There’s nothing intrinsically evil about pumpkin spice lattes. However, when Starbucks introduced the seasonal drink 20 years ago, it unleashed a torrent of pumpkin pie spice horrors upon our land. Now, PSL is legion, with cult-like fans addicted to their seasonal dose of spice. The climax comes Oct. 1, National Pumpkin Spice Day.
If you love pumpkin spice everything, you might want to look away. I am not of your clan, because I actually like pumpkin pie.
You should also be aware that Boulder County has been neck-deep in pumpkin spice culture since before the turn of the last century.
For Thanksgiving 1896, the Daily Camera published a spicy pumpkin pie recipe: “Take four cups of this strained pumpkin, add four cups of rich milk, a teaspoonful of salt, two of ginger, one of nutmeg and one of mace, a small cup of sugar and four or five eggs according to their size.” You had to come up with your own crust.
For decades the Boulder-area produced bumper crops of pumpkins to be canned, and the original Pumpkin Pie Days drew tens of thousands to Longmont for pastry, coffee and horse races.
These days you can find the spice everywhere in everything, from Boulder Baked’s pumpkin spice cupcakes to Rush Bowls’ pumpkin spice bowl, Upslope Brewing’s Pumpkin Ale and Cocomel’s pumpkin spice coconut caramels. And if you’ve burned yourself out on the original, try a spiced pumpkin latte with pumpkin seed milk from Peak Press Juicery in Longmont. Some places, like Caribou Coffee, advertise PSL and other hot beverages “made with real pumpkin,” which sounds like weird pumpkin soup.
I wouldn’t be so anti-PSL if it wasn’t for the false advertising. Most pumpkin spice products contain oodles of sugar and zero pumpkin, a vegetable few Americans like and consume anyway. Many Americans only eat pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day. Asked the flavors they favor in a pie and “pumpkin” comes up only 10% of the time in national surveys.
Besides, the “pumpkin” pies we eat are made with a variety of butternut squash. You have to wonder how far Starbucks would have gotten with Butternut Squash Spice Lattes.
Finding the right pumpkin spice
Pumpkin pie spice only exists as a seasoning idea, not a hard-and-fast recipe. Every mixture is different, and it always tastes better when fresh.
Avery Riffle has no conscious memory of the pre-PSL era, but she welcomes the season as manager of Boulder’s Savory Spice Shop. She guides shoppers directly to a shelf featuring the store’s pumpkin pie spice, a mixture of two types of cinnamon, plus ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves that leaves a tingle on the tongue.
Riffle points out that pumpkin spice is just one of many related blends. The Shop’s Baking Spice is similar, minus the cloves. Georgia peach spice, spiced vanilla bean sugar and Mt. Baker chai seasoning are variations on the theme. The Savory Spice website includes 20-plus pumpkin spice-infused recipes ranging from chipotle pumpkin soup to pumpkin pie.
“People do love their pumpkin pie spice,” Riffle says. “I think most of them use it in coffee, but also in cookies and ice cream. I’m not a huge [pumpkin spice] girl. I’m more to the savory side and lean towards herb or paprika spice blends.”
Just say ‘no’ and drink chai
“Bad pumpkin spice products shouldn’t happen to good people,” announced Dave Skena, marketing officer for Krispy Kreme Doughnut, in a press release. “If you’ve been impacted by the proliferation of pumpkin spice products that don’t make sense, come to Krispy Kreme and we’ll make it all better with a free pumpkin spice doughnut.” Is he talking about Cicis Pizza’s pumpkin spice cinnamon rolls, IHOP’s pumpkin spice pancakes, or Wendy’s pumpkin spice Frosty?
My advice is to stop the madness and have a cup of spicy chai instead. Sherpa Chai, Bhakti Chai, Boulder Teahouse Chai, Third Street Chai, Sanctuary Chai, Kucha House of Tea and Dot’s Diner chai are all made in Boulder.
The Boulder scoop on Häagen-Dazs
How old is the Häagen-Dazs shop inside Lindsay’s Boulder Deli on the Pearl Street Mall? So old that when it opened, Jimmy Carter was president, the Oakland Raiders were NFL champions, and the first Apple II computers went on sale. Star Wars: A New Hope was the hottest movie in 1977 when the Pearl Street Mall opened. By the way, the pseudo-Danish words “Häagen-Dazs” mean nothing at all.
Local Food News: First Bite, Last Chance
Make your reservations now if you want your choice of tables for First Bite, Boulder’s annual restaurant fest. Eateries featuring special menus Oct. 20-29 include Café Aion, Dagabi, Gemini, Greenbriar Inn, Masas, Pasta Press, Postino Wine Cafe, River and Woods and Sugarbeet. Learn more at firstbiteboulder.com.
If you love the restaurants and bakeries in Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette and beyond, fill out your ballot for Boulder Weekly’s Best of Boulder East County awards by Sept. 23. You must vote in at least 20 categories for your ballot to count. Head to vote.boulderweekly.com.
Farm & Market, a one-of-a-kind restaurant complete with a vertical farm and a market, has opened at 2401 Larimer St. in Denver.
Food service giant Sodexo has installed a SavorEat’s 3D printing robot at the University of Denver to make plant-based burgers and sausages based on customer preference.
Culinary Calendar: Cacao, Fungi & Queso
Fall in Colorado is full of interesting food events. DAR Chocolate will host A Sensory Trip to the Candy Shop – Edible Preparations of Magic Mushrooms Sept. 23 in Parker. More info at milagromushrooms.com.
For Halloween, Illegal Pete’s and cannabis vape brand O.pen are collaborating on the Illegal Pete’s Queso Cannabis Vape, available at local dispensaries. The nacho high comes with a coupon for free queso and chips at Illegal Pete’s. The eatery chain will be dispensing queso soon at its new Table Mesa location.
Colorado Cocoa Pod hosts a sake and chocolate bonbon pairing Nov. 9 at Colorado Sake Co.
Words to Chew On: The Satanic Lattes
“It hurts my heart to say these words: the specter of pumpkin spice. It’s like a demonic possession, pumpkin spice everything; pumpkin spice flavored shoes, pumpkin spice BLTs.”
— Anne Lamott