From lattes to lip balm, pumpkin spice has subtly been infusing our lives to the point where we depend no longer on the weather to tell the changing of the seasons, but on the steady stream of seasonal marketing. Without these autumnal reminders, we would be utterly helpless, unsure how to plan our personal lives and social engagements.
Popular because of its nostalgic element (Thanksgiving, family gathers, etc.), pumpkin spice has risen above the multitude of prompts employed to guide our lives. Because of this it often gets a bad rap becoming associated with Ugg boots and Northface jackets. Pumpkin spice has almost become another method of typecasting, but it was not always this way. Among the first colonists in America, pumpkins were loathed and thought of as nothing more than a food of “last resort”. In tough times pumpkins were used as an alternative to wheat for bread and yeast for beer.
But why the animosity towards the millennial’s favorite vegetable? Pumpkins were native to the New World and though colonists couldn’t wait to physically leave Europe, they were still not mentally emancipated. Continuing to look back to the Old World for a sense of what they should eat, the clothes they should wear, and the manners they should continue to practice. So the crop was rejected whenever colonists could afford to do so.
Pumpkins became food only fit for the impoverished and became associated with the lower classes. “Pumpkin eater” or “pumpkin roller” became derogatory terms for the uncultured and ignorant.
The Pumpkin’s Rise to Prominence
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, a great migration took place. Cities expanded at an unprecedented rate as droves of people moved there in search of work. With their new way of life, nostalgia returned for the old, and rural living became romanticized. Curiously enough a fondness for the once loathed pumpkin sprang up among the disillusioned country folk. Suddenly pumpkins were everywhere. Poems and songs were written in honor of the pumpkin. Its rotund likeness was featured in Harper’s Weekly. And now instead of being a last resort, the pumpkin was proudly featured as a flavoring for dessert.
Ironically, the pumpkin, a food that succeeded specifically because it represented an alternative to a life of commerce, had become commercialized.
The first documented mention of “pumpkin spice” dates back to 1936 when it was featured in the Washington Post with the rambling title: Spice Cake Of Pumpkin Newest Dish: Delicacy Tempting to All Appetites and Easy to Prepare. Ideal Dessert for Family Dinner, Healthful for Children”. Despite such literary flatulence, this recipe marks the beginning of the pumpkin spice craze. Recipes in praise of pumpkin continued to be featured and grew in popularity becoming an intrinsic part of holidays and celebrations.
Living a Lie
Pumpkins in all actuality are rather bland, however, and the ever-present blend of spices we associate with the pumpkin flavor are there to make a lifeless vegetable more palatable. While the pumpkin receives the compliments, the combination of cinnamon, allspice, clove, and ginger do the work, but these pumpkin eaters don’t care.
It wasn’t until the 1950’s that companies began to market “Pumpkin Spice” on its own. As a simple blend of commonly found spices, it is both financially wiser and gastronomically more advanced to make your own rather than buying a prefab mixture from McCormick’s.
1 Tablespoon ground Cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground Ginger
½ teaspoon Allspice
½ teaspoon ground Cloves
½ teaspoon ground Mace
½ teaspoon ground Nutmeg
In a small jar add all spices and whisk together briskly. Or to save on dishwashing, simply screw on the lid and give your spice blend a vigorous shake.
“Over the river and through the wood—
Now grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun!
Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin-pie!”
-Lydia Maria Child