A taste of autumn – without the terror of pumpkin spice

From body lotions to hipster beer, nothing is safe from the ubiquitous pumpkin spice in the US, but our columnist finds comforting flavours closer to home

I saw the truth in the saying "the grass is always greener on the other side" recently, as we sat having breakfast outside, discussing whether all the sunshine and palm trees in Los Angeles would soon begin to wear thin.

I know, I know, but when we dreamed about a life out here, smack bang in the middle of a cold Irish winter last year, perhaps we didn’t take into account the monotony of waking up every day to blue skies.

For now, I am not complaining. But despite the 30-degree heat, the supermarkets here are dead-set on marking the season and are bursting at the seams with everything and anything pumpkin-flavoured. From body lotions to hipster beer, nothing is safe from the ubiquitous pumpkin spice – a heady concoction of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Clearly the autumnal ingredient is introduced as a means to over-compensate for the mild seasons, or lack there of here in southern California. There is just something so wrong with sipping a pumpkin spice latte in beaming sunshine. If this is just the beginning, I can just imagine what madness Christmas will bring.


Only when you’ve felt the blustery sideways rain of a cold Irish October day, or spent shivering Halloween evenings in a bed sheet traipsing the streets, can you fully appreciate autumn in all its glory. And only then, when you return home in an iceblock state, is it really ever appropriate to request something as warm and comforting as a hot drink with pumpkin spice.

Despite the weather, this season brings with it a bounty of ingredients for cooks to choose from. There are blackberries in the hedgerows, apples from the trees and fairytale pumpkins and gourds from the vegetable garden.

Wild game also begins to come into season and one of the highlights of my travels in Ireland last year was a visit to the Baronscourt Estate in Co Tyrone. Alongside the head gamekeeper, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the elusive herd of Japanese Sika deer that was introduced in 1751 and now roams wild on the estate.

Venison is a meat worthwhile sourcing, and it pairs well with warm spices and a sweet glaze of redcurrant jelly. Served with pumpkin mash and forest mushrooms, this is the sort of hearty grub October was made for.

As comforting cold day desserts go, anything with “sticky toffee” in its title has my vote. This autumnal version of the classic makes use of apples to create a moist sponge, and it is served with caramel sauce and whiskey-spiked whipped cream. Simple comfort without a pumpkin latte in sight.