The spices of the corn
(PS: I love you, just not as much)

The spices of the corn
Ari LeVaux - 09/19/2019

When people say they like pumpkin spice, what they mean is they like pumpkin pie-flavor. 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 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 PopTarts. We like pumpkin pie, and so they feed it to us.

Dunkin’ rolled out its full Pumpkin Spice menu 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, 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 spice 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. 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.

The following recipe is for a thick beverage that tastes like pumpkin pie. It 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 in 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 their own using 3 teaspoons each of cloves and all-spice, 4 teaspoons each of nutmeg and ginger, and 6 tablespoons cinnamon, all ground.

Corn Spice Porridge

Makes 2 servings
2 ears sweet corn, shucked (or 2 cups frozen corn)
2 cups water
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin spices
Optional: 1 tablespoon cocoa powder Optional: maple syrup for extra sweetness For corn spice latte or mocha: 1⁄4 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 the corn, along with the salt, spices and chocolate, if using, to a pot with the water. On medium heat, stir together with a fork and simmer 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 increasing the speed to high, and blend at high until it’s utterly smooth.

If you are in need of a 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, with a shot of espresso for that extra kick.

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