The arrival of pumpkin-spice flavored foods has become a fixture of the Autumn season, right alongside warm sweaters, college football, and Republicans losing easily winnable races.
And yet, not long ago on these very pages a vicious attack was launched against not only the season itself, but this pumpkin-spiced tradition, one that dates back to at least the 1700s, or possibly the 1970s, I really can't remember. Whichever one had John Travolta.
This scandalous and unwarranted assault could not stand without rebuttal, and so I have taken it upon myself to regale you with the many pumpkin-spiced concoctions available this time of year so as to ensure that uninspired baked goods shall not perish from the earth.
So, join me if you will on this culinary quest to pay homage to all things pumpkin-spiced.
While grocery store bakeries can be uneven, you can always count on Giant to ensure a level of mediocrity unparalleled in the industry.
Hence, I bring to you the glory of the supermarket pumpkin doughnut.
What can I say? These were out-of-this-world adequate. The pumpkin flavor was subtle. Really subtle. In fact, it was less actual flavor and more power-of-suggestion brought on by the label than anything else. As for the spice component, if sugar is a spice, they nailed it.
And look at that color! Clearly, this doughnut is packed full of the nutritious gourd.
Although that may have been the added beta-carotene which is weird because pumpkin already has beta-carotene.
Sorry God, not orangey enough!
The important thing to remember is that this is not about flavor. It's about tradition.
And so on a recent road trip I poured myself a piping hot cup of traditional pumpkin caramel coffee. I can't help but think of what my grandfather would have said, seeing me drinking pumpkin caramel coffee. Probably something like, "someone should call an ambulance" after he beat the living heck out of me.
So, how was it?
Possibly the worst thing I've ever drank, and I have literally finished off a half glass of warm beer the morning after a party.
I've had beet juice, okay? This was worse.
Still, I was undeterred, savoring/dreading every last pumpkinish-tasting drop.
Then there are these.
These were a local bakery take on that timeless holiday classic: Shapeless lumps of baked dough covered with enough sugar to trick you into almost enjoying them.
There is of course this classic the pumpkin muffin, purchased from a gas station convenience store.
You could tell it was a pumpkin muffin right off the bat because it said "pumpkin muffin" on the package, which I appreciated because I otherwise might not have known.
What about breakfast cereals, no one asked?
I had these pumpkin-spice Frosted Mini Wheats from last year that take the classic Frosted Mini Wheats and adds an entirely new box that says "pumpkin spice" on it.
Think of it as Mini Wheats, only with more sugar.
Incidentally, this year's version is "pumpkin pie spice" flavored, and I for one am excitedly looking forward to the disappointment.
Special K had their own take on pumpkin spice last year, which judging by the taste, is to take the pumpkin spice out of it.
This year they are taking it up a notch by making the box really orange.
Maybe I'll try eating the box this time.
And then there's... um, no.
A man has his limits, and that is mine. Oh, I've tried it because tradition, but, no.
Of course, I had to try a pumpkin take on the classic Pennsylvania treat, the whoopie pie (or "gob," if you insist on being wrong).
This one was actually pretty good. I have been consuming pumpkin whoopie pies every fall for years and there is something magical about whoopie pies that make everything better.
Although I will admit their putting the word "pumpkin" in quotation marks is a little disturbing.
And yes, I know using a fork to eat a whoopie pie is like using chopsticks to eat french fries, but it really was a particularly messy one and I'm tired of having to hose off the remote control.
That was the exception, there is a whole world of overrated pumpkin spice-flavored packaged goods out there. Entenmann's has an entire line dedicated to the season. I've had most of these. None are great.
But am I complaining? No. I suck it up and eat them.
Let's face it, it is inescapable. This was literally from a drive yesterday.
I've had this too, because of course I have.
Later on the return home we stopped at a Dairy Queen. My wife was driving and asked me what I wanted. I said something with pumpkin. She and my son, Dairy Queen aficionados both, swore up and down that they wouldn't have anything pumpkin. I insisted she ask, and sure enough they had two offerings. This was the pumpkin milk shake.
See that nutmeg they sprinkled on top? That was pretty much the sum total of the effort they put into it. That, and the mysteriously beige coloring.
Did I want a pumpkin shake? No, no I did not. But I sucked it up and did my duty.
And of course, nothing says autumn has arrived like pumpkin spice yogurt.
I guess beige is the color you get when you mix together pumpkin and apathy.
Too much of anything is too much, of course, which is why like me, many people choose to live in areas with four full seasons. Come late August, as much as I enjoy the summer, the heat, and the beach, I'm done with it and genuinely welcome the cooler days.
Until I'm done with that and ready for nature's next show.
And yes, I like it all, the brisk weather, fires in the fireplace, and pumpkin spice. Of course it's totally overdone these days, and you can ignore that as best you can, like Christmas wrapping paper out on the shelves before Halloween and all the other downsides of commercialism.
But you can also lean into it a bit, and enjoy it as I do, and that includes even the mediocre executions of pumpkin spice flavored foods, because a hint of pumpkin spice is still pumpkin spice.
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