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Pumpkin Spice - Halloween & beyond

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

This year, pumpkin spice turns 20. Or to be more accurate, the pumpkin spice latte turns 20. But to many people, the two are one and the same.

In the UK, pumpkin spice was virtually unheard of 21 years ago. Pumpkin pie was, at the time, still clearly a North American thing, familiar to many Brits through Thanksgiving episodes of Friends. My first Thanksgiving in Scotland was in 2002. A student in halls without a kitchen, my local cafe promised me they would try their hand at making pumpkin pie. Come the day, they proudly presented homesick me with a slice. Unlike the thick, sticky wedge of pie with spiced brown filling, it had pieces of pumpkin neatly arranged on top of a shortcrust pastry. It was pleasant, it was incredibly kind of them, but it was not right.

The pie did not work because it was missing the two essential ingredients: tinned pumpkin, and pumpkin spice.

Tinned pumpkin is what most people use to make a pumpkin pie. You can make your own puree, but it requires finding the right type of pumpkin, or even squash - you will not get the right taste by using your already carved jack-o-lantern. You need to roast or boil the pumpkin, sieve, or puree it, and sweeten it. Even after the effort, pumpkin pie made from homemade puree doesn’t taste quite right and tends to be a bit vegetable-y. I recommend buying a tin.

Even more essential is pumpkin spice which is happily much easier to make from scratch with spices you probably already have in the cupboard. Try mixing together 3 tablespoons of cinnamon, 2 teaspoons each of ginger and nutmeg, and 1 ½ teaspoons each of ground cloves and allspice (if you have it). Add a spoonful to your puree and your pie will be perfection.

For many people, though, pumpkin spice is something you get in coffee. Starbucks created the pumpkin spice latte in 2003, soft-launching it in Vancouver and Washington DC where its popularity was instant and lasting. Available only in the autumn season, fans eagerly countdown to its release each year. The recipe was revamped in 2015 to include actual pumpkin - something I’m not sure makes it more appealing, but its fans are loyal.

Pumpkin spice is a definite sign that autumn is here. Try it in a pie, in a coffee, in a candle, or all three - it’s definitely the flavour of the season, with lasting appeal. (R. Edwards)

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