Crazy about pumpkin

Spicy pumpkin seeds/Gretchen McKay

 

Is it just me, or is pumpkin taking over?

I was fine with seasonal pumpkin products such as pumpkin bread and pumpkin roll.

But these days, you can find its distinctive autumnal flavor in just about everything from drinks to granola bars to pasta to ice cream, and the orange tide keeps rising. Even Pringles has joined in the Great American Pumpkin Party, including in its new lineup of limited-edition holiday season flavors a Pumpkin Pie Spice chip.

Enough already!

Some of these pumpkin-powered supermarket foods and menu items make perfect sense, such as the seasonal pumpkin brews being poured through about Thanksgiving at local bars and restaurants. (See Bob Batz Jr.’s Beer Column.) I’m also developing a taste for the pumpkin-spiced coffees being brewed, also for a limited time, at chains such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, especially when it’s paired with a decadent pumpkin loaf or a pumpkin and walnut biscotti from Enrico’s in the Strip District. A toasted pumpkin bagel stuffed with sweet and creamy pumpkin cream cheese (think pumpkin mousse) might sound like too much of a good thing, but trust me, it’s a customer favorite at Bruegger’s 300-plus U.S. locations for a reason — and not just for breakfast.

“If you haven’t tried it, you should,” my running buddy Andrea Facebooked after having said treat for an afternoon snack. “And if there’s any cream cheese left . . . it’s worthy of eating with your knife.”

Just thinking of it makes me hungry!

But do we really need pumpkin-flavored dog treats, or nonfat Greek pumpkin yogurt, just two of the 20-plus “Pumpkin Season specialties” advertised in Trader Joe’s Fearless Flying brochure for October?

Below, we offer a few more of the season’s best pumpkin-flavored offerings worth the calories, along with a couple that might have been better left in the pumpkin patch.

Morning carbs

Pumpkin and walnut biscotti from Enrico Biscotti in Pittsburgh’s Strip District/Gretchen McKay

Pancakes are good anytime of year, but they’re especially tasty when the batter includes pumpkin blended with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. DeLuca’s Diner in the Strip and Eggs N’at in Moon are just two of the many local diners and restaurants that put pumpkin hotcakes on the menu each fall, and they’re delicious, with or without maple syrup. DeLuca’s also has pumpkin pie crepes as well as a pumpkin hotcake sundae, which pairs pumpkin ice cream with a cream cheese glaze.

If you’d rather wake up to a bagel, Brueggers, Einsteins and Panera Bread all feature pumpkin varieties this time of year. So does muffin-maker Thomas’, though its Pumpkin Spice bagels and bagel thins are a far cry from the chewy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside taste you love in a fresh bagel hot out of the oven. It also has a Pumpkin Spice English Muffin. Pepperidge Farms, meanwhile, celebrates fall with its seasonal Pumpkin Spice Swirl bread. The “swirl” being pumpkin puree, this bread is best toasted, with plenty of butter. It’d also make an awesome base for French Toast.

Not to be outdone at the breakfast table is Kelloggs, whose Frosted Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tart is sure to be a hit either with kids or adults whose taste buds never grew up. A better option is Pumpkin Spice Eggo waffles, part of its “Seasons” line of specialty waffles. A little butter and a drizzle of syrup, and you’re ready to go.

Pumpkin beverages

Probably the signature seasonal pumpkin drink is Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, a frothy coffee drink topped with sweetened whipped cream that has so many fans, local franchises occasionally run out of the special pumpkin syrup used to make it. That’s right, there’s no actual pumpkin in the product, though there are plenty of calories — 380 in a 16-ounce “grande.” Starbucks is to introduce Pumpkin Spice Latte ice cream in stores Nov. 1. Nipping at the coffee giant’s heel is Dunkin’ Donuts, which earlier this month launched Pumpkin Mocha and Pumpkin White Chocolate coffee and lattes, in addition to its Pumpkin Spice ground coffee. Brueggers has a pumpkin brew, too.

For those who’d rather make and (artificially) flavor coffee at home, there’s Coffee-mate Pumpkin non-dairy creamer and International Delight’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer.

Courting tea lovers is Bigelow Tea, whose collection of seasonal holiday tea bags includes Pumpkin Spice Tea. It’s blended using black tea and natural pumpkin flavors with cinnamon, licorice root, cloves and ginger. Slightly spicy and wonderfully aromatic, it’s perfect for sipping before bed. Plus, no calories.

