This was the year I learned to hate pumpkin. I learned to hate it. This is no lazy pumpkin hate. I googled “people hate pumpkin” to find hundreds of blog pots about how “Pumpkin is overrated, posers!!” But my whining is born of a tragic love lost somewhere between October 1 and Halloween of this year. I used to be the biggest pumpkin cheerleader I knew. Two years running I proclaimed my love for the gourd on The Bygone Bureau by eating and reviewing all the pumpkin products I could find, and last month I started gearing up to do the same.
But this year was different. The world has gone pumpkin crazy. In an attempt to hold my reign as self-proclaimed world-leading pumpkin food expert, I started to descend into insanity. Like, I ate 40 pumpkin products in 31 days, you guys. 31 days of slugging around my kitchen, shuffling through the boxes of overly perky orange trash, feeling like I was one pumpkin cookie away from diabetes all month, tricking myself into believing pumpkin pancakes were a real meal because I already spent all my usual grocery budget at Trader Joe’s on a cheesecake.
And let’s talk about the pumpkin foods I didn’t eat. Do you want to know what pumpkin spice M&M’s taste like? Yeah, ME TOO. TARGET WAS ALWAYS OUT OF STOCK. Every week. Target also made pumpkin cereal bars. Did I ever see them? No. The first time I went to Trader Joe’s (note: needed multiple trips) I couldn’t buy everything because my fridge and cupboard wasn’t prepared. Cut to October 19: a store manager is explaining they are completely out of the biscotti and oatmeal. I am struck with guilt. If only I hadn’t dragged my feet! I’ve missed my chance for a whole year! I am sadly not being melodramatic. There’s a particular guttural sadness that comes with my tie to pumpkin consumerism. Pumpkins are kind of like an inside joke among middle-class culture, and I had been in on that joke since day one! Now, someone was trying to shut me out, and I did not appreciate it. Pumpkin had become my thing (despite it being half of America’s thing.) All month I got texts from folks who knew about my mission asking if I’d heard of certain options. My friend Chris works at a bakery, and one night I came home to this:
Obviously, five minutes after leaving the store, I was fine. But pumpkin really did have a hold on me. I recently noticed one of my tea canisters was labeled, “LIMITED EDITION WHEN IT’S GONE IT’S GONE.” This goofy video isn’t too far off. Somehow corporate fat cats have taken what I associated with fall in the Midwest, and turned it into fear. Hashtag America.
To be honest, pumpkin food isn’t inherently that good. Some of it is horrible. But my love wasn’t founded on nothing. There are still some glimmering pumpkin stars of 2013, so, here you go, a comprehensive list of good, the bad, and the gourdy. (All ordered worst to best.)
McDonald’s McCafé Pumpkin Spice Latte: D
The Huffington Post said it for me, but I still drank it.
The Republic of Tea Pumpkin Spice Tea: D
Unremarkable vague/weak spice flavor even after long steeping.
QuikTrip Pumpkin Cappuccino: C-
Didn’t taste much like pumpkin, coffee flavor at gas station levels of delicious.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Rooibos Tea: B+
This tea smells like an autumnal dream, but the taste captures little of it.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Chai: A
Darn good chai with a sting of spice, pumpkin doesn’t taste fake/sugary.
Little Debbie Pumpkin Delights Filled Cookies: F
This was a gross filled cookie. Disgusting pumpkin goop. Although the plastic wrapper did make my entire room smell like sugar after just a few hours on my nightstand.
Alternative Baking Company Phenomenal Pumpkin Spice Cookie: C+
The plus is because this cookie was vegan and decent, but only decent. Certainly pumpkin, but pretty dry.
Pillsbury Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese: C+
These break ‘n bake cookies were just way too sweet, and the cream cheese made it worse.
Pillsbury Perfectly Pumpkin Cookies Mix: A+
I expected very little from these cookies based on their brethren, but OH MY GOD, THESE ARE THE BEST COOKIES I HAVE EVER MADE FROM A MIX. I made about 40 mini-cookies and literally every person I gave one to asked for a second. Out of all the pumpkin trash I’ve been foisting on my roommates, classmates, significant other, insignificant others, etc., this is the only item that multiple people have asked if I was making again. Faint pumpkin flavor, buttery, delicious.
Bread and Bars
Betty Crocker Pumpkin Bar Mix: D+
Bland, pumpkin with no added spice, crunchy not in a good way.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread: C-
There were raisins in this pre-made bread. And non-complementary nuts. Spicy, but too moist.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Croissants: B-
The croissant aspect of these were delightful, but the pumpkin was underwhelming — barely any paste inside — which made it just a dry pastry with some unbaked seeds.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread Mix: B+
Moist, sweet, pleasantly and authentically pumpkin.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bars: A
Soft, chocolate chip-infused, and spicy.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Scones: A
Light and fluffy scones with double the fall flavor (cranberries!), sweet, but definitely not to the extent that they’re no longer breakfast food.
