Pumpkin and spice and everything nice, that’s what fall is made of


Roving Reporter Amy Lebowitz poses with newly acquired pumpkin Audre Gourde at a local suburban park/pumpkin patch.

Although it is faddish and convenient to say that you a) love pumpkins, and/or b) were into things before they were popular, I’ll go ahead and claim both. I was that strange seventh grader whose favorite season was autumn, totally unaware that the best season was supposed to be summer.

At the time, I didn’t have enough self-insight to know that autumn perfectly complements my disposition as well as my culinary and fashion palettes (reading nooks! harvest vegetables! jewel tones!). Now rest assured I’m fully aware of my unique adaptation to this holiest of seasons. As such, I’ll offer some insights on autumn’s very cornerstone: the pumpkin.

There are a lot of directions you can go with a pumpkin. First of all, I would like to say that although its edible incarnations have been all the rage lately (and I’ll get to that in a hot sec), do not forget: pumpkins are really fucking quaint. As fall decorations go, you can’t beat them. They are unrivaled in their aesthetic quality, symbolizing coziness and layering and hearkening back to the hayrides of yesteryear. I just acquired a pumpkin named Audre Gourde, so that’s been a highlight.

Carving pumpkins: As an exercise, this is a win-win-win: You get to give your pumpkin a personality, you free up the seeds for delicious roasting, and your hands smell like gourdy goodness for days. I recently partook in the Environmental Studies department’s fall event, carving a pumpkin with another ES minor. Our pumpkin is frowning resolutely. His name is Grumpkin. He has kept me entertained for days.

Roasted pumpkin seeds: I’m greatly looking forward to the fruits of Grumpkin’s innards: the pumpkin seeds. Just clean off the goop (yes, technically also edible, but more labor-intensive to make it delicious), toss the seeds with olive oil, salt and pepper, and maybe spices (cumin?! nutmeg and cinnamon?!), and roast the seeds at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, and binge on the results.

She hasn’t even roasted pumpkin seeds yet, you ask? This purported pumpkin expert is not on top of her pumpkin game!

Fear not, autumnal amateurs. I’ve been sampling pumpkin products since the second they hit shelves. From pumpkin granola to pumpkin soup, I’ll offer my ever-so-nuanced opinions for your seasonal benefit.

Muffins: Breadsmith goes hard with the publicity, and the walnuts are a satisfying touch. Grand Central, however, also sells a killer pumpkin muffin. I’ll advocate for either of these options over Caribou or Starbucks versions. Of course, making your own beats all of these, but I’m not above (okay, I endorse) a superfluous store-bought snack on occasion.

Ice cream: Yes. Trader Joe’s. Izzy’s. Wherever. They use the right spices to make it sweet like pie, and the flavor’s distinctness just means you maybe won’t gorge on it like you (I) do with, for example, Moose Tracks.

Granola: Honestly, I can’t taste the pumpkin very much when I’ve tried it. In my free time, I ponder whether there might be a conspiracy: similar to greenwashing, in which companies sell products by appealing to environmentalist values that they don’t practice, what if companies have been capitalizing on the pumpkin trend, advertising “pumpkin spice” when there is actually no pumpkin, just some half-assed cinnamon and nutmeg and allspice? “Pumpkin” granola is sold all over the place, and it’s just the beginning.

Butter: Kind of like apple butter, pumpkin butter has the consistency of a smooth jam. Trader Joe’s sells it, but it tends to disappear quickly. More charmingly, pumpkin butter is also frequently sold by orchards and farms as part of their fall festivities and autumnal food offerings. But whether local or mass-produced, pumpkin butter is perfect on nutty, hearty bread, upgrading toast to an actually-desirable breakfast. My apartment has two jars (you know, to be safe). This might be my number-one pumpkin product recommendation.

Cereal bar: Like Nutri-Grain bars with the soft, pastry-like outside and sugary fruit filling inside—but instead of generic blueberry, it’s pumpkin! To be fair, it still has the same artificial sweet tinge, but if I’m going to eat not-food, I prefer my not-food to be seasonally appropriate. Again, Trader Joe’s with the win on pumpkin merchandise.

Soup: While pumpkins may be the most culturally-dominant autumn gourds, squash tend to dominate the soup game. Still, pumpkin soup is worth a try. It can fall prey to the same too-sweet, too-creamy traps as squash soup, but a little pepper and/or Sriracha never hurt anyone. Plus, it’s still soup, which is warming and healing and you probably need more servings of vegetables.

Pumpkin ravioli: I’m a fan. It’s polarizing, I know. But take off your marinara-colored glasses and see the brown-butter-sage-pumpkin light. Okay, just out-bougied myself forever. To the blogs! In other news, apparently pumpkin marinara sauce exists.

Pie: Like most pies, homemade is the best. But also, baking pie is time-consuming, and if you’d rather invest time in, like, cooking dinner, store-bought pie is pretty good. I’m not well versed in bakeries around here, but I place a lot of faith in the tried-and-true texture/spice combination. Of note: Food & Drank Editor Sara Staszak claims, “I personally was pleasantly surprised by how good the Cub pies were, and disappointed in the texture and spice combo in the Whole Foods variety.” Arts editor Sophie Nikitas also mentioned to me that you can smoosh up a store-bought pie and bake it into very airy, scrumptious muffins. Hybridization!

And finally, lattés: Seasonal lattés are basically the only reason I go to Starbucks. While I’m all about supporting local businesses, Starbucks pumpkin spice lattés continue to be my favorite. In a pinch, Caribou’s are also pretty good, but I find them to be a bit more syrupy. It turns out Caribou sells “Pumpkin lattés” rather than “Pumpkin spice lattés,” so it’s all gourd, no extras. Accordingly, purists should head to Caribou, and fans of season-ing­ (ha) stick with Starbucks. It’s also worth noting that I’ve noticed smaller businesses offering pumpkin-coffee beverages, but I always find myself skeptical. This makes zero sense because I’m sure whatever the giant brands use to create pumpkin spice goodness is also artificial as fuck, but I guess the evil media superstructure has gotten to me and I trust corporations (at least when it comes to pumpkin spice lattés). If anyone finds a local/delicious/reasonably priced incarnation, please send me a personal email asap.