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NORTH COUNTRY KITCHEN: Sweet, spicy, hot autumn beverages
September 15, 2017

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By YVONA FAST

Autumn is the season when leaves turn bright colors, then fall to carpet the ground. It is when geese fly south in grand formation. It is time for apples, pungent greens, sweet winter squash and pumpkin. Autumn is the season we bring back warm comfort foods designed to keep away the chill. It is the season when we turn from cold drinks like iced tea and lemonade to beverages that will warm body and soul. Warm pumpkin lattes, hot cider and steamy chai tea all gain flavor from cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Sweet, warming spices?- cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom - are an important part of fall menus. Today we take these spices for granted, but hundreds of years ago only gold and silver were more expensive commodities. The discovery of the New World and conquests of India by the British and Indonesia by the Dutch were all a result of the search for these rare flavorings. They were so valuable, they triggered wars!

These Oriental flavors arrived in Europe during the Middle Ages, journeying from India and China along the caravan route. During this time the term 'spice' (derived from 'species') became associated with rare, exotic foods - aromatic vegetables whose intense flavor is used as a seasoning. The flavors come from essential oils found in the bark, roots, buds, seeds, berries, or fruit of tropical plants. Examples are black pepper (berries), mustard (seeds), cloves (buds), nutmeg (nut), cinnamon (bark), ginger (root), cardamom (seed).

Sweet spices are nutritional powerhouses, full of important antioxidants and phytonutrients. In the Orient, spices have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Aromatic herbs are considered essential for treating disease and promoting longevity in both traditional Chinese and Ayurvedan (Indian) medicine.

Modern studies prove that the chemical compounds in these herbs have many health benefits. Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are considered the warming herbs; they help to expand and relax muscles and arteries, and open up what is congested. They have been used as tonics, analgesics, antiseptics, and decongestants. They help digestion. Because they improve circulation, they're beneficial for atherosclerosis, angina and other heart issues.

Cinnamon consumption has been linked to lowered blood sugar; the spice helps insulin work better. It is also a powerful weapon against cardiovascular problems, and it may prevent Alzheimer's. Clinical studies have found that an extract from cinnamon bark inhibits the formation of amyloid plaques in mice with Alzheimer's. Aroma of cinnamon boosts blood flow, stimulating the brain, enhancing alertness and motivation. Its antiseptic properties make cinnamon tea a good weapon against bladder infections.

Nutmeg contains the antioxidant myristicin, a well-known anti-inflammatory also found in parsley. It can relieve joint inflammation from gout and arthritis. During the 1800ds, it was crushed, made into a tea and used as a remedy for insomnia. Today we know that its action is delayed, so it must be taken a few hours before bedtime. It can take the edge off nerves, calm muscle spasms, induce slumber and help you stay asleep. Studies have shown it has cardiovascular benefits; it thins the blood, reduces cholesterol and other blood fats, increases circulation and lowers blood pressure. It has been traditionally used to treat stomach problems like nausea, vomiting, indigestion and diarrhea. But too much nutmeg is toxic, and can affect the nervous system, causing hallucinations.

Cloves are well known for their antimicrobial properties, and have long been used in India and China to kill bacteria, fungi, and intestinal parasites. They are used in dentistry as a local antiseptic and analgesic. This is due to their high concentration of eugenol. They have also been used to treat digestive and respiratory disorders. Like nutmeg and cinnamon, clove helps relieve the stiffness and pain of osteoarthritis. Also like cinnamon, it helps increase efficiency of insulin, and can help diabetics with controlling their sugar.

Ginger root was used in ancient India and Tibet to reduce nausea, soothe an upset stomach, combat colds and flu, help joint problems like arthritis, and improve circulation. Modern science has identified more than 40 separate antioxidants in the herb. Gingerols are compounds in ginger that fight inflammation, alleviating arthritis pain and muscle aches. Laboratory studies have confirmed ginger's anti-inflammatory and cancer fighting properties. Modern medicine has also shown ginger to be a vasodilator, widening blood vessels and increasing metabolism.

A relative of ginger, cardamom flavors spiced chai, Turkish coffee, and is a popular seasoning in Scandinavian baked goods. Medicinally, it stimulates digestion and flow of bile. In Asian traditional medicine, it has been valued to increase circulation and improve energy.

To prepare a medicinal tea with any of these herbs, place a heaping teaspoon of the herb in a cup. Bring one cup of water to a boil, and then pour it over the herb. Cover and let steep for 10 minutes before straining into a cup.

Masala chai, black tea flavored with sweet spices, is a spiced tea drink common in India. Today, chai latte -?black tea flavored with sweet spices and mixed with hot, frothy milk -?has become a popular fall drink.

Beverages flavored with sweet autumn spices taste great and offer tremendous health benefits. As the leaves begin to change, enjoy homemade pumpkin spice coffee, chai latte and hot, spiced cider.

Pumpkin Latte

Ingredients:

1/2 cup milk (or half and half if you want it richer) use more milk if you like it creamier

3 tablespoons pumpkin pure

2 to 3 teaspoons maple syrup or honey (more if you like it sweeter)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

teaspoon nutmeg

teaspoon cloves

cup strong brewed coffee

Whipped cream for topping (optional)

Directions:

Place milk, pumpkin puree and maple syrup insaucepan. Blend with immersion blender (not necessary but it will make it more frothy and help break up any pumpkin). Heat over medium heat, whisking, about 5 minutes or until steamy. Add vanilla and spices, and continue whisking a minute or two longer for the spices to dissolve.

Once the milk is frothy, pour into your mug, and add the coffee. Top with whipped cream and an additional sprinkling of cinnamon, if desired.

Makes 1 serving.

Chai Latte

Ingredients:

1 cup water

1 strip of orange peel

3 whole cloves

1 (3 inch) cinnamon stick

2 whole black peppercorns

1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced

Pinch of ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons black tea leaves, or 1 teabag

1 cup milk

Sweetener (like maple syrup), optional

Directions:

Heat water with orange peel, cloves, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, sliced ginger and nutmeg. Bring to a boil; simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and add tea leaves or tea bag. Steep two to five minutes (depending how strong you like your tea). Strain into mug.

Heat milk to just before boiling. Whisk vigorously to froth.

Add hot milk to the mug with the strained tea. Sweeten to taste with maple syrup, honey, sugar or other sweetener of your choice. Enjoy.

Makes 1 large mug or about 2 cups.

Hot Spiced Cider

Ingredients:

1/2 gallon fresh apple cider

2 sticks cinnamon

3 4 whole cloves

1 Tablespoon maple syrup

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Directions:

Simmer cider on the stove with cinnamon and cloves for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in maple syrup and lemon juice. Let stand covered 5 or 10 minutes longer. Remove cinnamon and cloves. Serve piping hot in mugs. Serves 4.

Variations: add other spices, like nutmeg or allspice. Or spike by adding a half cup of brandy or schnapps.

Author of the award winning cookbook, Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden,

CSA or Farmers' Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. Check out her website and blog at www.wordsaremyworld.com.

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