Fall has always been my favorite time of year, partially because I long for the first cold front and the changing of the leaves, and partially because fall and winter foods are my absolute favorites.
As a child, I'd look forward every year to when chocolate oranges would reappear on grocery store shelves and gingerbread-house kits would find their way to my kitchen table. Then there was everything pumpkin-flavored and filled with seasonal apples and overflowing with walnuts, pecans and chestnuts. Even now that I'm older, I still get excited by the first seasonal beers to hit the shelves or stores that sell eggnog with actual bourbon in it.
So sorry, spring and summer. I love your Easter candy and fresh fruit and whatnot, but fall and winter totally have you beat, foodwise.
If you're not convinced, allow me to present the following arguments.
8. Candy Canes Peppermints are great and all, but you know what's even better? Peppermints with handles. Peppermints with handles that come in flavors other than peppermint. Seriously, if you don't like peppermint, there's another flavor of candy cane out there that you're bound to dig -- from chocolate to Sriracha. According to the textbook Introduction to Food Science, the candy cane was invented in Cologne, Germany, in 1670. A choirmaster had sugar sticks made to keep his young singers quiet when they weren't performing, and in order to give them more of a religious twist (pun intended), he bent the warm sugar sticks to form the shape of a shepherd's crook. That sounds a little far-fetched to me, but if it took noisy kids and murky religious symbolism to bring us the holiday season's most versatile candy, then I'll buy it.
7. Anything with pecans Pecan season is usually September through February, which means it peaks in November and December. And since Texas is one of the largest pecan producers in the country, we tend to have pecan products everywhere during the holidays. I'm partial to homemade pecan pies, so my favorite grocery store pecan product is Blue Bell's Spiced Pumpkin Pecan ice cream. It's available only in the fall, and it's a dream for anyone who loves pumpkin (sorry, I will never be over that flavor) and good ol' Texas pecans. Even with the price of pecans going up this year as a result of a poor growing season and increased demand from China, my beloved Blue Bell Spiced Pumpkin Pecan ice cream will still be around $4 for a half-gallon.
6. Apple Cider H-E-B now has entire shelves and end caps devoted to huge jugs of apple cider ready to take home and heat up for a soothing seasonal treat. Starbucks also makes a caramel apple cider, but I find theirs a tad too sweet, so I tend to stick to the grocery store variety with the least amount of sugar. Central Market has fresh cider in the refrigerated juice section with as few additives as possible for the purest apple taste. And, of course, everyone knows the best way to consume cider is to heat it up in a mug with a cinnamon stick for stirring and maybe top it with a dollop of just-whipped cream. Oh, and this should all be done while sitting in front of a fireplace and listening to Christmas carols. Just sayin'.
5. Gingerbread Houses/Men It seems that during the past several years gingerbread houses have grown in popularity, and kits are now produced for holidays other than Christmas, like Halloween and even Easter. I'm all for constructing things out of cookies year-round, but let's be real: Gingerbread is a winter food. One of my favorite holiday pastimes is building gingerbread houses (imperfect though they may be) and decorating little gingerbread men, then biting their heads off. Cruel? Maybe. But also delicious.
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4. Eggnog and Eggnog Ice cream Okay, so eggnog is incredibly simple to make, and none of the store brands contains bourbon unless you're shopping at a specialty market or liquor store, but there's something about that first time you notice eggnog on the refrigerated shelves next to the milk that heralds the coming holidays. And though store-bought eggnog can be a bit hit-or-miss due to the presence of fake eggs and bourbon flavor, the ice cream tends to fare far better. Many ice cream companies now roll out eggnog ice cream around the beginning of November, and they're all winners. I'm partial to Creamy Creations because it's just so darn creamy. Also, if you pour a little bourbon over the top, it's like an eggnog float. Warning: All of the sugar in it will cause dastardly hangovers. I speak from experience.
3. Pumpkin bread Many grocery chains manufacture pumpkin bread year-round, but it's not always easy to find. Thankfully, October marks the beginning of pumpkin season, so there's always plenty of pumpkin bread to be found through January. Something about pumpkin bread makes it seem less like a dessert than pumpkin pie, even though it's probably just as sweet and caloric. But whether it's the name or the fact that it's sold at coffee shops as a breakfast item, I'm pretty sure it's socially acceptable to eat pumpkin bread any time of day or night. I'm pretty sure it's also acceptable to love it so much you eat an entire loaf every 48 hours. And if it's not, don't tell me.
2. Shiner Cheer When I was living in Missouri, which I was for two years, I would call my parents before boarding a plane home for Christmas and inform them that there had better be Shiner Cheer waiting for me when I arrived or the hugs and kisses would have to wait until I obtained some. I remember several years ago when there was a Shiner Cheer shortage in Corpus Christi (and perhaps across the whole state), after people lined up to get it the day it was released, much like they do with Saint Arnold Pumpkinator. I searched high and low in that town for some Cheer and was unable to find it. Though Shiner seems to have figured out that they need to be producing a lot of Cheer to whet the thirst of millions of eager customers, I still stock up on the beautiful beer blended with ever-so-slightly-sweet peaches and walnuts the first time I see it every year.
1. Chocolate Oranges You know how way back when kids used to get fruits and nuts in their stockings? That's always sounded awesome to me, but my parents took it a step further every year by stuffing my stocking with chocolate oranges. If you've never had a chocolate orange, I feel sorry for you, and if you have, then you know exactly what the phrase "whack and unwrap" means. Few things are more pleasurable than carefully extracting that ball of chocolate from its plastic prison, giving it several hard thumps on a table, then peeling back the foil to find perfect little slices of chocolate orange broken apart for easy snacking. They come in milk or dark chocolate, and though I'm usually a dark chocolate kind of gal, I waver in my loyalty between the two. Really, though, you can't go wrong with either. Screw peanut butter and jelly or mustard and ketchup. Chocolate and orange are the perfect pair during the holidays and any other time of year you're lucky enough to find them.