The Stars Are Right
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 having started writing these articles between pumpkin spice seasons, the time is nigh! The position of the stars in the heavens now herald the coming of fall and unlock the creeping chill to stalk across the Earth extinguishing all life, while a not-so-young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of pumpkin spice. I don’t give a damn if we’re still getting 90 degree temperatures this week, let’s get to these before the expiration date for life on Earth arrives, tis the season for celebrating pumpkin spice!
Starbucks Pumpkin Scone:
Starbucks of course is the bountiful pagan god of industry we worship every fall for kicking off the pumpkin spice frenzy that sweeps the land like a crisp-aired, leaf-changing Purge, having first introduced their pumpkin spice latte in 2003, now these fifteen years ago. So let’s start off by getting this big orange elephant pumpkin out of the room.
The day began with me in a rush to run some errands, so my girlfriend and I hurried from the house and swung by a Starbucks for morning coffee (OK, so it was actually 3 PM already – I leeve in the darkness, a creature of zee night). Having heard that the pumpkin spice lattes were already back (this was still August!), it occurred to me the pumpkin spice scones might be too, so I asked and they were. I found it a good sized, soft scone the color of pumpkin and about the size and thickness of my palm, with a thick white icecap of icing resembling a square of fondant on top, and a few scribbled stripes of beige “pumpkin icing” (according to their website). I had mine with a Starbucks Hibiscus Refresher on an empty stomach however and lived to regret it. This. Scone. Was. Sweet. All that icing really added up, curdling “scrumptious and joyously sweet treat” rapidly into “eurgh, let me lay here on the floor for awhile” territory. This was probably partly my fault for pairing it with the Refresher, also very sweet, me being generally more sensitive to the over-sweetening of everything in America (my GF is sure my mouth is broken) and the empty stomach.
Sugar crash aside, these scones taste great, although I don’t think it’s pumpkin spice-y enough. I could have easily mistaken it for gingerbread, while my girlfriend said she thought it was about midway between gingerbread and pumpkin spice flavors. The Starbucks website notes it’s their most popular scone, and the ingredient list doesn’t look at all scary and includes actual pumpkin, but it also notes all the calories and fat in one scone, and oh Great Pumpkin, maybe I shouldn’t be eating a quarter of my daily caloric intake and carbs – nor 45% of my daily saturated fat – all in one scone (note: these numbers aren’t much different for their quintessential latte either). But the thing was pretty damn tasty if I’m willing to risk the cloying lethargy again.
Seattle Cider Co. Pumpkin Spice Hard Cider:
I had no idea what I was facing going in to this. This drink comes four to a box, in a minimalist can and my girlfriend found them and bought them for me out of the blue. So I opened one up and wha-wha-WHAAAAA? Every cider I’ve had up till now has been sweet, but this is a dry cider; apparently ciders these days are all graded along a scale of sweet to dry, according to some websites I looked at. Seattle Cider Co grades this one as being just about dead center on that scale, which, sure, as I don’t know much, although it seemed very dry to me. Anyway, I was shocked just how much it actually tasted like a beer instead of a cider (to me anyway, what with being all inexperienced with ciders). It was a real whiplash of expectations vs. reality for me, but two things were still pretty clear: first, this stuff is far more carbonated that I like, and second, you can really taste the pumpkin spice in this. Once my mouth caught up with what was going on, it grew on me like moss on Stephen King until I was quite enjoying it.
This cider, as I said, is strangely redolent of a cross of beer and a white wine (or maybe campaign) with some pumpkin spice mixed in, although I question just how “pumpkin spice” it can be without any ginger (this issue will bedevil me more, later). The tagline on the box and website says “this semi-sweet cider is copper in color [huh, it looks like yellow lager to me] and perfect for fall. Fermented with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves [but why no ginger? That would have been great in this, like a ginger beer], it offers hints of the season’s favorite spices followed by just a touch of pumpkin.” I mean, ginger and apples! Oh well, nothing’s perfect.
A few years ago my girlfriend and I had made the mistake of wandering into a large liquor store just as pumpkin spice season was breaking out and fell prey to the lure of pumpkin spice beers, walking out with several six-packs of different brands, only to be heartbroken when we discovered that they all tasted exactly like beer from any other time of year. Interestingly, the only bright spot from that trip was the Woodchuck “Fall Harvest” Cider that was very apple pie-esque. If only we’d had this cider then! It’s so much like beer, it’s weird; I know this may make it sound off-putting, but really, this stuff is pretty good! Someone I work with vouched for everything this brand sells, in fact, for what that’s worth.
Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Swirl Bread
The Pepperidge Farm website is pretty bare-boned, just offering a game invitation to “wake up to swirls and swirls of yummy morning magic.” Well, I do like swirls and swirls of yummy, but I’m just not a morning person, magic or no, and this hasn’t changed my mind on that. Pepperidge Farm, as I recall, used to make things out the worst sort of junk, hydrogenated oils and whatnot, but they seem to have cleaned up their act on that front, as this bread had none of that in it, and even includes some actual pumpkin in it – funny little chips scattered throughout like bits of blueberries in a muffin. There’s even some “cinnamon,” “spices,” and “vanilla extract” (that means real vanilla even!) in there, but apparently not enough of any of those to actually make a real flavor, as I found this bread to be another example of the American packaged food ideal of “vaguely reminding you what this might taste like but without actually tasting like that, or anything.” As bread itself it’s also a bit foamy, almost more sponge cake than bread, and each slice probably no bigger than two playing cards side by side. This might not bother me as much except that when I buy bread I tend to go for “Dave’s Killer Bread” brand which is made of all real stuff and is a large, solid loaf of stick-to-your-ribs. I wasn’t expecting too much from this and I wasn’t let down. Still, you can do worse, and I suppose kids or boring white folk (which I’m not, not yet) might be happy enough with it.
Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte / Via Instant Pumpkin Spice Latte:
OK, here we are, we finally arrive at the root of all evil. And I didn’t really care for it that much! As with apparently everything sold at Starbucks, as I mentioned above, both the “live” and the “home game” versions of their pumpkin spice latte were both a bit too rich and sweet for my taste, although your pumpkin patch mileage may vary. I do wonder though… I recall the first time I had one of these I kind of enjoyed it, but that may have been before 2015, when a food writer who goes by the name Food Babe blogged an extensive article about how bad the drink was for you, how everything in it was evil and had no real pumpkin in it to animate the stumbling corpse already. You can still find this article online and read it for yourself, but after I did, I wanted to give up any manufactured food forever (she gives what appears to be a really good recipe for mixing up your own, more healthy, pumpkin spice latte yourself, if you feel like playing barista at home). For those of you who still want to stick around however, Starbucks responded to her and changed their mix in 2015, so maybe it was the earlier version I liked more.
Today’s iconic Starbucks drinks seemed heavy on the clove and nutmeg notes, which are by and large my least favorite of the holy four in pumpkin spice (again: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and sometimes allspice). It’s hard to know for sure which of those four, if any, actually made it into the Starbucks mix though, as the Via Instant label gave me “Pumpkin Spice Latte flavored with other natural flavors” (wait, what? I haven’t even reached the first batch of flavors and you’ve already moved on to “other”?) on the front, while the actual ingredients list only says “natural flavors.” Well.
The Starbucks website says the Via Instant has “The flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves” which is probably why it disappoints me: one, I love ginger and ginger needs to be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine; two, whenever ginger’s not on screen, all the other flavors should be asking “where’s ginger?” Starbucks apparently makes several pumpkin spice products – K cups, bottled lattes, cookie straws even – and they all describe their flavors the same way, so I guess Starbucks just must hate ginger. Maybe it just doesn’t go well with coffee? I dunno, but I know this disappoints me, so yeah, well, screw you too, Starbucks! I can enjoy the complete flavor of pumpkin spice – with ginger even – elsewhere! I’ve been kicked out of better places anyways. They may have started the craze, but it was up to others to perfect it. Iconoclast that I am, maybe I should go complain on their Pumpkin Spice Latte Twitter account. Did I mention that Starbucks pumpkin spice latte has it’s own Twitter account? Even I find this a bit insufferable, because look Starbucks, you have something popular here, but don’t clutter up Twitter with a separate account for it, we need those extra Twitter inter-tubes for racists trolls – just put the pumpkin spice latte material in your usual Twitter account. https://twitter.com/TheRealPSL
According to the BBC, only 40% of Americans bought something pumpkin spice related in 2015 – 40%! So unless those numbers have grown since then, some of you, my readers, are falling down here. I’m not going to publicly shame any of you by name, but c’mon, this cannot be allowed to stand. One good way to combat these sad figures is to read about pumpkin spice more, because 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, the second one here, and the third one here.