Part Of This Complete
(part one, probably)
Welcome to another The Pumpkin Spice Must Flow, where I irregularly post about that most extraordinary combination of flavors, pumpkin pie spice (or just “pumpkin spice”). Despite currently being in between pumpkin spice seasons, I still have a number of pumpkin spice foods to consider here, thanks to my hoarder mentality. So without further ado, let’s get to them before the expiration date arrives!
365 Pumpkin Pancake & Waffle Mix
365 is the cheaper house brand for Whole Foods, which are all generally decent and cheaper, and this pancake mix is no exception. It’s a pretty standard pancake mix spiked with pumpkin powder and pumpkin flakes, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and “natural flavor.” I found the overall flavor tilted more towards the ginger than anything else, but pleasantly so, even if the ingredients didn’t list any actual nutmeg. So hm, does that disqualify this product as being “pumpkin spice”? What about those “natural flavors” anyway, might they help it qualify?
According to what I’ve read, “natural flavors” are, as the name implies, derived from natural sources – plants, animals, microbial life, fungus, anything that was once alive – just not necessarily the sources you would guess, so “natural flavors” can mean any number of possible ingredients. When my girlfriend and I find “natural flavors” on a label, we fall over ourselves to assure one another that the thing must therefore contain castoreum, which is a waxy substance harvested from a beaver’s two “castor anal sacs” between its anus and genitals. Yes, you read that right. Beavers use this stuff to scent-mark territory, while food companies use it to help mimic vanilla, or, less frequently, raspberry or strawberry. Other, more vice-oriented uses include enhancing cigarettes (thank god I quit) and flavoring a Swedish schnapps called “Bäverhojt” or “beaver shout,” which is something I bet beavers do when someone removes their castor anal sacs. My girlfriend and I call this stuff “beaver anal butt!” when we’re joking around, exclamation mark included, because we’re often twelve-year-olds and because “beaver anal butt!” is obviously fun to say. But lest you get the wrong idea, Wikipedia says only about 300 pounds of castoreum are used every year compared to 2.6 million pounds of the artificial flavoring vanillin. The sources for most “natural flavors” are probably much less upsetting than beaver anal butt!, because how could they not be, and I have no idea if this pancake mix had any “beaver anal butt!” in it. Maybe those “natural ingredients” listed on the label for this pancake mix do a fair imitation of nutmeg, so this does qualify for me to write about here. There’s a famous quote that’s often attributed to Otto von Bisquick – I mean Bismark – that goes “to retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.” That probably applies to packaged foods as well.
Flavorganics Certified Organic Pumpkin Spice syrup
According to their website, “Flavorganics Organic Pumpkin Spice Syrup offers the perfect holiday twist to ice cream, coffee, lattes, and Italian sodas.“ You’ll note they don’t mention using it for pancakes like, oh, say, the ones I just wrote about, but I used this for them anyway, which was a mistake. This syrup was just too sweet for that, and would probably be better for coffee or other uses that don’t require such large amounts. Still, it’s very manufactured stuff, composed of “organic evaporated cane juice, water, organic pumpkin spice flavor (I’m guessing this might be about the same as “natural flavors”?), vegetable glycerin, citric acid.” I’m just not sure it’s worth it as the flavor isn’t anything to write home about and I need more sugar in my diet like I need another pumpkin spice hole in my head. It’s just runny, flavored sugar water, literally. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to buy this again when I see it, but I’m not ready to throw it out just yet, as I haven’t tried to redeem it as a coffee sweetener (although I normally just drink it unadorned anyway).
[A few developments after what I wrote above: first, although the website didn’t mention pancakes, I noticed the physical bottle’s label did, so I wonder if they changed their minds on that. Secondly, this syrup tasted the same in coffee, meaning not all that great. Lastly, I did throw out the rest of the bottle.]
This might seem like an unfair review, as I misused the stuff and I’m clearly not too interested in trying to give it second chance. But doesn’t that lack of interest reveal something in and of itself? As you’ll see later, I can favorably judge something as tasting good when I otherwise have problems with, but… that stuff just doesn’t inspire such forgiveness.
