Welcome to another The Pumpkin Spice Must Flow, where I irregularly post about products made with that most extraordinary combination of flavors, pumpkin pie spice (or just “pumpkin spice”). And oh my god, Halloween is almost here and there’s still so many more pumpkin spice things to try, dislike and write about! How can I ever get them all done in time for you to have time to seek them out for yourself?! By cutting corners, probably, so let’s beat the clock and try to get another handful of opinions out there!
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter
These entries are going to make me sound like I’ve lost that (pumpkin) lovin’ feeling for Trader Joe’s and to some extent I guess I have, but that love for all things pumpkin spice may also be about gone, gone, gone, whoa-oh-oh-yeah-heh (gasp!). Or, more accurately, for pumpkin spice products as so many of them are just base ploys for seasonal sales the manufacturers otherwise wouldn’t garner, and sadly minus the follow-through of actually making something pumpkin spicy.
On the other hand, that wasn’t the problem with this pumpkin butter. The flavor was good and the ingredients lists didn’t bypass any of the four of the established spices for pumpkin pie flavor. And hell, every ingredient on the list (eight in all, four of which are those spices) do common sensibly seem to belong in a pumpkin butter. What dropped this stuff for me however is that two of those other four ingredients are forms of sugar, sugar and honey. Sweet is fine, but I don’t enjoy sweet turned up to eleven, which is something a lot of pumpkin spice products suffer from. Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter has 40 calories in one tablespoon compared to the Louisburg Cider Mill Pumpkin Butter that I wrote about back in part 2, which only has 15 – 15!! That’s a heck of a lot of extra, really unneeded sugar in the Trader Joe’s, despite the website’s sort-of-warning, “that richness is partially attributable to its fruit-pulp-to-sugar ratio, which by definition is higher than that of jam or preserves.” But hey now, don’t be trying to pass that off as some immutable law of nature, Trader Joe, this is the recipe you approved. So I’m giving this stuff a pass in the future based on the over abundance of sugars, and also maybe because I just bought a new jar of the Louisburg Cider Mill stuff which is still great stuff, might as well stick with the best. Still, if you can’t find Louisburg Cider Mill in your area and don’t want to pay a high price by ordering it from Amazon, this wouldn’t be a bad substitute, especially if your mouth is more accustomed to the sweeter end of the pool, unlike mine.
Special K Pumpkin Spice Crunch
At first I mistook these for Frosted Flakes without the frosting, but that was just plain wrong. These are majestically large, dense, thick flakes of… whatever flakes are made of (rice and wholegrain wheat with sugar, apparently), which remain crunchy in milk longer than most flakes, with a good grainy flavor that’s pretty much unencumbered with anything to remind one of pumpkin spice. The closest stabs at that come from the very rare little white “nutmeg, allspice, ginger and cinnamon clusters” that look like albino Nerds candy, while their strangely waxy consistency made me think of a pumpkin spice candle dripping molten wax into the bowl. And that disappointment was before I discovered they contain some hydrogenated coconut oil (and no pumpkin). Damn it! I really need to learn to read labels before I buy. I was already saddened by how underwhelming this cereal was, and that was the last straw – THE PUMPKIN SPICE COURT FINDS SPECIAL K TO BE ANYTHING BUT AND SENTENCES IT TO IRRELEVANCE! THE PUMPKIN SPICE JUDGE HAS SPOKEN!!
I find it terribly disappointing how lackluster this whole category of pumpkin spice has been, despite a notable entry or two – In fact how unmemorable most of all of these pumpkin spice products have been. If Starbucks is responsible for selling us all on the notion of pumpkin spice, at least they’ve done so by going all in with pumpkin spice – even if I don’t personally favor their interpretation of it, the flavor is right there at the forefront of their coffees, unapologetically so. So many other products just want to vaguely remind of some hazy half-forgotten memory of pumpkin pie spice, as if adding such base shenanigans to their otherwise unsullied product is somehow shameful, like pumpkin spice is an STD or a racist tweet or something. Well it’s only shameful when you do a poor job of it. The website for Special K accuses us with “you’re not doing fall right without Special K® Pumpkin Spice Crunch. “ No, again, you guys don’t get to blame me or anyone else for your failures!
Looking it up on Wikipedia, I discovered Special K cereal has a track record of disappointment. After introduction in 1955, the formula was changed for the US market but mostly retained in Canada until 2014, alienating a lot of Canadians; hell, once you’ve lost the good will Canadians, then why not go willy-nilly into bad ingredient choices like hydrogenated coconut oil, what the hell does anything matter?! Also, “In September 2015, Special K launched a new advertising campaign with the slogan “Own It” during the Emmy Awards broadcast. Kellogg wants Special K’s message to be about self-empowerment, rather than counting calories.” This was just naked projection on Special K’s part of course, because they were the ones who need to “Own It” about their terrible ingredient choices. Also, “Denmark has outlawed the addition of vitamins in Kellogg’s products since 2004 .. because they claimed Kellogg’s Special K wanted to add extremely high levels of vitamin B6, calcium, folic acid, and iron, which would reach toxic levels when eaten on a daily basis. Young children risk liver and kidney damage while the fetuses of pregnant women could suffer complications.” And that’s not even everything “bad” that’s listed Special K Wikipedia page. Were I a Wikipedia editor, I think I’d end that section with “And their pumpkin spice version doesn’t taste like pumpkin spice at all.” It really is the final insult.
Pumpkin Spice Cheerios
There’s no ginger to these oaty-oaty-ohs, which stings, but there is some real pumpkin, no hydrogenated oils, and the ingredients are all stuff you’d think cereal would be made out of, so we’re already ahead of the game here. “It’s fall in a box! This seasonal flavor is going to be a pantry staple…but make sure to grab a box as it’s only available for a limited time.” Way ahead of you, Cheerios, I picked up two “family size” boxes this year.
These are fine enough, although I think they fall short of great. The pumpkin spice flavor leads the usual (good) Cheerio taste that takes over for the back half of each bite and that pumpkin spice flavor is pretty decent, although I of course would make it stronger, given my druthers. Up until I tired the Pumpkin Spice Frosted Flakes, these were my favorite pumpkin spice cereal, and kind of still are, as eating a bowl of them isn’t like ingesting a candy bar.
Voortman’s Pumpkin Spice Cookie
After the stellar wafers from Voortman’s that I wrote about last time, these cookies were a disappointment – not actively terrible mind you, just not engaging or a good example of pumpkin spice. I can’t tell you if any of the the usual spices are used in baking these as the ingredients just list “natural flavors” plus “sugar, brown sugar, molasses”. There is some real pumpkin, but also some “modified” oils, which may mean hydrogenated. Look, those wafers weren’t all that healthy either, but at least their taste justified the health concerns of eating crappy ingredients. Not so with these, despite the “real ingredients” tagline on their website. What you get here is a sort of soft ginger snap but without much ginger, that breaks up into crumbs fairly easily. The flavor is alright I guess, if unspectacular on any front, but it’s really not pumpkin spice, even with real pumpkin in them.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Rooibos Tea
Another cool thing found at Trader Joe’s, right? I mean, it even comes in it’s own little metal can like Twinings Tea, so I thought how cool would it be to have a ‘pumpkin spice’ tin to store… things… in? I do wonder what rooibos tea is though, never had that. Well, this is fairly cheap, I’ll take the plunge.
So rooibos tea isn’t a tea like black or green teas are but is an herbal tea that’s been harvested in a small mountain range in South Africa for generations, going back as early at the 1700s, but probably going back much further than that, knowing people’s ingenuity. According to places I checked online, rooibos can be something like a hibiscus tea 1and taste “smoky, sweet, woody, grassy, vanilla, floral, geranium, honey, herbal and caramel,” and “incredibly smooth and gentle with a natural sweetness and slightly nutty taste. When brewed for longer, rooibos is full-bodied and rich, and you can smell the warm woody notes rising from your cup or teapot.”
My cuppa made with this Trader Joe’s variant tasted like little more than a slap of clove, almost as if someone had added licorice to the tea mix.2 Presumably, someone thought this was a good idea. I’ve well described my clove bigotry before (“only good when it’s the weakest of all the pumpkin spices”), so you guess what I thought of this tea. People on Amazon and elsewhere seem to rave about this stuff, and yet somehow appear to have gone on living despite being so wrong.
The nylon tea bags (or” pyramid shaped sachet” as the tin notes it) that this tea comes in are too tightly woven to fully break the water’s surface tension and let it circulate well, much less sink below surface. Presumably, someone thought this was a good idea too. And with some people pointing out how mankind’s zest for spreading chemical-sweating plastic microparticles throughout the environment and our food chain like confetti at a ticker tape parade just might not be a great idea, the tea might just fail based on these concerns alone.
Well damn it, at least I still have the damn tin after I dumped the rest of the tea bags at work like a Typhoid Mary of disappointing tea. Someday I’ll even find something to store in inside it to justify owning it.
Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard
Good Times is Colorado-based burger chain based in Lakewood, which is literally just a mile or so from my front door, which has 34 locals here and 2 in Wyoming, according to Wikipedia, and oh my god run don’t walk to one to get one of their seasonal pumpkin pie shakes if you find yourself in the local area. See, some time ago, to help them stand out from the usual burger places, Good Times dove into selling “frozen custard”, which means they can use this custard technology to create extra special “handspun shakes,” far as I can tell, and during the winter holiday season they offer both a pumpkin pie and eggnog version, both of which are flavorful and great, right down to the waffle cone-like “cookie straw” that comes in each one.
