A few years ago, I read a post from an American expat who explained how much she missed pumpkins.
“Pumpkins?” I thought. “Okay… Huh, why?”
Even though I didn’t completely understand her craving, as another immigrant occasionally missing familiar brands and foods, I immediately felt bad for her. I mean, national and regional specialties are always a bit tricky to ship, but pumpkin has got to be in the top ten treats you won’t find in an expat care package—unless you can bribe the post office employee and put a regular stamp on your twenty-pound box, of course.
Then, I discovered pumpkin. And I truly felt bad for her because fuck yeah, pumpkin is awesome.
In case you don’t live in the American Northeast or Eastern Canada, you may not know that from September 1 to Christmas, pumpkins become a legit food group. The giant, round orange squash is everywhere and I’m sure the hundreds of supermarket employees who have to pile them up outside or in the produce department dread this time of the year—not only these veggies are heavy but they aren’t the most stackable items.
For a few years, I thought Canadians only bought pumpkins to carve for Halloween. Wrong! They aren’t just for decoration, the smaller varieties are favoured for cooking. Generally speaking, squashes—butternuts, acorns, kabocha, spaghetti (that splits into spaghetti-like strands)—are great fall vegetables and excellent ingredients for delicious recipes. These are seasonal flavours you learn to love, like maple, cinnamon, ginger, and apple cider.
Squashes are cheap, healthy and tasty—or at least that’s what you tell yourself when you’re hauling a five-pound butternut squash home or trying to cube one of these monsters (tip: soften the piece you need in the microwave first!)
But back to pumpkin—or rather, to pumpkin spice, because this is usually what people crave. “Pumpkin spice” is the spice mix commonly used as an ingredient in pumpkin pies. It’s a blend of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and sometimes allspice and it can be used to flavour pretty much any food.
This pumpkin spice obsession is insane. Pumpkin invades coffee, cookies, baked treats, candies, smoothies, cereals… When North Americans fall in love with an ingredient, it’s everywhere. Remember bacon mania?
In Ottawa, if frappucinos are the drink of the summer, on September 1st, customers demanded their pumpkin spice lattes. Other chains like Second Cup and Tim Hortons have their own seasonal drinks featuring the same spice mix. And what do you eat with that? Duh, a slice of pumpkin pie, pumpkin loaf or a pumpkin muffin. I know, North Americans are weird, they like to bake sweet treats with veggies—carrot cake, zucchini loaf, anyone?—but they have a point, it’s delicious… and I’m sure plenty think they are getting their daily serving of vegetable this way.
I’m not a huge fan of pumpkin spice but I’m glad I discovered winter squashes because they are super easy to incorporate in slow cooker meals. And now, like most Canadians, I’m cooking with canned pumpkin. Yes, I finally realize I didn’t have to fight with giant pumpkins on the cutting board, 100% pure pumpkin cans (i.e. not pumpkin pie filling, with comes with sugar and spices) are perfect for all kinds of recipes.
Up next, in a couple of months, when these “limited editions” are sold out… gingerbread and mint for Christmas and wintertime!