Swimming In It
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 about pumpkin spice between seasons, it’s now fall and although pumpkin spice season hasn’t fully kicked in yet, I’m already practically swimming in it! I have more things to write about than I have space in a single column! It’s much as our resident Merve describes:
Even more than just an ocean of flavor, pumpkin spice is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together. So without further ado, let’s dive beneath these waves and plumb their depths, in search of lost treasure and hidden civilizations, and check our midichlorian count – it’s off the chart!
Trader Joe’s Greek Pumpkin Yogurt
The Trader Joe’s website for this product is just as silly and over the top as the others I’ve covered, describing how customers met its introduction in 2013 by sweeping them up by the armload and leaving “with joy in their hearts” so… well yeah, OK, so they do know how to market to people like me I guess, except that I buy new products one at a time, because there’s no way I want to buy a whole pound bag of say Tiger Pops only to discover I don’t like them. So on my recent inaugural trip to TJ’s, I only bought one of these and while fine for what it is, that’s probably enough for me. Or maybe that’s because I got the nonfat version, as the web page I found appears to be for a ‘normally fat’ version (also, the mix of “live and active cultures” appears to be different). There’s still a lot to appreciate this yogurt for, like how pumpkin is the second ingredient – second! It also contains all four pumpkin spices, even if the usual side-eye-drawing “natural flavor” is listed before the “real” spices and even salt. Plus the only thickener here is cornstarch; while there appears to be a fair amount of that in here, this is still definitely far beyond some Yoplait goo that’s more slime than man, where cornstarch is the second ingredient of their pumpkin spice and contains gelatin (which is just… no) as well as the recidivists guar gum, locust bean gum, and carrageenan too. I’m merely a take it or leave it guy when it comes to Greek yogurt, I don’t eat a lot of dairy and this just wouldn’t normally have a spot on my menu, but if you’re already invested, this is pretty solid stuff, but it’s just not great pumpkin spice, again.
This always seems to be the wall I run up against, the amount of pumpkin spice flavor included, and I think it mainly comes down to the spices. I feel that a hell of a lot of American-made processed foods suffer from this problem, as if the manufacturers are afraid of offending our tongues by somehow by putting “strong” (or “enough”) flavor in something. This might be a price issue as well, because no doubt beaver anal butt! 1comes cheaper than say ground cinnamon, god knows why, but jeez guys, at least go ahead and put enough beaver anal butt! so we can really taste it. I used buy these amazingly flavorful TV dinners from an Indian grocery store which, I assume, had been made in India and then imported into the states, and these were easily the best TV dinners I’ve ever had by far because they used their spices, a lot. There was no mistaking what spices were used. My guess is that if you tried to sell bland American-style TV dinners in India you’d be out of business in a fortnight. I enjoy Indian food because I am a person who enjoys his spice – I want to taste the spices, I want them to coat my tongue, paint my throat and scent my uhm breath for hours afterwards (OK, I mean when I belch), use me spice flavors! The pumpkin spice must flow, not trickle! So this is my pumpkin cross to bear, so many pumpkin spice products are probably going to come up short for me, whereas others of you may consider them perfectly acceptable.
So, rant over. If you want Greek yogurt, this is fine example of the species; if you want pumpkin spice Greek yogurt though, this is a bit disappointing, but still not trash by any measure. I dunno. Maybe I should start adding pumpkin spice powder myself?
Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls
The website for these lists some gushing testimonials from seven different people, strangely noting what five of them do for a living: four are office workers (two accountants and a CPA along with an office manager), and one is a “personal trainer extraordinaire”, so it would appear fans of Little Debbie are as white as Little Debbie herself. Which is cool and all, as I’m one to cast stones whilst blogging about pumpkin spice, which is also about as white as Little Debbie herself. I spent some time Googling these pumpkin spice rolls, trying to look up their ingredients as I hadn’t bought any yet. Doing so, I discovered quite a list of sites talking about these snacks, and discovering that there’s any number of focused niche blogs and websites where people obsessively talk about their food preferences and comb over what’s in stuff and go on and on… but that’s not me! I’m better than that right? Well…
Somehow it seems fitting that Little Debbie has led me into some sort of existential crisis because these are quite a thing. I mean, ingredient-wise they’re not fantastic, and yet here I am buying something that’s normally anathema to me, just to blog about it. Amongst the ingredients, I discovered what I thought to be a typo, but turned out to just be a spelling variant for a vitamin B (“THIAMIN [not sic after all] MONONITRATE”2) and that non-actual-spice flavor come first on the list before, to be fair, the actual spices (“NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, CINNAMON… [many ingredients later] GINGER, NUTMEG”; however note the lack of clove, not that I miss it), and there’s also the usual does of palm oil along with other oils and artificial color. One nutritional website, not the Little Debbie one, noted that “it looks like Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls are Free From: fish, shellfish, tree nuts, sesame & peanut.”, which I found disappointing, I mean, what’s Little Debbie snacks or pumpkin spice without shellfish?
But enough silliness, on to the tasting. The following has been brazenly cribbed from my girlfriend, who nailed it when we first split one of these rolls. Even before that first bite, she was bothered to see that white filling stuff (“rich vanilla creme”), which she says infests every Little Debbie snack, which I seem to recall is true, because she doesn’t like it. If you like that stuff, you may like these cake rolls as the ratio of pumpkin spice cake to white filling is about one to three, there’s lots of white stuff and not much cake. She also pointed out how that white stuff is really damn sweet, like super super sweet, like a sugar explosion that somehow creates even more sugar taking it all to sugar squared, sugar extreeeem!, Mister Sugar McSweetersugar hopping the Sugar Express to Sugartown with no stops in between, with a sugar bullet. Finally, that white stuff is also weirdly grainy and leaves a film coating your mouth.