Trader Joe’s Bread Pudding: A
Gooey pumpkin chunks that did not leave me with a sugar buzz, cinnamon-y, great for eating in bed with roommates.
Krusteaz Pumpkin Pie Bar Supreme Mix: A+
This mix requires a pre-bake of gingerbread crust (just a little crisp, fall-wonderful) and the pumpkin pie layer is extremely flavorful, reminant of pumpkin pie, but a more solid (non-jiggly consistency), could eat a whole pan easily
Yoplait Light Fat Free Pumpkin Pie Yogurt: F
This tasted like fake sugar and a really really sad attempt at pumpkin flavor.
Entenmann’s Harvest Pumpkin Donuts: D
One bite of the glazed orange dough wasn’t bad, but two was like eating a pile of glazed death, also, not other spices involved.
Dunkin Donuts Pumpkin Pie Doughnut: D+
This donut had a lot of good qualities, but the combination was a mess. A vanilla frosting with a thick and creamy pumpkin filling plus some crumbs on top. Too disjointed to be good.
Trader Joe’s Country Pumpkin Spice Granola Cereal: C-
This was decent granola, but more cinnamon than pumpkin taste. Plus, it was a little tough to the teeth. Plus, raisins. Ew.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bagel: C
This was a fine bagel, but it didn’t taste like pumpkin.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cereal Bar: B-
A thick chunk of bread-y pumpkin. I found it a normal snack blog, the fun of a fall flavor could not save a glorified Fig Newton.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake & Waffle Mix: B
Pancake batter with a hint of pumpkin. Nothing special.
Stonewall Pumpkin Pancake & Waffle Mix: B
Pretty much the same as Trader Joe’s.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Waffles: B
A frozen waffle that may have included some pumpkin infusion, but not many other flavors.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese: B+
Despite still being behind Dunkin Donuts’ (reviewed last year), this cream cheese was a good time. It fell on the faint side of flavor, but that’s acceptable for condiments.
Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Munchkins: B+,
Superior to all. Mini versions are also obvs enjoyable.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins: A-
The dopple of cream cheese in the middle of the muffin and the seeds were excellent, but the moisture didn’t stand a chance next to Starbucks’.
Kellogg’s Eggo Seasons Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Waffles: A
Not only are these delightfully pumpkin pie spicey without being too sweet, their toasting permeates the whole house.
Trader Joe’s Organic Pumpkin Toaster Pastries: A
Definitely a tall pumpkin hop up from Pop-Tarts. The pastry was substantial, crunchy in the best sense, glazed with the thinnest later of understated pumpkin frosting. Filling delightful.
McDonald’s Pumpkin Pie: D
Why you might think this would be good, I don’t know. It’s a traditional apple pie shell full of bland pumpkin.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Mousse Cake: C
Pumpkin mousse is definitely passable. It’s like eating weird cold cream in between some layers of subpar chocolate cake. The visual was adorbs though.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cheesecake: B-
The cake was excellent consistency. Thick, soft. The flavor was extremely slight, which in cheesecake, makes for a pretty bland treat.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Macarons: B
Generic pumpkin taste, good quality macaron.
Pillsbury Pumpkin Cake Mix with Vanilla Crème Filling Mix: A
This cake was sweet, definitely reminiscent of fall, and the frosting mix was substantial in its own flavor. The pumpkin tasted like the smell of fresh pumpkin.
Archer Farms Pumpkin Toffee Cupcake Mix: A+
This cake really capitalized on how complimentary pumpkin can be. It might just be because I had eaten dozens of pumpkin foods by the time I got to this dessert, but the bonus toffee flavor made this cake very tantalizing. The chunks of sweetness were also more tastefully appeasing than a simply sugary cake mix. Cream cheese frosting recipe and mix were addictive.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps: C+
These little crackers tasted fine, and the embedded cheese helped, but they were so tough. A crouton really.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Soup: A-
A truly flavorful and creamy pumpkin broth!
Pringles Pumpkin Pie Spice: A-
These were totally surprisingly decent? It’s a basic Pringle, but dusted with a little sweet pumpkin flave and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Sweet potato chips, they’re not bad.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter: A
Spicy, light, provides an October kick to typical toast. A little bit really packs a big punch.
Pillsbury Perfectly Pumpkin Cookies
Crown ‘em, and leave most of the rest for dead. RIP pumpkin memories. Consumerism has made the consumption less appealing.