Even cooler, pretty much everything served at Good Times is sourced from antibiotic-free, no-added-hormone meat and stuff, and has apparently little to no filler material to it. The shakes aside, the food is at least a half-step better than any other fast food as it’s waaay fresher, which really counts for something in my eyes (and mouth), and because unlike mealy-mouthed boring “special burgers” the other guys might sell, Good Times has stuff like its Octoberfest Burger this month (“All-natural beef with beer cheese, Dijon mustard and pickles on a pretzel bun”) – I mean goddamn, I don’t eat beef and I want to try one of those. One of the best bellwethers for a burger joint is the quality of their fries, and Good Times also scores well here, cutting their’s a bit larger than average, retaining more of a potato taste, and retaining their natural skins. My girlfriend tells me their “Wild Fries” that I enjoyed so much back in the days when I ate fries are quite similar to Arby’s curly fries – which may be true, but they still make normal french fries look like white people food (“coated with a batter seasoned with our top-secret blend of spices”). Good Times even offers a few vegetarian options. Still not sold? Keep listening: Sweet Potato Waffle fries! “Hatch Valley Green Chile Fries: Your choice of Natural Cut Fries or Wild Fries smothered in our authentic Hatch Valley Green Chile3 plus real shredded cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses.”
They even make a special custard for your pup topped in dog treats called a Paw-Bender! Oh my god, why am I not there right now?! If you’re in Colorado and go slumming at the Gold-less Arches of Minor Burger Royalty instead of Good Times, you’re doing it wrong.
Oh yeah, those shakes! Taste-wise, they’re the real pumpkin spice deal, a solid, rich pumpkin-pie-in-a-milkshake representing the spices well that even includes some small chunks of frozen pumpkin. Those frozen chunks might be just a bit off-putting by themselves – there’s no spices in them, just… pumpkin – but the commitment to principles they represent just sells me on these shakes even more. I do have to warn however that you never want to look at the nutritional info for these, as it will break your heart, even as these thrill your mouth, even those Hatch Valley Green Chile Fries are better, or at least less bad, for you.
Extra Credit: Pumpkin Spice Repair Corner
Much like duct tape can be used to fix anything if you really apply yourself hard enough, it occurred to me that pumpkin spice just might have the same magical reparative abilities, so I put that theory to the test recently when I accidentally bought some eggnog.
I was thinking I was picking up some Silk brand “Nog” (which comes highly recommended for non dairy nogs) when I had instead actually picked up a carton of Horizon Organic Lowfat Eggnog, which is non non-dairy. I didn’t discover this until I got home, but even though I normally skip milk and milk-based eggnogs, I thought I’d give it a shot and it turns out it’s a pretty good eggnog, with a flavor heavy on the nutmeg (despite some other “natural flavor” once again) and too many thickeners for my tastes otherwise.
But hey, if this isn’t exactly what I want it to be, why can’t it be improved with alcohol? Pumpkin spice alcohol? Remember back when I wrote about the cinnamon-strong Capt. Morgan Jack-O-Blast? I mixed a cup of the eggnog with a shot of the Capt. Morgan and suddenly I came as close to “pumpkin pie in a glass” as I think man might ever reach without using a blender and a real pumpkin pie. Both the eggnog’s nutmeg and the rum’s cinnamon combine to make the drink more than the sum of its parts, and the stuff just smells so enticing. I think I’ve found a new favorite drink! I call it The Pumpkin Spice Nightmare Before Christmas.
Megara Justice Machine is an infuriatingly opinionated justice machine who has written far too often about pumpkin spice for The Avocado despite entreaties that he just not. Were he to stop however, he’d just return to writing about cats, science and astronomy and nobody wants that. Megara is currently on the run, branded a “Traitor Joe” by the Trader Joe’s pirate crew that hunts him for speaking out again their pumpkin spice products, which he had once so warmly embraced (those madeleines are still pretty good though). Should you wish to read more of his heretical thoughts on pumpkin spice, you maybe find past articles here:
- Part 1: https://the-avocado.org/2018/05/29/the-pumpkin-spice-must-flow-1/
- Part 2: https://the-avocado.org/2018/06/19/the-pumpkin-spice-must-flow-2/
- Part 3: https://the-avocado.org/2018/07/10/the-pumpkin-spice-must-flow-3/
- Part 4: https://the-avocado.org/2018/09/11/the-pumpkin-spice-must-flow-4/
- Part 5: https://the-avocado.org/2018/09/18/the-pumpkin-spice-must-flow-5/
- Part 6: https://the-avocado.org/2018/09/26/the-pumpkin-spice-must-flow-6/
- Part 7: https://the-avocado.org/2018/10/23/the-pumpkin-spice-must-flow-7/