Cambrian: Slice of Life

Pumpkins pumped with spices: more than just pie slices

The Cambria Connection gave away pumpkins instead of candy during this year’s Halloween parade. The fruit seems to be everywhere this time of year. Here, Theresa Desmond holds the sign, while Priscilla Desmond (in hat) and Cynthia Pallin stand by.
The Cambria Connection gave away pumpkins instead of candy during this year’s Halloween parade. The fruit seems to be everywhere this time of year. Here, Theresa Desmond holds the sign, while Priscilla Desmond (in hat) and Cynthia Pallin stand by. Special to The Cambrian

Seasonal marketing is on a roll, using one of autumn’s most potent buzzwords: pumpkin.

There are best-seller bonus points if you add “gluten free” and “organic” to the label.

I understand, to a point. For most of us, the word “pumpkin” calls up warm, happy, cocooning-style memories. Family and friends gathered around the fireplace. Baking and eating together. Good times, great people.

But this culinary trend can go way too far. It may already be too late to save us from pumpkin mania.

It starts before schools open for the season and peaks in a holiday fever of pumpkin-product purchasing from pre-Halloween to Thanksgiving.

In just one foodie flier last month, I saw ads for pumpkin bread, pancake, cookie-bar and waffle mixes; pumpkin butter and pumpkin cookie butter; pumpkin cheesecake; pumpkin brittle (the seeds); pumpkin rolls with pumpkin icing; pumpkin panettone, muffins, oatmeal scones, scone cookies, biscotti, bread pudding, macaroons, bars and pumpkin-filled chocolate cookies; pumpkin mochi and regular ice cream; pumpkin caramels; pumpkin o-shaped cereals, tortilla chips, granola, toaster pastries, ravioli, crisps and bagels; pumpkin cream cheese and Greek yogurt; pumpkin coffee, tea and chai; not to mention the pumpkins themselves. Even pumpkin ale and — get this — “pumpkin-spiced pumpkin seeds.”

But pumpkin body butter? Dog treats?

Come on, people. Enough is enough.

What’s next? Pumpkin-scented car wash and pumpkin-spice laundry soap?

Now, I’m not at all sure I want my pillowcases and underwear smelling like pie, thank you very much, and I’d rather the Toyota continue to smell like a nice clean car rather than eau de pie. Imagine driving down the street with dogs and hungry vagrants running along behind, teeth snapping hungrily at the tires. (We’ll leave my bras out of this scenario, please.)

It’s pumpkin overkill.

Our pumpkin passion isn’t all over-the-top marketing. Pumpkin’s a nutritional powerhouse. According to www.nutritiondata.self.com, steamed or baked pumpkin is “low in saturated fat, and very low in cholesterol and sodium. It is also a good source of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper and manganese.”

One cup of mashed, cooked pumpkin has 49 calories. Yum.

No wonder pumpkin stuff sells well.

But, to be truthful, it isn’t the overwhelming scent, texture and taste of pumpkin itself that draws most of us into the “buy it now, buy it often” routine. It’s the cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices. And brown sugar. And vanilla.

Sound familiar?

Yup, you’ll find those ingredients year-round in such popular products as flavored oatmeal and other commercial cereals, snickerdoodle cookies, gooey cinnamon rolls, cinnamon-sugared doughnuts, cinnamon toast and regular chai tea. Yum times 2.

But put a dab of squash in there (maybe), and the word “pumpkin” on the label, and the product screams “Autumn! Halloween! Thanksgiving!”

Just ask Starbucks. “One venti pumpkin latté with extra whipped cream, please.”

Except that, until earlier this season, the trendy latte launched in 2003 didn’t contain any pumpkin. Espresso, yes, according to www.starbucks.com, plus steamed condensed skim milk, all those warm fall spices, lots and lots of syrup, and (in the aforementioned 20-ounce venti size) 470 calories and 64 grams of sugar. (No, I’m not getting into this season’s Red Cup Debate, no sir!).

And those stats are the downsides to our beloved gourd, our culinary symbol of all things autumnal. Nearly all commercial pumpkin products (except the body wash, I assume) come with an overload of diet busters.

Alas, homemade pumpkin bread and muffins, breakfast-and-snack staples at this time of year, also carry hefty calorie, fat and carb ratios. Sigh.

Even so, there’s a can of pumpkin sitting on my counter as I write, just waiting for me to create some pumpkin crepes, pumpkin bisque, pumpkin soufflé, pumpkin biscuits or our good old standby (which, at our bakery, we used to bake by the hundreds every Thanksgiving and Christmas): Vermont pumpkin pie, made with rich maple syrup and homemade caramel.

We sold homemade pumpkin spice doughnuts there, too, along with cookies, bread and muffins. All packed with pumpkin. Mouthwateringly yum. So I guess we’re guilty, too.

But at least we never sold pumpkin body wash.

Editor’s note: In case one of those pumpkin products mentioned above has tempted you, the October flier mentioned above was from Trader Joe’s.

Kathe Tanner’s column runs every other week in The Cambrian. Email her at ktanner @the tribune news .com.

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