I love, love, love cinnamon…okay, it’s out there. I’ve admitted my addiction to it. I love the flavor and the aroma conjures up all sorts of wonderful childhood memories from both my own childhood and the memories I have of when our sons were small. It’s essential in most fruit pies, in rice pudding, added to sweet pickles, many lamb dishes or simply as a swizzle stick in hot apple cider or mulled wine. Add cinnamon to sugar, which can be sprinkled on hot cereal, oatmeal, into coffee or tea, sprinkled on toast or baked goods or your tongue…but that’s another story! Cinnamon conjures up all the comforting flavors and aromas of autumn and the ensuing holiday season. Face it, it’s a yummy and enticing thing, this cinnamon. And Vietnamese cinnamon is wonderfully nuanced, with warm, spicy flavor notes and a bit of heat, think Red Hot candy or a Fireball, at the end.
Cinnamon, as we know it, is really cassia. It’s considered a “warm” spice, like allspice, cloves, cumin, and is a main ingredient in five-spice powder, pumpkin pie and apple pie spice. You can use cinnamon in sweet dishes, which in the US and Canada is how we usually experience cinnamon, but it is a wonderful spice to use in a savory manner, too. Other cultures, Asians and any place the Moors were hanging around, like North African, Turkey, Spain and Portugal (and therefore, Latin America) use cinnamon in both sweet and savory ways….more about the savory side of cinnamon later.
Cinnamon is the main ingredient in many spice blends. You can certainly purchase pre-blended Pumpkin or Apple Pie Spice, but making your own is easy enough and you can adjust it to your preference. I use the following combination for Pumpkin Pie (simply omit the nutmeg for Apple Pie Spice):
Pumpkin Pie Spice
- 4 tablespoons ground Vietnamese cinnamon
- 4 teaspoons ground allspice
- 4 teaspoons ground ginger
- 3 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl; stir until well mixed. Store in a tightly covered container away from direct heat. You may add some ground cardamom or mace to this mixture, if your little heart desires.
A note about nutmeg. You may have noticed, because I can’t slip anything by your sharp eyes, I have underlined “freshly grated”. Once you start grating whole nutmeg meats, you will never purchase pre-grated nutmeg again. Pre-grated nutmeg has a completely different flavor (a bit medicinal) from freshly grated nutmeg and in my opinion, inferior. It really isn’t that difficult to grate nutmeg. You may use the traditional nutmeg grater, but using a microplane is even easier. But, nutmeg is a subject for a future posting…back to cinnamon.
This is one of those easy, homey dishes that begs for good vanilla ice cream and a hot fire. It screams autumn. This works best if you use the same variety of apples, so they will cook at the same rate…I like Winesap, Jonathan, Cortland, Macoun or Empire, but there are some wonderful, old heirloom varieties that would work beautifully here, too.
Roasted Apple Wedges
- 4-5 cooking apples, peeled and cored (you don’t have to peel them)
- 2-3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2-3 tablespoons bourbon
- 2-4 tablespoons melted butter
- 2-4 tablespoons pure maple sugar or brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Vietnamese or regular cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- large pinch kosher salt
- 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees.
Quarter the apples; place the wedges in a baking dish that will hold them; I used a 9X9-inch glass dish. Drizzle with the lemon juice, bourbon and butter. Sprinkle the maple sugar, spices and salt over the apples; stir until reasonably well coated. Cover with foil and toss the dish in the oven; bake for 15 minutes. Stir; drizzle with the maple syrup and return to the oven; continue baking an additional 30-50 minutes or until they are as done as you want them.
Remove from the oven and serve immediately. If you’re using these for dessert, serve over or under ice cream and sprinkle with crushed gingersnap cookies or pour a chilled creme Anglaise or heavy cream over the wedges. Or eat them on oatmeal for a grown-up brunch dish. For a savory application, they are excellent served as-is along side a pork roast or with roasted chicken. To vary the flavors, you may wish to combine pears and apples (or just pears) or add dried or fresh cranberries, use rum or brandy instead of bourbon, or add grated orange zest…anyway, you get the idea that this is a flexible dish. It’s very simple and quick to prepare, with lots of flavor!
Now back to cinnamon. Cinnamon has been known in Egypt for over 4000 years and in China for at least 2000 years. In Egypt, it was initially used in embalming and religious ceremonies. It’s mentioned in the Bible. It wasn’t until the 15th century that Portuguese traders introduced cinnamon to Europeans. In some cultures cinnamon is used medicinally, as it is thought to have digestive and stomach calming properties, as well as anti-fungal and antiseptic properties, but to my knowledge there are no proven studies. According to the American Orchid Society, you can use cinnamon as a fungicide on orchids. I put some on one of mine…we’ll see if it works. I’ll keep you posted…it smells great!
TIP: Use a Q-tip dipped in cinnamon and draw a border anywhere you see those tiny ants; they will not cross the border. Bonus, it’s safe for kids and your house will smell great!