “money” – again symbolizing abundance and prosperity.

Over the years, the simple loaf of bread has seen many developments and transformations but it has remained integral to survival. The processes of refining flour have been an ongoing mission since the beginning. White flour naturally requires more effort in processing and refining and it was considered a status symbol: whiter, finer breads for the higher classes and darker, denser and more coarse breads for the lower classes. Nowadays, it’s interesting to note how the mindset has shifted to the reverse with current nutrition knowledge promoting the importance of whole grains for their higher vitamin and mineral content.

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Considering where it has come from and where it is at today, it will be interesting to see what lies ahead in the story of bread. Unfortunately, the question always arises – have we gone too far? The addition of preservatives, high amounts of sugar and over-processing is stripping bread of the simplicity with which it started and the nutritional advantages with which it served our ancestors. In Canada from 2006 – 2011 there was limited or stagnant grown and some decline in certain sections and specific bread products. Nevertheless, innovation has always been an important hallmark in the history of bread. Already we have seen the diversification of special products and flours made from grains other than wheat, owing to the massive dietary shift to go gluten-free. Artisan breads are seeing a comeback, and they are more similar to what our ancestors would recognize as bread.

One thing is certain, awareness is of first and foremost importance. Realizing how the decisions we make affect our health and the power we have to make decisions for our own health and well being and champion change for ourselves, our families and our food systems.

What’s Your Food Story?

Food (i.e. a source of nutrition) is the common denominator for all forms of life on the earth. Since time immortal, there has been a fascination with food. It has the incredible power to bring people together. And it has been the fall of civilizations – ripping cultures and people apart. It’s undeniable that we all have a relationship with food in some way or another. As individual as we are from one another so are our likes, dislikes and beliefs about food. Time, history, geographical location and life experience all contribute to these conceptions about what we should and should not eat.

Many traditional medicinal practices believe in the power of certain foods to heal or to harm the body. For instance, Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of healing; the Four Humours of the Hippocratic Medicine system; even the Traditional Chinese Medicine system all shared a common belief in how eating certain foods and not others affected the balance and thereby the overall health and vitality of the body. It is certain that there has been a higher reverence placed on food than is currently seen in much of society’s relationship to food today. Could this be due to the limited supplies and lack of those times, compared to the overproduction and overconsumption of today?

Food and culture are intertwined. Think of how certain foods are integrated into a culture’s heritage and traditions, or in other cases where foods are excluded. What dishes are considered special and why? Consider the turkey at Thanksgiving; chocolate on Valentine’s Day; even the Birthday Cake … all are relevant examples. These beliefs and associations come via a process of socialization and the society in which we are raised.

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What about your family meals and traditions? Where do they come from? Do your beliefs serve and support? How do certain foods make you feel and why? After identifying what your beliefs are about foods you can then reflect on how they impact your overall relationship with food.

We all have our own ideas about food and nutrition. Some of those may have been learned and passed down, others we develop y experiences we have in our individual life situation. However your story is not over. Remember as you can always re-write pages to improve the story’s content and direction, so too can you make changes to improve the quality of your diet and nutrition.

So what’s your food story and how do you want it to read?