Even if you love the ubiquitous fall flavor of pumpkin spice (no judgement – it's yummy) it may be time to branch out into the other amazing tastes of autumn. Try these palate pleasing alternatives to pumpkin next time you're in the mood for something warm and delicious this season.
Maple. Before there was pumpkin spice, there was maple. And now, it's back in style; maple pecan lattes are becoming a popular alternative to the pumpkin spice ones at coffee shops. You can try making your own at home. Just stir a tablespoon of maple syrup into 6 ounces of strong brewed coffee, top with foamy milk, and sprinkle a little cinnamon on top. (To foam the milk, shake it in a mason jar with the lid on to create lots of bubbles. Take the lid off and microwave for about 30 seconds to stabilize the foam; you can then spoon it right onto your latte.) But don't stop at coffee. This favorite from your childhood adds a nutty, sweet flavor to glazes and barbecue sauce, and works magic in many desserts. Drizzle it over ice cream, or try it mixed with Sriracha sauce for a zesty sweet-and-tangy kick. And of course you can't go wrong with maple syrup over pancakes or waffles.
Pear. The classic fall fruit can be used in salads or eaten fresh from the produce department, plain and juicy. But nothing says fall like a warm pear dessert, and you can make a simple, super-healthy dish by grilling the fruit. (All varieties, from Bartlett to Bosc, work well on the grill.) To do: Cut the pears in half and scoop out the core. Brush lightly with a little oil or butter. Grill, flat side down, for about 10 minutes on low heat. Serve plain or with a dollop of ice cream. Or, sprinkle grilled pears with a little brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, or even cayenne for a sweet and spicy treat.
Ginger. What complements crisp weather better than gingerbread? The taste of ginger livens up cookies, pumpkin pie, and even mild cuts of meat. Fall is still grilling weather, so fire up the charcoals and try this tangy marinade for pork or chicken: Mix ¼ cup soy sauce, ¼ cup rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger. Let the meat marinate for a few hours and grill.
Rhubarb. Although the red stalks of rhubarb grow all summer, the tart taste is wonderful in fall foods – everything from chutney to classic rhubarb pie. One super easy autumn dessert is rhubarb crisp. For the topping, mix 1 cup each all-purpose flour, rolled oats, and packed brown sugar; ¼ cup chilled butter; ¼ teaspoon salt; and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. Mix with a pastry blender until it's nice and crumbly (two butter knives will also do the trick.) Sprinkle the topping over 6 cups sliced rhubarb, ¼ cup cornstarch, and 1 cup brown sugar. (You can add a little lemon juice if you want.) Bake at 350 for about an hour; serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Butternut squash. This hearty squash is pure autumn, whether you use it in soup, stew, or as a side dish. (The flavor is so good you don't need to add much to it — simply roast and enjoy.) To roast, first peel the squash and cut into 1-inch cubes. (Or, save some time and buy the pre-cut version in Food Lion's produce section.) Toss it with a little olive oil and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and roast on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for about half an hour.
Sweet potato. A classic side dish—and dessert. (You haven't really lived until you've had homemade sweet potato pie, warm from the oven.) Here are some other ways to eat sweet potatoes: As oven-roasted wedges — try them sprinkled with savory spices like rosemary, garlic, or dry mustard. Serve them mashed; mixed with a little curry and Greek yogurt, sweet potatoes make a wonderful dip or spread. Or try them instead of regular potatoes next time you're in the mood for twice-baked potatoes – sharp Cheddar cheese and bacon provide a savory counterpoint to the sweet potato.
Apple cider. Of course, it's delicious straight from the jug. But why stop there? Apple cider is a versatile cooking ingredient in marinades and baked goods. On nights when family and friends gather, keep a pot of warm mulled cider on the stove. To one gallon of cider, add two tablespoons each of whole allspice and cloves (wrap in cheesecloth or they'll overwhelm the cider) and half a dozen cinnamon sticks. Toss a few orange slices on top. (You can also pour in a little brandy for an adults-only drink.) Bonus: Your house will smell like autumn heaven — and that's one of the best parts of this glorious season. (Well, that and a good pumpkin spice latte.)