Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Out of My Gourd

You did only three things with pumpkins in my youth: made filling for pies, carved jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, and smashed said jack-o-lanterns when they resided on the front porches of families that gave fruit or toothbrushes to trick-or-treaters.

But not these autumn days. Pumpkin, it seems, is the new bacon. It's the go-to flavor and scent additive for everything. Not only have the brewer, the baker and the candlestick maker added the orange gourd into their seasonal rotation of goods, so have the makers of chocolate, pasta and -- I kid not -- Pringles potato crisps.

And why not? According to a recent Nielsen report, sales of various pumpkin-flavored food and drink items rose nearly 19 percent in 2012 to more than $290 million. The stuff is selling like pumpkin-flavored hotcakes except, oddly, at our local IHOP which did not have them on the menu when I ate there on Election Day. It's enough to make you wonder how significantly we could improve the health of this nation if only someone would create pumpkin-flavored kale.

My fall off the wagon and into the pumpkin patch began in the summer. Mid-August, a brilliant 85-degree, sun-splashed, ocean-breeze beach vacation day in North Carolina to be precise. While cruising the beer aisle at the supermarket, I spied amid the cases of Corona and Bud Light Lime single bottles for purchase of Pumpkick, a pumpkin-and-cranberry ale by the Colorado company that makes Fat Tire amber. Out of principle, I normally avoid seasonal beers released well before the weather matches the time of year they are meant to complement. I once even took to task, via Twitter, someone from brewer Samuel Adams about my discovery of their Alpine Spring beer in the A&P nary two weeks after New Year's Eve. However, as pumpkin ales are the Achilles heel of my liver, I bought and imbibed.

(Side note: The Pumpkick was only fair. In an obvious act of revenge against me, Sam Adams offered one of this season's better pumpkin brews. Bless and curse you, Jim Koch!)

Then things got weird.

Several friends on Facebook began posting hot and steamy photos along with frenzied status reports like: "OMG! OMG, Y'ALL! PUMPKIN SPICE LATTES ARE HERE!"

The lines of twitching, haggard people waiting outside of Starbucks for their fix in that first week of release made me wonder if Walter White had become the company's barista-in-chief.

Adults haven't been the only ones caught up in the craze. Excitable put in a standing order for pumpkin doughnuts for our weekend runs to the bake shop. Li’l Diva started lapping up pumpkin ice cream. Not to be left out, on Nov. 1, our dog decided to deface the jack-o-lantern on our front steps, leaving a gaping hole where once had been carved triangle eyes, a crooked nose and jagged teeth.

The only one who seemed immune to all this pumpkin madness was My Love, the most rational member of our household and who regularly claims to "hate shopping."

Then Trader Joe's came to our hometown.

Within a few days of the grocery chain opening, her purchasing gene reactivated and the following TJ items suddenly appeared in our kitchen: pumpkin pancake and waffle mix, pumpkin bread and muffin, pumpkin biscotti, pumpkin macaroons, pumpkin butter, and pumpkin cream cheese spread.

Does anyone know if there's a pumpkin-spice equivalent to methadone?

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My Uncool Past