Pete Seeger, with a little boost from The Byrds, said it best: “To every thing there is a season.” But don’t tell retailers that. After years of rushing Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day, now they’re rushing fall. While temperatures might still be more “ugh” than Ugg (boots, that is), even Mother Nature cannot stop Pumpkin Spice Season.
The worst offender is Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte, or PSL if you’re letting your basic bitch flag (well, scarf) fly. I swear the ads started in August. But a recent trip to the grocery store leads me to believe that nothing is safe from Big Pumpkin. Without even trying, I found pumpkin spice-flavored K-Kups, pumpkin spice ice cream, pumpkin spice-flavored Jif whipped peanut butter and pumpkin-based pasta sauce. I even found off-brand “facial tissues” with pumpkins on the box. I couldn’t bring myself to examine that particular item closely, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the tissues were pumpkin spice-scented.
But let’s be real for a second here. Actual pumpkin spice is basically ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon — in other words, what you’d add to canned pumpkin to make everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving dessert. The flavors aren’t exactly rare or priceless. Most things pumpkin-spiced flavored have no pumpkin in them at all. (Of course, one big exception is the famed PSL, which Starbucks recently announced would contain, for the first time ever, at least a few molecules of the bright orange squash.) The lack of actual vegetable in most trendy pumpkin-spiced things is puzzling, because pumpkin is ready-made for hipster worship. I mean, why should kale get all the social media love? Pumpkin is full of antioxidants, it’s paleo-friendly and pairs perfectly with your Warby Parker Colonel Monocle.
So in the spirit of the hipsters beloved DIY movement, here’s five unique recipes that will get you in the spirit of autumn — AND contain pumpkin. A note, though: The big-ass pumpkins that most people make into jack o’lanterns for Halloween are not meant for human consumption. You can eat them, but they’re not very good. They’re also a lot of work to peel, de-seed, cook down and puree. Sugar pumpkins, also known as pie pumpkins, are better for eating. But really, for most recipes that call for pumpkin, you’re better off just using canned pumpkin. I know what you’re thinking. I am a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group where I get a half-bushel of locally grown produce each week. I like to eat local whenever possible. Just trust me. Canned pumpkin is the way to go. With that cooking note out of the way, let’s get to the recipes.
First up, skip the too-perky barista and long line of grouchy caffeine-addicts and make yourself a morning pick-me-up that’s 100 times better than the Starbuck’s PSL: a pumpkin pie smoothie. I’ve test-driven a bunch of recipes and like this one from Whole Foods the best. It even calls for 1-1/4 teaspoon of pumpkin spice, in case your inner hipster just. cannot. without this fall necessity. You’ll also need some canned pumpkin, soy milk, honey, ice and a blender. Easy, right?
On those afternoons when you’re a little peckish and there’s still hours go to before dinner, this dip is awesome with crackers or veggies. The recipe doubles down on the pumpkin goodness — in addition to canned pumpkin, the hummus also calls for pumpkin seeds.
If you’re feeling fancy, try this autumnal twist on the cliched butternut squash soup. As an added bonus for anyone who wants to experiment, the original MyRecipes.com recipe calls for you to break down, roast and puree a 3-1/2-pound sugar pumpkin. The “express version” of the recipe substitutes canned pumpkin, so it’s totally versatile. Either way, acorn squash, honey, thyme and a few other ingredients joins the pumpkin party to make a delicious soup for lunch or a dinner starter.
This next recipe, from the brilliant Skinnytaste blog, is a stone-cold stunner. I took this to a potluck chili cookoff last fall, and it swept all categories, taking home Best in Show despite lacking most of the ingredient you’d expect chili to offer. There’s no tomato, it swaps the expected kidney beans for a almost-creamy navy beans and boasts a subtle spicy bite from chopped green chiles. It’s low-fat but flavorful. Oh, and it cooks in the slow cooker, so it couldn’t be less fussy. I usually make a batch and then freeze individual servings for those crazy nights when I want comfort food but don’t have time to cook.
And finally, there’s no reason everyone’s favorite cookie can’t get in on the fall fun. I’ve made pumpkin chocolate chip cookies similar to these for years. They’ve edged out my mom’s famous snickerdoodles as the family favorite. (Sorry, Mom! You taught me everything I know about baking!)
Erin L. Nissley is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.