I wish I could say the same for another fan favorite: Dairy Queen’s Pumpkin Pie Blizzard (Blizzard of the Month for October). My daughters, who work there, say one out of every three customers orders one of these thick ice cream treats, which are made by blending vanilla soft serve, Libby’s Pumpkin Pie Mix and pie crust “chips.” Garnished with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg, it’s a button-popper in the making, with a whopping 570 calories in a small serving.

For me, the better splurge was the Pumpkin Pie Margarita at Mad Mex, which has a taste reminiscent of hard apple cider. I was skeptical anyone could combine tequila with pumpkin with good results, but the frozen concoction was surprisingly delicious.

And more pumpkin

Pumpkin also is making its way into staples such as salsa, pasta, snacks and spreads. My oldest son is a huge fan of Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter, which you can slather on cake or toast, stir into yogurt or oatmeal or spoon with peanut butter into a sandwich. Another of my running buddies loves the Spiced Pumpkin Salsa at Aldi, but I have to say, I’m suspect.

At Triple B Farms in Monongahela, you can find Pumpkin Spice Lasagna Noodles and Fettucine; Pennsylvania Macaroni has pumpkin tortellini imported from Italy. At Crested Duck in Beechview, Kevin Costa has been sneaking the veggie into sausage.

For sweeter tastes, Kraft devised Jet-Puffed Pumpkin Spice Mallows, perfect for a autumnal Rice Krispie Treat. Hershey’s wraps the flavor in chocolate, in a Pumpkin Spice Kiss.

Oh, I almost forgot: Pringles’ Pumpkin Pie Spice potato chips. The limited-edition flavor, which debuts next month at Wal-Mart, is not as weird as the White Chocolate Peppermint chip that’s arriving with it.

If you haven’t satisfied your yen for pumpkins with all those seasonal dishes, Glade now has come out with a new air freshener for fall. With the Maple Pumpkin scent, your house can smell like “maple syrup and newly harvested pumpkins.”


 

Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

Sweetly spicy, with a lick of fire and the light crunch of toasted seeds and caramelized sugar: I’d like tons of these with a hoppy beer. Or a spoonful on my pumpkin soup, bowl of chili or roasted squash. Just remember the seeds need an hour’s drying in a low oven before combining with flavorings.

– Virginia Phillips

  • 1 medium pumpkin
  • 5 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Pinch cayenne, or to your taste (I used a couple of large pinches)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil (I used canola)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I did not use).

Cut pumpkin open from top to bottom and remove seeds with a long-handled spoon. You’ll be able to scrape about a cup of seeds from a medium (5 to 7 pound) pumpkin. (Fresh seeds are not to be confused with the already hulled pumpkin seeds, which are green, smaller and sold pre-packaged in stores.) In a bowl of water, separate seeds from the squash gunk and blot on a tea towel. On a baking sheet bake the seeds until completely dry, 45 minutes to an hour. They’ll darken to a crunchy ruddy gold.

In a medium bowl combine 3 tablespoons sugar, salt, cumin, cinnamon, ginger and cayenne. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add seeds and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Cook until sugar melts and pumpkin seeds begin to caramelize, about 45 to 60 seconds. Transfer to bowl with spices, and stir well to coat. Let cool. These may be stored in an airtight container for at least a week.

Makes about a cup.

– Adapted from 2012 Martha Stewart Living


 

Eight O’Clock’s Gr8 Pumpkin Coffee

It doesn’t get much easier than this.

– Gretchen McKay

  • 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 6 tablespoons Eight O’Clock Original ground coffee (enough for 1 full pot)
  • Milk or half-and-half
  • Sugar

Combine pumpkin pie spice and coffee grounds in coffee filter, brew. Add milk or half & half and sugar to taste (you control the sweetness, unlike at a coffee shop).

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

– Eight O’Clock Coffee


 

Pumpkin biscuits

PG tested

B. Smith says the secret to great biscuits is to use chilled butter or shortening. We liked these served as an accompaniment to a warm bowl of soup on a chilly fall day.

– Rebecca Sodergren

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons chilled butter or shortening, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter or shortening and pulse briefly, just until it is the texture of coarse meal. Add the pumpkin and buttermilk to the flour mixture. Pulse just until the dough is soft and easy to handle. Do not overprocess, or biscuits will be tough.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough gently until smooth. Roll it out to 1/2-inch thickness, sprinkling more flour on the work surface as necessary to prevent sticking, and cut the dough into rounds with a 2-inch biscuit cutter or the top of a 2-inch glass. Scraps can be rerolled and cut into more rounds.

Place the biscuits on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 1 dozen.

– ”B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style” by Barbara Smith (Scribner, 2009)

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