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!

Pumpkins at Loblaws
Pumpkins at Loblaws
Pumpkin carving tools at Walmart
Various squashes at The Independent
Acorn squashes at the supermarket
Butternut and spaghetti squashes at the supermarket
Kabocha squashes at the supermarket
Pureed pumpkin cans at Loblaws
Seasonal apple pie-flavoured Oreos
Dare pumpkin spice cookies
Plastic pumpkin decorations
Plastic pumpkin decorations
Harvest-themed gift cards at Walmart
Harvest-themed street decorations on Preston Street, Little Italy
Harvest-themed street decorations on Preston Street, Little Italy
Pumpkin spice latte ad in front of Tim Hortons on Merivale Road
Tim Hortons pumpkin treats
Tim Hortons pumpkin treats ad on Merivale Road
Beloved pumpkin spice muffins and other seasonal baked goods at Tim Hortons (the tray of the pumpkin ones is empty!)
Seasonal baked treats at Starbucks on Merivale
Classic smashed pumpkin incident (and raise your hand if right now, you feel like singing Bullet with Butterfly Wings)

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20 Comments

  1. Jeruen September 28, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Ah, this only means one thing: autumn is here. And it’s here fast!

    We’ve already started wearing jackets and coats here. And it feels like I just started in my not-so-new job, which is not even 3 months ago, but at the same time, it feels like that was a time long long ago.

    In any case, this also means my vacation is coming up. My itchy feet needs to be scratched.

    Reply
    1. Zhu September 29, 2017 at 8:02 pm

      We actually had summer weather until last Wednesday. For three weeks, we beat heat records with 30C+ temperatures. It was awe-some 🙂 Then we had a storm on Wednesday and now it feels like fall…

      I’m looking forward to reading another travelogue in a little while!

      Reply
      1. Martin Penwald September 29, 2017 at 10:59 pm

        Ah, yes, I heard that. I was sick just by hearing the humidex was over 35. Fortunately, it is normal in Western Canada, and I went to New Mexico last time, where it is hot but very dry, so note as bad as in Eastern Canada.

        Reply
        1. Zhu September 30, 2017 at 10:20 pm

          It’s chilly tonight, it feels like fall… I already miss it :-/

          Reply
          1. Martin Penwald October 1, 2017 at 11:26 pm

            I’m in Houston tonight. Fuck it is too hot.

          2. Zhu October 2, 2017 at 1:26 am

            Houston… we’ve got a problem 😆

  2. Laura September 28, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    If you like Italian food, try pumpkin gnocchi or ravioli 😉 they are delicious.

    Reply
    1. Zhu September 29, 2017 at 8:04 pm

      THANK YOU! This is exactly what I need right now. How did I even forget about this? I used to buy pumpkin raviolis… do you make yours from scratch?

      Oh and of course, I love Italian food. Do you know my last name? 😉

      Reply
      1. Laura September 30, 2017 at 5:45 pm

        I made pumpkin gnocchi a couple of times, it’s not a complicated recipe. Never tried pumpkin ravioli because it takes a lot of time (you have to cook the filling, then make the dough, then put the filling in it and then boil the ravioli…) and you can find very good industrial ravioli in supermarkets, especially at this time of the year.
        If you are into Italian food, I’d recommend trying pumpkin with amaretti, they are an Italian kind of cookies with a slight bitter aroma. Pumpkin is very sweet so they go very well together. I tried some crumbled amaretti on pumpkin soup or ravioli (with just some butter, no tomato sauce or any other pasta sauce) and it was delicious!

        Reply
        1. Zhu September 30, 2017 at 10:24 pm

          YES! Thank you so much for the tip! We have great imported Italian food here and amaretti are easy to find. I gotta try this!

          There is one place where I can buy “homemade” raviolis with all kinds of fillings but it’s far. Maybe worth the trip, though… 😉

          I usually use pumpkin with leeks, both pair very well. I make savoury oatmeal with leeks and pumpkin (plus a a soft-boiled egg) for dinner often enough.

          Reply
  3. Aylyon September 28, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    OMG, I am hungry just reading this!
    Here Pumpkin feast as started! My kids won’t be happy but I will put pumpkin and/or squash on … EVERYTHING!!! Like pumpkin mac and cheese, pumpkin soup, cookies, cake, pies… you name it, I am a pumpkin (and every kind of squash) freak Ah ah ahaha!

    Reply
    1. Zhu September 29, 2017 at 8:05 pm

      If you read this, please do give me the pumpkin mac and cheese recipe! I’d love to try it.

      Squashes are awesome. Bit of a pain to prep but cheap, delicious and healthy. I’m a pumpkin freak too now!

      Reply
      1. Aylyon September 30, 2017 at 5:02 pm

        Ok!
        I will post it to you soon 🙂

        Reply
  4. I Say Oui September 28, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    The title of the post is apt, haha!

    The North American obsession with pumpkin spice is kind of weird, isn’t it? It seems like a more recent trend (though it’s probably been going on longer than I think. I associate its origin with Starbucks).

    I do love pumpkins. They’re cute as decoration and good to eat.

    Reply
    1. Zhu September 29, 2017 at 8:06 pm

      I think you’re right, Starbucks started the “drinkable pumpkin” craze.

      I’m not a fan of pumpkin spice but I like squashes. Funny, it’s not a common ingredient in Chinese food, now that I think about it…

      Reply
  5. Chriatiane September 29, 2017 at 6:52 am

    I am not a big pumpkin fan. Back in the States, Thanksgiving time meant a lot of pumpkin pies. I was sweet potato pie fan (even with the mashmallow on top) lol

    Reply
    1. Zhu September 29, 2017 at 8:08 pm

      I’m not a big fan of pumpkin pie either (something with the texture…) but I like savoury pumpkin dishes. I love sweet potatoes too, but you gotta bake them!

      Reply
  6. Frenchie au Canada October 3, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    We grew up eating a lot of kabocha squash (potimarron) which my mother had decided was good for the pancreas (she had a weird pancreatic obsession)… So when I came here I fell in love with all the other squashes and the fall flavors! I’m not a huge fan of the sweet version when super sweet but love “pumpkin spice”.
    I do however feel funny about the way each seasonal flavour gets incorporated into everything, from lattes to cakes to perfume to candles etc. I love apple pie but it doesn’t mean I want to eat apple pie cookies in my apple pie smelling car courtesy of some air freshener.

    Reply
    1. Zhu October 4, 2017 at 12:30 am

      Note to self: worry about my pancreas more 😆

      I love kabocha squash! I’m surprised she found it in France, though. I noticed there aren’t as many squashes as here.

      Reply
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