Have we gone just a little pumpkin-crazy this year, people? Pumpkin Oreos, pumpkin coffee drinks, pumpkin-pie spice.
You can’t blame comedian John Oliver for his recent rant: It all tastes a bit like a candle.
But fall is too brief every year, and it’s a shame to waste your time and calories on junky pumpkin. Instead, we can offer a few solutions:
1. Get better pumpkin stuff.
Don’t leave your annual pumpkin consumption in the hands of people who would waste it on instant pie filling and pumpkin pie-scented body spray. Instead, turn to a chef who knows what he’s doing with it, like Ashley Quick at Stagioni.
“The only canned pumpkin I saw growing up was my grandma making pumpkin pie,” he says.
Instead, Quick gets blue Hubbards from Harmony Ridge Farms near Winston-Salem and roasts them in a wood-burning oven to draw out moisture and caramelize the natural sugars. He’s careful about the seasoning, sticking with herbs like lemon thyme, fresh bay leaves, salt and pepper.
“And lemon juice – it brightens it up, so it’s not so flat. It gives it a little zing.”
He turns that roasted pumpkin into a couple of things on the seasonal menu. There’s the creamy Early Pumpkin Soup, garnished with shaved lobster mushrooms, pickled celery, celery leaves and a few drops of smoked vinegar. And a pasta dish, pumpkin-filled Agnolotti, topped with beech mushrooms, butternut squash cooked in its own juices, a brown butter sauce, a sprinkling of grated amaretti cookies and a tiny bit of pecorino cheese.
2. Get better pumpkin-pie spice.
Some of the backlash over pumpkin-everything may be a misunderstanding about what we’re tasting. Just dyeing something orange doesn’t make it pumpkin.
What you really taste in fall is pumpkin-pie spice, that classic combination of cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cloves. It’s similar to apple pie spice, sometimes called baking spice. But what sets pumpkin-pie spice apart is the clove, says Amy McCabe, who owns Savory Spice Shop at Atherton Mill with her husband, Scott.
“Clove is going to give you a warm undertone, an edgy warmness,” she says. “People think the pumpkin-pie spice is going to taste like pumpkin. It’s really about the clove.”
Some chefs and creative cooks have started playing with that idea of edginess and warmth by adding ground Aleppo pepper, which has a fruity heat.
The pumpkin-pie spice McCabe makes in her shop also has nutmeg and mace. At home, where she’s been experimenting with pumpkin pies, she also likes to add cardamom, which has a complex, floral flavor that might be familiar to you from chai tea mixtures.
While you can buy pumpkin-pie spice anywhere, McCabe encourages you to consider mixing your own, so you can cater to your own taste, or buying it from a small shop – like, say, Savory Spice – that makes it fresh.
Take that, pumpkin pie spice Pringles.
3. Get it while you can.
When Dave Trauner is on his ice cream food truck, Sticks and Cones, he notices a lot about what kind of treats we want and when we want them.
The desire for pumpkin, he says, hits early in September, while it’s still warm around here, and peaks by the end of October. And then, poof, pumpkin is gone before the pilgrim decorations come out.
“People drown in pumpkin, and then the holidays come,” he says.
This year, he’s been doing two pumpkin treats: For the Smashing Pumpkin, he layers pumpkin cobbler with soft-serve vanilla ice cream and caramel, tops it with whipped cream and drizzles it with caramel.
He also makes cream puffs, fills them with pumpkin mousse and ice cream and drizzles them with chocolate and caramel. What does he call that? “Cream Puffs and Pumpkin Mousse.” (Yes, he actually laughed when he said that.)
“You know, our nation loves pumpkin,” Traun says. “Over the last several years, it’s gotten more popular. Right now, pumpkin’s in vogue.”
In other words: Don’t worry if you miss it, Linus. All this great pumpkin stuff will probably be back next year.