Louisburg Cider Mill Pumpkin Butter
I had to check some recipes for pumpkin butter to be sure, and yep, it’s usually made with the same mix of spices as pumpkin pie, so this definitely qualifies for this article, which is good because pumpkin butter is my jam. What’s not to love? It’s basically spreadable pumpkin pie without the dairy fats and a crust. The Louisburg Cider Mill version is a perfect specimen of the breed with just enough sugar to be sweet but not cloying and the classic mix of spices to actually bolster that elusive pumpkin flavor. This stuff’s been excellent on bagels, toast, bread, and would probably be excellent on any other baked good you’d care to smear it on. It’s currently jazzing up my lunch-time almond butter sandwiches, although I am on my last jar. This brand is made of mostly simple, actually identifiable food-like ingredients too, which is something I appreciate.
The name ‘pumpkin butter’ itself is something of a misnomer, of course. It’s called ‘butter’ because the stuff can be spread like butter, rather than because it contains any kind of dairy. Basically, pumpkin butter is to pumpkin puree what apple butter is to apple sauce: a denser, less liquid form of the same thing with some added species. The usual apple butter spice mixes are pretty similar to pumpkin butter’s in fact, so one can easily imagine pumpkin butter and pumpkin pie arising together as New World regional variants in the 1800s (as detailed in my previous article). The only real difference between the two butters is that you can’t safely can pumpkin butter, because it has a lower acidity might allow botulism to grow inside your bottle – delicious, spreadable pumpkin spice botulism, but still botulism (you can freeze the stuff though).
I’ve had a couple of different varieties of pumpkin butter, which always only show up in local grocery stores during the traditional pumpkin spice season, but Louisburg Cider Mill’s can be ordered from their website year round.
Original Two-Bite Pumpkin Scones
These little triangular scones are like crack, I cannot stop eating them when I first wake up, between meals, as a dessert after a meal, and just before I go to bed and as a late night snack. I found a box hiding in my girlfriend’s freezer on a recent Thursday and all twenty or so were gone by Sunday night; she only got about three of them (and yet still loves me, thank god). Because they’re small, about the size of a cookie, my usual road to hell starts when I have one, then think “that was pretty small and it’s already gone, I’ll have another,” which leads to having three, which then leads to my shock as I discover the box is nearly empty. They are so good! It kills me to imagine a future bereft of these, but I’ll probably try to avoid them in future because of that slippery slope of addiction and because what they’re made of.
These scones do contain actual pumpkin puree, so that’s a good start, but they also contain artificial flavors and “shortening (palm, soybean and modified palm oil).” I’ve chosen to cut those sorts of fats out of my diet because they’ve been connected to serious health issues (raising the “bad cholesterol” in your bloodstream, lowering the “good cholesterol,” increased risk of heart disease, etc.; there’s a list), and because the growth of palm oil plantations has been responsible for the loss of habitat for wildlife such as the Sumatran orangutan and the Sumatran tiger (there’s a list there too, but mainly I don’t want to live on this planet anymore if there’s no wild tigers). The World Health Organization suggests we limit our intake of palm oil, and the FDA put out a ruling back in June 2015 that will pretty much eliminate all trans fats from the food supply in the US in three years – hey, that’s now! – based on these health concerns, so this isn’t me going an anti-vaxxer route or anything.
But in the meantime I can’t scold anyone for eating this stuff: palm oil is damn hard to avoid, now that industry has mostly ditched hydrogenated oils, and hell, I used to smoke. But these sorts of fats and fake flavors aren’t there to make an already good food better, they’re either stand-in filler ingredients or used to extend shelf-life. Additionally, fake flavors ask me to trust the manufacturer actually got taste right, rather than trying to pass off something as “good enough.” I want to eat better than that and I’ve been burned too often on that gamble.
Flavor-wise, I have zero disappointments with these pumpkin scones, they taste like pure pumpkin spice sconey heaven, so please feel free to agree with their website’s tagline: “enjoy all the quality, flavor and goodness of your favorite baked goods in a size your whole family will love and you can feel good about eating.”
I bet you still haven’t had enough to read about pumpkin spice, have you? It happens! So you’ll probably be super-stoked to check out the first pumpkin spice article right here.