Pompous Spice (pumpkin spice)

It’s Pumpkin Spice time again! Besides lattes and pie, what else can be done with it? Quite a lot.

I was checking out my spice cabinet and there it was: left over pumpkin spice from last year. I thought to myself, that I should find other uses for it.

View the recipe

That same week Starbucks brought back it’s Pumpkin Spice Latte for the fall season. It was this product, created in 2003, that changed the spice landscape.

    Now pumpkin spice can be found in a plethora of products. It is even a meme.

Pumpkin Spice seems like a fad, maybe even a “flash in the pan”, but it isn’t- the ratios for the spices in this mix go back to the Middle Ages. Follow me on this journey. 🙂


My oldest physical cookbook is The White House Cookbook, and it was written in 1887 (click the link to download it free). The White House steward Hugo had two recipes for pumpkin pie- the first had equal measures of dried ginger aIt’snd cinnamon, but the second recipe skipped the ginger completely and instead added nutmeg and mace (the outer covering of nutmeg).


Fast forward in time, to my 1943 edition of “The Joy of cooking,” and Irma Rombauer’s recipe looked similar to the first White House (1887) recipe. The more modern (1974) version had the familiar pumpkin pie spices of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. The McCormick blend available in supermarkets today has

all of the above- cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. There has been a shift in the number of ingredients, probably because it would be hard to sell a mix of just two ingredients. In fact the same thing goes for food blogs; I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t have something to add to the mix.

I decided to go Medieval and dove into “The Forme of Cury,” a cookbook that was first scribed on a scroll in 1390 by the master cooks of King Richard II (the word cury was from an Old French word for cookery). Spices were all the rage back then, and these recipes were fit for a King. They had galangal, a spice that I had learned about in Thai cooking, and sumac, a spice common in the Middle East. Rarer ingredients such as cubeb, mastic, and grains of paradise have kept my Amazon account hopping.

They had two basic spice mixes. These blends were used in the same way as Lawry’s seasoning, and garam masala are used today. One was a savory seasoning usually with pepper called PowderFort for strong powder. The other was called Poudre Douce sometimes referred to as “gode pouder”(good powder). It went in and on top of everything. The cooks that wrote “The Forme of Cury” did it mostly for their own kitchen, so they were a bit secretive. Ingredient amounts and clear directions are missing. They assumed the reader knew how the food should taste.

Daniel Myers from [medievalcookery.com] came up with a recipe that would have been right at home in this era. This recipe can pass as pumpkin spice mix, containing ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and sugar (which was expensive and treated as a spice back then). If you were to cook this recipe with a touch of water it would be the “Pumpkin Spice syrup,” which is used nowadays for Lattes.

The medieval kitchens had open pies called coffyns. My search for a pumpkin pie was in vain, because there weren’t any pumpkins in Medieval England. It would be well over a hundred years before pumpkins would be known in Europe. This helps explain why the ancient loseyns (lasagna) recipe had pasta, and cheese; but no tomatoes. It is more like a mac and cheese.

My theory is that this “sweet powder” of yore is the ancestor of “Pumpkin Pie Spice”. It was used in mince meat pies from 1390 till the present day.

Interesting things happen when pumpkin spice gets a few added ingredients.  The addition of pepper turns it into Quatre Epices. This is the “4 spice” mix popular in France. It is even used in Charcuterie. Pepper and Cardamon transform pumpkin spice into a Chai Masala. If you’ve had Starbucks Chai Tea then you know the flavor. Chai means “tea”in India and China so what you’re really asking for is: chai chai, which sounds like a dance to me. Chai Masala mixed with Adobo (a Latin American savory mix) is almost a complete Garam Masala, which is an important base for Indian curries. You can see we had to go from from Cury to Curry.

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