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