It’s pumpkin season. Or is it? The roadside stands and grocery sidewalks that were covered in umpteen varieties of pumpkins just over a month ago are now covered with dry evergreen trees and poinsettias. Fine. But don’t let that fool you. Though pumpkin-flavored eats (and drinks) may have begun appearing prominently on store shelves and in magazine recipes a couple of months ago, they are still around. And I’m glad.
The first pumpkin-related sweet that I look for every year is, I confess, not pumpkin-flavored at all. It’s the pumpkin-shaped Reese’s. I know, I know. That’s cheating. Some might even say that it’s not only bereft of pumpkin flavor, it also not a real Reese’s, what with the peanut butter to chocolate ratio being thrown off completely. Not me. I say “Vive le difference!” Enjoy the real thing from May until October, then fully engage in the pumpkin-tree-heart-egg cycle that will carry you until sometime in April or longer if you plan ahead and hit the after-Easter sales just right.
Normally, the first true pumpkin-flavored grocery entry we encounter is in the liquid coffee creamer cooler. We are a liquid coffee creamer family. True to form, The Wife generally stays within a narrow genre of flavors and is perfectly content to rotate among those three to four varieties. Not me. When I am doing the shopping and creamer is on the list, I look first to see what’s new, or what special edition has become special again. We have been known to have multiple flavors in the refrigerator at the same time, mostly after I have shopped and bought more than we could possibly use. You never know if that flavor will be there next week. But the pumpkin-spiced kind is a perennial favorite for both of us, and we’ll keep buying it until it’s gone again.
A unique item I came across this year while wandering hungrily in Piggly Wiggly was the pumpkin-spiced whoopie pie. If you have not ever had a whoopie pie, my first suggestion is to go out and find one as soon as you’ve finished reading this column. The classic whoopie is made of two round chocolate cake-like discs (about the size of a Moon Pie) with white icing — or some sort of sweet white goo — sandwiched in between. I have also had a few delicious red velvet whoopie pies. But I think my favorite was the one with dark, rich pumpkin-spiced cake and a cream-cheese flavored icing. They must truly be a special edition, so grab one when you see it.
Krispy Kreme also puts out a glazed pumpkin-spiced cake doughnut this time of year. I’m pretty excited that they only come out that often, because they are addicting. I only eat them a bite at a time (i.e. a bite each time I walk by the box), but that makes them seem less caloric in a “Garfield the Cat” kind of world. Plus there’s the exercise factor from walking by the box so many times. But even with such nibbling, a box usually lasts under 24 hours at my house.
Another first for me this season in the pumpkin genre has been Blue Bell’s Spiced Pumpkin Pecan ice cream. I haven’t looked for it in local stores, but have been buying it by the scoop in the out-of-Starkville store I work in twice a week. That’s probably a good thing — it limits my intake due to simple geography. (Look for my upcoming million dollar best seller, “Dr. Jay’s Geography Diet – Get Far Away from the Foods You Love.”) Regular readers know that I have mixed feelings about pecans in my food, but I do make exception with Pralines and Cream ice cream. Spiced Pumpkin Pecan is a close cousin, described by Blue Bell as, “A delightful spiced pumpkin ice cream combined with tasty sugar-coated pecans and a rich cinnamon-honey-praline sauce.” One scoop is not enough. Just sayin’.
Last year during the holidays I experimented with pumpkin swirl cheesecake. I took my favorite cheesecake recipe, mixed some canned pumpkin with a portion of the cheesecake filling, and swirled them together before baking. The family remembers that particular cheesecake as the one with the unbreakable crust. Somehow the recipe I was using called for a cup of sugar and a cup of butter mixed with the graham cracker crumbs. And I was foolish enough to follow it. Pools of butter appeared. Pools, I tell you. And though I was able to squeeze some of that out, the sugar remained. Imagine a piece of hard candy infused with graham cracker — nearly impossible to cut, but tasty once a chunk was hacked out.
This year I took a more conservative approach. I used the pumpkin-pecan cheesecake with praline topping recipe from the October edition of “Southern Living”, with a few substitutions. Instead of graham crumbs, pecans, and brown sugar in the crust, I used shortbread cookies (plain Sandies) and maple sugar — no nuts at all. In fact, no pecans came near this thing. And to be completely honest, I also substituted sweet potato for the pumpkin. So I guess it’s not a pumpkin-pecan cheesecake anymore, is it? Oh, well, nobody complained, and with the decadent praline layer on top, anything underneath was just a bonus.
Happy pumpkin season. Whoopie!
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .