Last night, during my post-dinner clean-up, I threw away three pears. They were well past their prime and were threatening to stage a decomposition scene right there in the fruit bowl.
An hour or so later, I called my mom and we started talking holidays, baking and the many delicious things in the world. The topic of gingerbread came up and I floated the idea of a tender gingerbread cake with juicy bits of pear baked in. We determined that it was a genius idea and I jumped up to fish the thrown away pears out of the garbage can. It was last minute reprieve.
Earlier today, as I gathered my gingerbread ingredients, I realized I was missing a minor player. Ground allspice. Just as I was about to shrug and accept that I had to do without, I remembered that I had a large jar of whole allspice.
I tumbled a few into an old bladed coffee grinder I keep around for spices and small amounts of nuts and went to town. When the bulk of the allspice berries were reduced to powder, I shook them through a sieve to separate out the hard, stubborn bits. I was left with approximately two ounces of gorgeously fragrant, freshly ground allspice. I measured the necessary 1/4 teaspoon for the gingerbread and tucked the rest into a jar for the spice rack.
I realize that for some of you, this is not big deal. You grind your spices fresh all the time. However, I’m one of those people who often gets stuck in patterns of behavior and one is the assumption that ground spices must be bought in their ground state. I sometimes forget how easy it can be to make a pantry staple like this on. And with holiday baking coming up, it’s nice to have a little jar of freshly ground allspice on hand.
The pear gingerbread turned out amazing well too. I’ll be posting the recipe, a riff on the one in Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, later tonight.
This is LITERALLY exactly how my ground allspice looks, plastic storage lid with marker label on 4oz jar and all, and I had the exact same realization a week ago! Made me smile. 🙂
I think the best part about grinding your own spices is that wonderful smell that is released… makes you realize that the pre-ground spices in the cupboard are probably really quite elderly!
Love this! I too have small realizations all the time that are obvious to others, but I feel so amazing when I figure it out. I am quite excited to read about your bread. Lately, I have been starting vinegar with my past-prime fruits.
I discovered this same magical solution as I was making a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I still have a slight mark on my forehead from smacking my palm to it!
Admittedly, I tried my nutmeg grater first……don’t!
You can also make all of your own spice pastes… I made several different batches of green and yellow curry pastes…. so much fun and you can freeze them. The only downside is that your hands smell like garlic for quite awhile.
Once you’ve made your own ground cumin from toasted cumin seeds, you’ll never go back. It’s in a whole other league.
I finally “discovered” this option a few years ago, and had a good laugh at myself for not thinking of it sooner. I make my own spice blends for fun now, and am totally hooked (try very lightly toasting your bay leaves, then grind them and add them to your meat rubs, soups, etc. So good.)
Also, I’m reading that Laurie Colwin book right now. So good!
I like to run a bit of white rice through my spice grinder after I use it. It does a good job of absorbing flavors and cleaning out the grinder. No one wants gingerbread that tastes like curry.
No that’s something I need to try. I keep 3 grinders. Coffee, sweet spices like cinamon and allspice and other spices like pepper dried garlic, etc. Because they are impossible to clean and not end up with garlic cinamon. Maybe your rice will do the trick.
I love allspice it has to be one of my favourites. And I agree with the Cozy Herbivore, the smell of grinding your own spices is amazing. I’ve just used loads of allspice in my Pear, Cranberry and Walnut Chutney which you might like to try. It really has all the tastes of Christmas.
I really need to get around to replacing my coffee grinder already so I can do this. Whole spices seem to stay fresher and they do taste better than the pre-ground kind.
I don’t have a coffee grinder, but allspice is very easy to crush/grind with a mortar and pestle. I often end up doing that with spices I don’t happen to have pre-ground, and allspice is one of the easiest to thoroughly grind up that way. (Bonus: you can surprise people who thought that “allspice” was a seasoning blend of spices)