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pumpkin spices

Pumpkin spice flavoring is actually several spices.

When people say they like pumpkin spice-flavored foods, what they mean is they like pumpkin pie-flavored foods. The difference between spice and pie being a few hundred calories’ worth of cream and sugar, not to mention actual pumpkin (or squash, as is the case with much canned pumpkin pie filling).

Take a look at the ingredient list of most any iconic vehicle for pumpkin spices, such as the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, and you will see more than just a sweet, spiced coffee drink. There are actual pumpkin particles in that cup, in the form of puree. Ditto for your breakfast cereal, pretzels, doughnuts, protein powder, ice cream, kombucha, kale chips, cream cheese, bagels, yogurt, popcorn and Pop-Tarts. We like pumpkin pie, and so they feed it to us.

Dunkin’ rolled out its full Pumpkin Spice menu on Aug. 21, apparently in an effort to beat Starbucks to the pumpkin spice punch. It’s one thing to put the spices in deodorant, moonshine and e-cigarettes year-round. But when it comes to putting pumpkin pie in the actual food we eat, this far out of season, that’s too much.

If people want to consume their pumpkin pie spices in the pre-fall season, and clearly they do, I suggest combining them with corn. Corn is sweeter than squash, and if prepared properly, creamier as well. So sweet and creamy, in fact, that corn, pumpkin spices and a pinch of salt are all you really need to make a pumpkin pie-flavored drink.

Pumpkin pie spices is a mixture of ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and ginger. These roots, seeds and bark all share the trait of somehow tasting sweet without actually being sweet, somehow evoking sweet sensations. In the presence of actual sweet ingredients, they really pucker up. But they can also be a bit raspy and rough, and a dose of cream makes these qualities more palatable, without obscuring them. That is part of the magic of pumpkin pie.

The only difference between pumpkin pie and chai spices is the inclusion of cardamom. Chai spices are often served in conjunction with sweet, creamy ingredients, along with steeped bits of a caffeine-bearing plant — tea, in this case. While pumpkin spices have recently, and some would say wrongly, found a niche as a coffee flavoring, chai spices — and their accompanying milk, vanilla and honey — have flavored black tea for centuries.

Back to that corn-spice drink. When my wife took a sip, what she said was music to my ears. Our kids swarmed into the kitchen, took sips and said the same thing she had. Even the girl next door, less accustomed to my kitchen research projects, agreed:

“It tastes like pumpkin pie!”

This was encouraging, but one question remained: Could I use my corny concoction in a pumpkin spice latte, aka the “PSL”?

I took a trip to Starbucks and paid five bucks for the smallest cup they had. I didn’t taste any coffee, only pumpkin pie, but the barista claimed she’d added a shot. I took it home and added homemade espresso, which made it taste kind of funny, in a way that pumpkin sometimes can.

The corn spice latte (CSL), meanwhile, had none of that funniness, no matter how much coffee I added. And I added plenty. And when I added chocolate powder to the corn-coction, the resulting corn spice mocha (CSM) made me smile like a jack-o-lantern.

Corn Spice Porridge

This is a thick beverage that tastes like pumpkin pie. The recipe includes a chocolate option — because who doesn’t like chocolate pumpkin pie? Both Corn Spice and Chocolate Corn Spice go well with coffee — better than pumpkin, if you ask me — and don’t require added sugar or milk, as corn is sweet and creamy. But if you want Starbucks-level decadence to your Corn Spice Latte or Mocha, add more sweetener and creamer.

For expediency, I use a commercial pumpkin pie spice mix. Not only is it pre-mixed, it is ground much finer than what I can do at home. But extreme-DIYers can mix up: three teaspoons each of cloves and allspice, four teaspoons each of nutmeg and ginger, and six tablespoons cinnamon, all ground.

Makes 2 servings

2 ears sweet corn, shucked (or 2 cups frozen corn)

2 cups water

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons pumpkin spices

Optional: 1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Optional: maple syrup for extra sweetness

For corn spice latte or mocha base: ¼ cup (or more) heavy cream, 2 tablespoons (or more) sugar

Cut off the tip of the cob and hold it tip down on a cutting board. Place a filet knife or the narrowest knife you can find about halfway down the cob, and cut straight down, as close to the cob as possible, slicing off a sheet of kernels. Rotate your grip on the cob and slice off another sheet. When you have sliced the corn off the entire half, put the other end down on the cutting board and slice the corn off the other end. You should get about a cup and a half from an average-size ear.

Add this corn, along with the salt, spices and chocolate, if using, to a pot with the water. On medium heat, stir it together with a fork and bring to a simmer. Leave it there for 5 minutes, covered. Turn off heat and allow to cool. When cool enough to work with, add to a blender, preferably a powerful one like a Vitamix. Start on the lowest speed, gradually increase the speed to high, and blend at high until it’s utterly smooth.

If you need blender upgrade, you may have to filter what’s left. Otherwise you will end up with corn pieces in your teeth, and a very unpleasing CSL.

Pour the liquefied or strained corn spices back into the pot and return to a simmer. Serve hot or cold.

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Ari LeVaux writes Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column carried in more than 60 newspapers nationwide. Though his audience is national, he says he "always writes about Montana. Usually."

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