I think did use to actually like that white stuff, I think, because Little Debbie’s oatmeal cookie sandwiches and Swiss cake rolls were my jam in my 20s, and so I somehow almost managed to enjoy it again today as a seriously guilty pleasure snack, but that was just my first bite, and I didn’t eat that whole cake roll either. And by the time I had eaten the two-thirds that I did eat, I was having second thoughts, there was simply way too much pleasure curdling into flat-out guilt. I also didn’t find much pumpkin spice in that roiling supernova of sugar (certainly no pumpkin either, as there’s none of the sacred gourd in these); she thinks there was, in that sparse cake, and suggested me might unroll one and scrape out the tablespoon-and-a-half’s worth of white stuff to check if there was, but I’m not so sure we’ll bother. I mean, my girlfriend and I have different mouths, I get over saturated with sweet things pretty quickly whereas that’s where she likes to live, yet even she was overwhelmed by all the sweet in these. Do not take the word of that CPA on Little Debbie’s website who said “the icing is perfectly sweet,” it’s a “rich vanilla creme” like Jeff Bezos is a “rich bookseller.”
Fulton’s Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur
Probably because of how real pumpkin pie has a large dairy component (usually condensed milk), there appear to be a number of cream liqueurs for the pumpkin spice connoisseur, discriminating or not. As I’ve said before, the fat in such is pretty important as it carries flavor, allowing it to really reveal its subtleties, shades and moods; maybe this is why a lot of the Indian cooking I’ve explored always starts with heating the cooking oil and toasting the spices in it before adding anything else, to really get them saturated into the oil which will spread across the entire dish.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that the fat, or cream (note that it’s not spelled “creme” so it’s probably the real thing) really displays the flavor in this Fulton liqueur well. The website and label describe this stuff as “an enticing blend of pumpkin, brown sugar and nutmeg” and while I’m not sure it’s also “instantly reminiscent of homemade pumpkin pie,” it is damn delicious. I’m not even sure if any of the other pumpkin spices are in there or not, as how liquor companies are notoriously reticent to reveal their recipes 3, but surprise! I don’t care because this is nutmeg’s chance to shine, because this stuff is so great. And I haven’t even tried the recipe on their website for “Farmer’s French Toast”, which, I mean, c’mon, sounds likes it would be to die for4. I just like everything about this sipping liqueur: it’s smooth, sweet, rich, the pleasant flavor lingers in your mouth, and it manages all that without any missteps, exactly in the same way that the Little Debbie cake rolls didn’t. I don’t know what it says about me or the state of pumpkin spice, but it seems I have a higher hit rate in pumpkin spice on the alcohol aisles than in the grocery section.
Quaker Instant Oatmeal Pumpkin Spice
I’m not generally a big cereal fan, cold or hot, except when pumpkin spice comes into it, and I passed on buying this stuff last year because of that. Maybe I shouldn’t have as it’s really pretty ‘real’ food; of the mere six (six!) ingredients, the one one to draw suspicion is “natural flavor,” and “spices” is even listed before that, so what wouldn’t be to like here? I suppose were I a vegan (too sloppy) then I might have problem with the nonfat dry milk, but… I don’t really know why I skipped it, and now that I’m writing these articles, I find myself bending towards buying crap I normally wouldn’t (again, see Little Debbie above) just to experience it and write about it – plus as the season hasn’t fully kicked in yet, so I’m desperately scraping my pipe and smoking stems, as it were, until I can get more of the real thing.
So this stuff was fine. It’s wonderfully easy to make by heating half a cup of water in the microwave for a minute and then tearing open one of the paper packages and stirring it up, so it’s like instant gratification pumpkin spice in that regard. It even tastes OK, although I wouldn’t say it was any kind of peak pumpkin spice. I’m really starting to think that for every food stuff I say that about, I could just sprinkle some of the real spice mix over the top of it and make it suddenly wonderful, but that’s a bit depressing and leads me down a dark road to questioning why I even bother buying any of these when I could make any product my pumpkin spice variant by doing that. I’m not sure I could face a world where buying pumpkin spice is as pointless as reading YouTube comments… so let’s just focus on this oatmeal.
The website, which I assume was written by that apple-cheeked, William Penn-based Quaker Oats guy,5, isn’t too far wrong saying this is “perfectly sweet pumpkin and warm cinnamon spice flavors paired with whole grain Quaker Oats,” but I do take umbrage with “it’s anything but basic.” Yes it is, Mr. Quaker guy, it is basic, what with all the “flavor with other natural flavor” and the whole not-overwhelmingly-pumpkin-spice thing going on here. I’ll agree that cinnamon is the stand-out flavor, and that’s no real sin, but it’s all a bit bland perhaps, if not offensive in any way. But that is basic. One more word of advice too: don’t print the instructions on the brown paper pouch in orange, it’s nigh illegible.
Lord Megara Justice Machine doesn’t try to frighten you with his sorcerer’s ways. His sad devotion to this ancient religion has not helped him conjure up the stolen pumpkin spice rolls or given him clairvoyance enough to find the grocers’ hidden products. But he finds your lack of of cinnamon disturbing. Hokey religions and ancient weapons may be no match for a blaster at your side, but you still might want to check out the prequels: