Anthony Bourdain is right–this pumpkin spice madness must stop! What started out as a harmless cup of pumpkin spice latte to signal the beginning of fall has turned into a marketing tsunami that’s threatening to engulf us in a sea of mediocrity. I won’t go so far as Bourdain in wishing the trend “drown in its own blood”–because after all I admittedly still have a jar of pumpkin pie spice in my pantry (hey, it’s used judiciously to occasionally spice up actual pumpkin). But I would like to do away with a great many of the pumpkin spiced products out on the market, especially the non-food variety–pumpkin spice body lotion/bath gel (no, I’d rather smell like pumpkin pie because I’m actually baking one), pumpkin spice air freshener (again, better to get that smell from baking the real thing), pumpkin spice dish soap (ugh, really?). Over saturation of pumpkin spice reminds me of that commercial for Febreeze–you know the one about becoming “nose blind to odors.” In a way, all this generic pumpkin spice can dull your senses and fatigue your taste buds.
Years ago, long before the pumpkin spice mania took hold, I worked with a chef who barred me from putting pumpkin creme brûlée on the restaurant dessert menu–well, any pumpkin pie-like custard actually, including pumpkin cheesecake (unless it was in bar cookie form). His reasoning, other than his own personal distaste for the American classic, was that it was too pedestrian, too expected, and unimaginative. Consequently, I had to come up with other, more creative ways to incorporate pumpkin into my fall repertoire, like roasting a medley of autumn squash/pumpkin in brown butter, maple sugar, and warm spices for a sweet crostata filling, then serving this alternative pumpkin pie with a scoop of almond brown butter ice cream. Being forced out of my comfort zone not only expanded my creativity but made me appreciate pumpkin for all its natural beauty and tasty potential…beyond the pumpkin pie of my childhood. Truth be told, I wasn’t even that big of a fan of pumpkin pie when I was a kid. It was simply a vehicle for the whipped cream.
Pumpkin spice is like that whipped cream. It’s a way for people who don’t necessarily love pumpkin pie, or pumpkin for that matter, to enjoy the trappings of fall– call it pumpkin lite. I’m sure there are also plenty of pumpkin pie lovers out there who are obsessed with pumpkin spice, but I would venture to say a vast number of pumpkin spice aficionados probably wouldn’t eat pumpkin…perhaps unless it was heavy masked in that particular spice blend. That’s a shame really, because pumpkins and other autumn squash are fantastically versatile, delicious in sweet and savory applications.
To take the chill off of a crisp fall day, I like to whip up a hearty batch of Pumpkin Vegetable Curry, using a combination of Japanese curry paste, curry powder, and coconut milk for a rich and flavorful sauce.
While a bright orange firm fleshed pumpkin is the star of this dish, you can add any combination of vegetables to compliment it. At the Farmer’s Market, I found some deep dark purple long beans, vibrant red bell peppers and zucchini. The vibrancy of the vegetables reminded me of the peak fall colors in Maine.
To make the curry, I simply sweated some chopped onions and garlic in hot oil until translucent, then added all the vegetables and tossed them around with a little bit of curry powder, salt and pepper for a 3-4 mins. I then added in some chicken stock, water, a can of coconut milk, and 3-4 squares of Japanese curry paste (conveniently packaged and portioned out like a chocolate bar), and simmered everything on low heat for 10-15 mins., until the vegetables were tender. Serve the curry over some steamed basmati or jasmine rice.
On the sweet side, I like to compliment my pumpkin desserts and baked goods with equally deep, warm flavors like bourbon and maple. I haven’t banished pumpkin spice, but I tend to use less of it in proportion to the other ingredients in my recipes. My tender Maple Bourbon Glazed Pumpkin Scones are a delightful way to start the morning…or rejuvenate your afternoon.
Maple Bourbon Glazed Pumpkin Scones
Yield: 12 scones
- 2 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
- 1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
- 1/4 tsp. Baking Soda
- 1/2 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
- 4 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
- 1 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice (or 1 tsp. Cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. Ginger, 1/2 tsp. Nutmeg, pinch of Clove)
- 4 oz. or 1 stick Chilled Unsalted Butter, cut into small pieces
- 1/2 cup Pumpkin Puree
- 1 Large Egg
- 2/3 cup Buttermilk
- 2 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
- 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
- Heavy Cream or Egg Wash for brushing tops
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter pieces, then using either two forks or your fingers quickly work the butter into the dry mixture until the butter pieces are the size of popcorn kernels. Make a well in the center. Whisk together the wet ingredients, pour the mixture into the well, and stir everything together to form a dough. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic film, lightly dust with flour, and pat it down into a 1″ thick square, wrap and freeze the dough for about 15 mins. to firm up. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F. Turn the chilled dough onto a lightly floured surface, dust with more flour, then pat or roll the dough out into a 3/4″ thick rectangle. With a pastry cutter or chef’s knife cut the dough in half horizontally, then into thirds vertically to form six squares. Cut each square in half diagonally. Place the pieces on a parchment-lined sheet pan and brush with cream or egg wash. Bake the scones for 18-20 mins. until golden and test done. Cool the scones completely before drizzling on glaze.
Maple Bourbon Glaze:
- 1 1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
- 1 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
- 1 tsp. Maple Extract
- pinch of Sea or Kosher Salt
- 2 Tbsp. Bourbon
- 1 Tbsp. Whole Milk
Whisk together ingredients until smooth.
Take heart John Oliver, not everything “pumpkin” has to taste like candle wax!