Pumpkin Thoughts for Pumpkin Season
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas. There’s very little wonderful about that. If anything, that’s the most stressful time of the year, followed by tax season. Nah, the most wonderful time of the year is fall. Vegas gets cooler (finally), wearing a hoodie all the time isn’t seen as weird, and it’s pumpkin season. Glorious.
I know what you’re thinking “FUCK YEAH PUMPKIN SPICE!” NO. Stop. I’m not hyped about “pumpkin spice flavored” foodstuffs. Not the lattes, not the cookies, not the oreos, none of that junk. I’m hyped for pumpkin, plain and simple. “Well, what’s the difference?” I can hear you think as you see the previous sentence as an attack on your beloved sugary goodies. And that’s it right there. “Pumpkin spice” isn’t pumpkin. It’s like apple pie spice. It’s cinnamon and nutmeg and all those warm delicious aromas and tastes that are usually sugary that remind you of pumpkin pie. It’s not a bad taste, don’t get me wrong. I love me a good pumpkin pie. But it’s not what a pumpkin tastes like. Y’all don’t like pumpkin, you like the slightly spicy sugary goodness that has been long associated with pumpkin.
Pumpkin, like most squashes, is mildly sweet, but it’s not inherently sugary. But we’ve long connected pumpkin to pie and thus the pumpkin spice flavor that most people don’t know what pure, unadulterated pumpkin tastes or smells like. I feel that while there are many great sweets of all kinds you can put pumpkin into, the sweets try to chase that pumpkin spice flavor and feeling rather than embrace the goodness that is in and of itself pumpkin. That’s why I love the savory uses of pumpkin. They seem odd to people who only know of pumpkin through its sweet uses, but pumpkin as part of a savory dish is fantastic during this time of year. No, seriously, savory pumpkin dishes are the bomb.
One of the few things I really miss about not being in Ohio anymore is missing out on the Circleville Pumpkin Show. Imagine a midwest county fair, but dedicated to pumpkin. Yeah. That’s what this was like. Pumpkin everything: bread, beer, deep fried cheesecake (on a stick of course), burgers? Chili? Yup. It was available in all sorts of forms, savory or sweet, and really hit on how versatile pumpkin as a flavor really is. Around this time of year, my college cafeteria would also occasionally roll out the best thing they made: spicy pumpkin soup. A chicken-stock based soup with pureed pumpkin and diced onions that was spicy, a little salty, and warmed you right up on chilly fall evenings. I’ve tried my best to replicate it since graduating, getting close (a good base recipe is this one), and finding that ground turkey and quinoa added to it make for a rather hearty and tasty soup.
Pumpkin is much more than a sugary flavoring added to various goods during the fall to seem more festive and sell more product. It’s a squash, when treated as an ingredient rather than a seasonal craze, that’s rather healthy and adds a lot of depth to a dish (no, really. 100g of pumpkin is about 30 calories, is chock full of vitamin A and fiber, and relatively low in sugars/carbs). This year, instead of plunking down $5+ on a Pumpkin Spice latte or pumpkin spice flavored almonds or cookies, try a savory pumpkin dish. Roasted pumpkin would be a great side along, say, a pork tenderloin. Make pumpkin lasagna, or pumpkin gratin. Utilize pumpkin while it’s widely in a way you wouldn’t think of, and appreciate what makes pumpkin so marvelous beyond pie and jack-o-lanterns. And maybe, just maybe, when someone says “it’s pumpkin season!” your thoughts won’t immediately drift to something sugary and not pumpkin-y.
General disclaimer: there’s no “official” species of pumpkin. It’s technically a rather broad term that incorporates several types of winter squash, but at least in the US we tend to agree on its usage being reserved for larger squashes that range in color from yellow to orange. Pumpkin puree may also include puree from other squashes, such as butternut. So don’t freak out too much if you go out to buy pumpkin puree and there’s other squashes listed in the ingredient list. Best way to ensure 100% typical American pumpkin in your dishes is to buy a small pumpkin, and prepare it for usage yourself. There’s tons of guides on how to do this, and most of a pumpkin is edible.