Allspice! The name alone conjures up a blend, but it is actually one spice with the aromas and flavors of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. The mellow brown powder from the grocery is made from unripe allspice berries harvested which are dried and ground.
Fresh, ripe berries are hard to find, unless you are lucky enough to have a tree growing in your yard. The flavor from fresh is completely different than from dried berries. “Allspice berries, allowed to ripen, ascend to a whole other level,” farmer Margie Pikarsky told me. “I call them ‘Nature’s Altoids (TM)’ because they’re sweet and yet surprisingly strong.”
The fresh berries are about the size of a large peppercorn, and ripen to a dark bluish-purple color. When you pop one into your mouth, it gives a rich and resonant burst of flavor. Suddenly the dried version pales by comparison.
“The berries are great in spice breads, muffins, or drinks. Substitute them in any baked goods recipe calling for blueberries. Frozen berries will keep a long time in the freezer. Maintained below 0 F, they successfully keep for over one year,” Margie recommends.
The fresh leaves also have a spicy aroma, but not as strong. “Fresh allspice leaves are used like bay leaves for flavoring. Use them fresh, though. Dried ones lose their oomph.” The glossy green leaves can be steeped in hot water to make a refreshing spice tea, good hot or cold, and sweetened lightly with local honey.
Allspice was one of the very first plants Margie put in on her farm, probably back in 1996. She planted two, and they have since grown to shrubby looking trees about eight or nine feet tall. The plants are dioecious (male and female). The female is the one that bears the edible berries but needs a male tree nearby.