How old is that pumpkin pie spice in your cupboard? How long did it sit on the grocery store shelf before you bought it? These are important questions because herbs and spices start losing their flavor immediately after they are ground. You can ensure fresher spices if you grind them yourself.

Pumpkin pie spice is an easy blend to make and you can even grow some of the ingredients yourself. Here’s what you will need:

Cinnamon TreeCinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) is made from the bark of the cinnamon tree. It is a tropical tree, native to southwest India, Madagascar and Sri Lanka and only hardy in zones 10 through 12. The rest of us have to grow it in containers and bring it indoors during the winter. In smaller pots, it should be kept pruned to 3 feet but if you have room for a larger container, you can prune to 8 feet. Cinnamon prefers full sun and dry soil. To harvest, score the bark and then peel it from the tree. It will naturally roll up. Cut the rolls into 3 inch lengths for easy handling. Dry them as you would any other herb. Alternatively, you can purchase cinnamon “sticks” at any grocery store.

GingerGinger (Zingiber officinale) is another ingredient in your pumpkin spice mix that you can grow yourself. In this case, it is the root that you will be using. Ginger is native to south China and hardy in zones 9 through 12. If you live north of zone 9, you can grow it in a container. Ginger has a long growing season, 10 months to maturity, so you will need to start it indoors, put it outside during the summer and then bring it back in in the fall. The root is ready to be harvested when the foliage starts to die back in the fall. You can dry the root yourself or buy ginger root to dry at home in the produce section of your grocery store.

nutmeg-seed-and-arilNutmeg (Myristica fragrans) is made from the seeds of the nutmeg tree. The seed covering, or aril, is the spice mace. Nutmeg is native to Indonesia and hardy in zones 10 and 11. It is not suitable to be grown in containers for several reasons. It is a multi-stemmed evergreen tree that grows to 40 to 60 feet tall with roots that reach 4 feet down. It doesn’t start producing seeds until maturity, about 7 to 9 years. Whole, dried nutmeg seeds can be purchased at your local grocery store.


allspiceAllspice (Pimenta dioica) is the dried berry of the allspice tree. It is native to Central America and hardy in zones 10 and 11. It grows as a tree (30 to 60 feet tall) or as a bush if it lacks enough sunlight or is pruned. This is another tree that you can grow in a container provided you keep it pruned. Be sure to keep it well watered. Allspice does not tolerate dryness. Newly planted trees will begin to flower and produce fruit after several years. The berries are harvested when they are green and traditionally dried in the sun. You can dry your own allspice berries or purchase whole, dried berries at the grocery store.

clovesCloves (Syzygium aromaticum) are the unopened flower buds of the clove tree which is native to Indonesia. It is hardy in zones 10 and 11. Clove trees are very difficult to grow because they require tropical temperatures, high humidity and lots and lots of water (5 to 8 inches per month). They are not suitable for growing in containers. The buds are harvested when they start to turn red and then dried for use. Whole dried cloves are available in any grocery store.

Spices can be ground in three ways. You can use a traditional mortar and pestle. This is good for small amounts of dried spices. A microplane is also a good tool for grinding small quantities of spices. Both of these require some muscle. If you lack time or strength, you can use a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Both of these are also useful if you need to grind large amounts of spices.

To make your pumpkin pie spice, you should combine your ground spices as follows:

• 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
• 1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
• 1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves

If you do a lot of baking and want to make a larger amount of pumpkin pie spice, try this recipe:

• ⅓ cup ground cinnamon
• 1 tablespoon ground ginger
• 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
• 1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
• 1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves

Leftover pumpkin pie spice should be stored in an air tight container in a cool, dark, dry place.