Fall has finally arrived, and that means so has Pumpkin Everything. A couple of weeks ago the need for a new watch battery forced me to venture to the Mall St. Matthews where I spent the time while waiting for the repair browsing in the Williams-Sonoma next to his shop.
The whole store seemed to have turned orange.
There were pumpkins on plates. Pumpkins on tablecloths. Pumpkins on napkins and towels. There was even a cast iron Dutch oven in the form of a pumpkin. The lid handle was shaped like a stem. And I am trying not to think about the orange spatulas and orange measuring spoons. Virtually every tin of confections or jar of ingredients sported bright orange lids or labels.
But among the sea of pumpkin-hued tins, I spotted one that gave me the idea for this week’s Pairing — spiced pumpkin pecan bark.
I had no intention of pairing the candy with anything, much less walking out of the store with an expensive tin. But I had an Ah-ha Moment about what to pair with the only pumpkin-flavored treat I confess to looking forward to every year, Graeter’s pumpkin ice cream.
Before I launch into describing my new culinary combination, you need to know that this pumpkin mania, for which a certain coffee chain out of Seattle can credibly, at least in part, be blamed, is actually nothing new.
The 16th century European colonists in what was to become New England were absolutely pumpkin smitten. The plant had probably first been cultivated more than 7,000 years ago in Central America, but it had spread widely throughout North America. A bonus for people who needed to provide their own food was that pumpkins were easy to grow. The entry about pumpkins in The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink says, “They were baked, fried, mashed, roasted and stewed and eaten as an accompaniment to meat. A favorite way of preparing pumpkins was to scoop out their seeds, fill the cavity with sweetened, spiced milk and cook them near a fire. Pumpkins were also used to make puddings, pancakes, pies, soups, stews and tarts. Less commonly, pumpkins were used as a flavoring in breads, cakes and muffins and were also employed to make ale. Pumpkin seeds were consumed raw or dried and pumpkin flower blossoms and buds were consumed in salads, in sandwiches and many other ways.”
This reminds me that I’m actually also rather fond of pumpkin ale, but that can wait for another column.
Since ice cream is obviously dessert (though, I confess to having a double scoop cone as my lunch on more than one occasion in the summertime), I needed to find a suitable after-dinner beverage for pairing. Cognac seemed too fancy. Port was not was going to work at all. I turned to my collection of liqueurs because I remembered one in particular when I had seen the pumpkin pecan candy. Rivulet is a pecan liqueur and just right to pair with my pumpkin ice cream.
The base spirit for Rivulet is brandy. Aged in ex-bourbon barrels, it’s infused with pecan extract and bottled at 60 proof. The flavor is very distinctly of pecans with some caramel and notes of orange peel. It’s also very sweet and viscous. It is, after all, a liqueur.
This week is, by the way, an Ohio Valley pairing. Rivulet is made in Louisville. Graeter’s Ice Cream is a fifth-generation, family-owned regional brand headquartered in Cincinnati. It was founded by German immigrant Louis Graeter in 1870. If you ever wondered about the “French pot process” extolled on the label, it simply means that Graeter’s winds up being rather denser than most other ice cream.
While the sweet, pumpkin ice cream and sweet, pecan liqueur’s flavors are very well matched, the combination just may prove to be too much sugar for some. If so, here’s another suggestion — a cocktail to go with the ice cream.
Thanks to the Bourbon Women Association’s annual Not Your Pink Drink cocktail contest, there’s a bourbon and Rivulet cocktail that was the winner in 2015. It was created by Louisville’s own “Cocktail Contessa,” Heather Wibbels, and it is also a splendid match with pumpkin ice cream, since it mixes Rivulet with bourbon. You still get the nutty pecan flavor, but the mouthfeel is less thick, thanks to the whiskey. By the way, the French Quarter Manhattan is the perfect sipping choice while handing out Halloween candy.
The French Quarter Manhattan
2 ounces 90-proof bourbon
1 ounce praline liqueur (such as Rivulet)
4-5 dashes chocolate bitters
Add all ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a praline or candied pecan.
Or, perhaps a tiny scoop of pumpkin ice cream? •