Pumpkin is having a moment. The arrival of this earthy flavored gourd is celebrated with every specialty baked good you can imagine — not to mention scented candles, fall decor and, of course, pumpkin spice lattes, or PSLs as they are often called.
Pumpkin even has its own holiday. Tuesday, October 26 was National Pumpkin Day and I celebrated in the kitchen.
I am not sure what the fascination with pumpkin is about. After all, it’s just a winter squash. And yet, each fall there is a veritable cadre of devotees everywhere I go, clutching their PSLs and wearing the requisite uniform of leggings, boots, fuzzy sweatshirts that say things like, “Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice” or “Pumpkin is my Favorite Season”.
Famous chef-turned-award-winning-author and television host Anthony Bourdain famously wished death upon the pumpkin spice movement. While I don’t understand quite how we went from boring gourd to an entire season devoted to all-things-pumpkin, I am not sure I mind as much as Bourdain did. If I learned one thing in the last couple of years, it is to celebrate the small things and savor as much flavor from life as I can.
If there is something that gets us to stop and smell the, ahem, spice, then I have no complaint. Pumpkin is having a moment, and I say we savor it. So, rather than be weary of the ubiquitous pumpkin trend, I find I am barreling right into it.
Like Linus in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” who tirelessly waits for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin, I’ve been waiting for this moment myself. It’s finally time to pull out my mixer and blend pumpkin with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and a little ginger. I can’t help making a loaf of pumpkin bread or two. The faintly sweet scent of fall spices fill my kitchen and I realize I can’t help but be a pumpkin enthusiast.
I don’t agree with Bourdain about pumpkin spice ruining culinary creativity, but I do agree we don’t need the spice. If you want to buy it and use it, I have nothing against it. But I tend to keep my pantry staples simple and the same pumpkin spice flavors can be achieved without buying a blend. And even better, the spices used to create a pumpkin spice blend can be used year round on their own in other dishes.
As for the pumpkin itself, I use canned pumpkin in my baked goods. It is tasty and dependable. I prefer Libby’s brand because it is thick. Other brands often have too much liquid and produce mixed results, as can be the case with homemade pumpkin puree as well.
Pumpkin bread manages to achieve greatness from the seemingly mundane. Pumpkin whipped with flour, sugar and spices and baked into a beautifully domed bread topped with a glossy, maple drizzle is a revelation that can make anyone’s day. It can turn even the most resistant pumpkin eater into a fanatic.
But pumpkin bread won’t cut my cravings. I need a little something else to get me to Thanksgiving when I know I will have pumpkin pie at the ready. In cases such as this, I turn to custard. It hits all the right pumpkin pie notes without the fuss of making a crust. This pumpkin custard is easy to put together, and I like to pile it high with meringue a few hours before serving to transform it from a simple, rustic dessert into something truly spectacular.
For something more low-key but just as delicious, try Pumpkin Blondie Bars. These aren’t traditional pumpkin bars; they are more brownie-like in texture and finished with a crunchy snickerdoodle topping. If all else fails, there is always pumpkin and chocolate, two favorites in one. Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins are a perfect anytime pick-me-up snack and they freeze well.
“Ohhh, I love pumpkin!” my sister exclaims to me as she bursts into my kitchen unannounced. She eyes two pumpkin loaves cooling on racks, their cracked peaks awaiting maple drizzle. It is the refrain I hear later when sharing slices of pumpkin bread with my kids and their friends after school.
I can’t help but think that all of this pumpkin spice fuss is about something more than a commercialized trend. It is about something that brings us together. Delicious, cozy fall flavors evoke warmth and comfort. Each delectable bite is a reminder of the pure joy found in simple pleasures.
Why resist? Give into the pumpkin spice movement, I dare you. Celebrate pumpkin season with me.