S. Lee Manning: It started with pie. A long, long time ago, back in the golden age of hallowed fall traditions, there was pumpkin pie. And it was good. Really good, especially with whip cream or vanilla ice cream – and you could stick some of those candy corns into the ice cream – or candy pumpkins – which have no taste resemblance to actual pumpkins – but somehow looked and tasted good. The ones made with honey, not with corn syrup, but that’s another long rant for another time. The upshot is, I loved pumpkin pie. Still do. It was part of what I loved about autumn. And I love autumn. It’s always been my favorite season – and October my favorite month.
In the fall when my kids were small, we’d take long drives in the country to view the beauty of the autumn foliage. We lived in Trenton, NJ, but most of our drives were in Bucks County, Pennsylvania or Hunterdon County, New Jersey, and while it wasn’t quite as spectacular as Vermont – it was lovely. We’d listen to the sounds of Dean and Jenny complaining about boring car rides as I excitedly pointed out every Halloween display and every farm stand filled with pumpkins. And then we’d stop for treats, both to give the kids something they liked so they’d shut up – and because with the start of fall, many of the bakeries offered pumpkin muffins or pumpkin bread. I would balance coffee and a pumpkin muffin in passenger’s seat of the car while tuning out the kids demanding to go home. Pumpkin muffins were also good. Not as good as pumpkin pie, but good.
Octobers came and went. Halloween. The kids grew older and more resistant to drives. Jim and I kept going out to see the leaves, and I kept eating pumpkin treats. At some point, I added pumpkin pancakes. And pumpkin ice cream worked its way onto my list. This was still in the early 2000s. Before the deluge.
I bet you know where I’m going.
Yup, the pumpkin spice latte. According to Harling Ross, a writer/editor on Man Repeller, some of the first pumpkin spice lattes were offered in Allentown, PA, not that far from the scene of our yearly rides sometime in the 1990s. I, however, was unaware of that – and didn’t discover this particular fall treat until a visit to Starbucks sometime in the 2005 range, a year after Starbucks introduced it.
A new fall treat.
Yes, I loved pumpkin spice lattes. I added it to the cornucopia of fall delights of pumpkin pie, bread, muffins, pancakes, and ice cream. (Is it any wonder I put on twenty-five pounds in the 2000s?) Oh, wait, don’t forget pumpkin cupcakes.
But sometimes too much of a good thing really is too much.
Starbucks’ pumpkin lattes sales spiked, and their profits along with it. Soon, with the first cool breeze of autumn, pumpkin spice flavoring began to appear in, well, everything.
There are pumpkin spice cleaners. Pumpkin spice soaps. Pumpkin spice candles. Pumpkin spice peeps. Pumpkin spice cheerios. Pumpkin spice Greenies dog treats. Pumpkin spice salsa.
I went into pumpkin spice overload. I loved the pie, the ice cream, the muffins, the cupcakes, and, yes, the lattes, which to my horror I discovered did not contain any actual pumpkin until 2016. But pumpkin spice salsa?? Cleaners? Peeps? Cheerios???
I’d been pumpkin spiced. As my favorite politician likes to say, Enough is enough. (I live in Vermont, remember?)
I was not alone. Suddenly articles in the newspapers began attacking the season of pumpkin spice. A piece on NPR denounced the yearly pumpkin bacchanalia. Pumpkin spice became synonymous with a certain type of privilege and obliviousness. I didn’t like to think of myself as privileged and oblivious. I may be, but I don’t like to think I am.
And, as I mentioned above, I’d gained twenty-five pounds. Four years ago, I entered a program to prevent Alzheimer’s – and carbs and sugar are high on the list of things to avoid.
So, I dialed back on the pumpkin. I’ve lost the weight, not solely due to pumpkin discipline, but a little extra self-control in the fall is necessary.
I still love October – and fall – but try to express it more through photography and walks in the
woods. I still like the flavor. I just like it in moderation. Maybe a slice of pie that we buy from the neighbor who bakes it with pumpkins she grows herself. Once or twice a season. I still like pumpkin spice lattes, especially if there’s actual pumpkin in it, but fortunately, the closest Starbucks to where I live in Vermont, is 50 miles away. It’s become a rare treat.
And that’s fine – for my weight, my health, and for the enjoyment. Because something that becomes common – and omnipresent – loses that special quality that I associate with the fleeting beauty of autumn.
So where do you fall in the pumpkin spice continuum? Do you love it, hate it, or are you somewhere in between?
And, by the way, the photographs here are my way to compensate for the lack of sugar
What a wonderful trip down pumpkin memory lane, S. Lee! I hadn't known that about pumpkin sales overload, and I'm struggling at the concept. I was in Trader Joe's this week and discovered pumpkin-spiced almonds. Yup. Almonds covered with pumpkin spices. After salivating, I forced myself to walk hurriedly past, and refused to return to the end cap. O, the temptations of the Pumpkin Gods & Goddesses! And love the autumn photography. The leaves are turning here in Maine at last, too. October rocks!
Enjoyed your "journey" through pumpkin land, S. Lee…and your discovery of so many variations. On Thanksgiving our family always featured two pies — yes, pumpkin, but I really loved the other offering: pecan pie…and I have yet to see Starbucks come up with a Pecan coffee variation, though this season I'll bet their marketing department will figure out a way to do create it. Does anyone else like Pecan pie? Anyone have a receipt to share – for either one?
I love anything pumpkin spice—I did even 40 odd years ago when it was just ‘spice’ scent. I still have a bottle of Coty gingergrass perfume and I’ll never forget the tube of spice flavored lip gloss…the scent still takes me straight back to Christmas in the 6th grade.
Pumpkin pie is still an all time fave, no doubt because it stirs the memories of holidays and family. I have never been a fan of pumpkin overload, though. Hated my first taste of pumpkin cheesecake (or any flavored cheesecakes for that matter.) I like the scent of the spices that show up in other things (like Lisa), and I don't mind an occasional pumpkin cookie, or muffin (which I equate to zucchini bread, not much of the real thing), but the spices make it. I know why I'm not a fan of all things pumpkin. They're just too, too sweet for me. I'm the girl that prefers tart to sweet. I always cut the sugar in fresh fruit pies. (Why they call for so much, I don't know!) My kids, however, adore anything pumpkin flavored.
When I was little, my dad told me I could choose one food I never had to eat. I chose squash, because he know how to make about 25 different dishes using squash. It worked great through the summer and into the fall, then Thanksgiving rolled around and he baked pumpkin pie. I was so excited. I loved (love) pumpkin pie. Well…you can see where this is going, right?…he told me pumpkin was a squash so I couldn't have any of the pie. I said I liked that kind of squash. He told me then I liked every kind of squash, so I could either eat everything put in front of me or pass on the pumpkin pie. There's no reasoning with a six year-old. I ate the pie, and then ate at least one bite of everything that was ever put in front of me. Probably why I was one of the rare eight-year-old who would eat oysters on the half-shell.
I love pumpkin cheesecake, especially homemade. But pumpkin salsa? No. Just… no.
Happily, every Fall I willingly entered Pumpkin-mania. With every Pumpkin Latte, I delighted in Autumn's generous bounty. In moderation, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes & pumpkin pie were treats with my CUPPAs; absolutely beyond measure. From October until Thanksgiving, I would bake, gift & freeze them all. After that celebrative holiday, my attention organically turned towards making fudge, chocolate chip/ pecan cookies & chocolate cakes. Alas, I am now completely off sugar & even honey. Yet, I rejoice with my many sweet Pumpkin-licious years.