Recipe Ramble: Pumpkin Spice
By Dinu Mahapatuna
It was all too dark at the edge of the woods, where the creek whistled thinly and stunned crickets into silence. Only the hollow light of the sickle moon broke through the dense shrubbery, speckling the earth like pockmarks on a wicked doctor’s experiment. She ran past the pale glow, pulling in air with whisper-shrieks. When she finally threw herself behind a sinewy trunk, she smelled the proximity of the beast. How? How could it have found her? When she thought she’d finally-
“Aeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!” The fanatic screams tore through the flesh of the day. “It’s finally here!!!”
She clawed at the dirt to no avail. There was no escape. “Please!” She begged as she clambered away from the shrill noise, the stench of Bath and Bodyworks following close behind. “No more!”
A green apron and a surprisingly flexible mutant mermaid met her vision. She felt the bile rise in her throat. “Try our new pumpkin spice flavoured-”
Okay, so maybe my memory of pumpkin spice season is a little more intense than the reality of the flavour blend. The truth is that while the shock value of pumpkin spice has really simmered down in recent years, reduced to a scandalized name and a tacky taste, my own experience with the flavour profile continues to be nothing short of haunting.
At night I toss and turn thinking about the holiday cups, the uggs, the sick fetish that was ordering anything pumpkin spice in 2016. I am plagued by the fact that Starbucks sold “fall in a cup” like it was nectar of the gods. I wonder whether the marketing magic of the infamous “PSL” (or Pumpkin Spice Latte, for the simpletons) is an eternal curse, set to ruin an otherwise harmless spice blend forever. Perhaps true love’s dispelling kiss would in this case be the facts of the matter: Pumpkin spice has no pumpkin in it, and the spice blend itself is possibly the most mundane combination of flavours one can imagine. As I write this article I realize just how much my hatred for pumpkin spice has grown. There was once a time that I could imagine myself with a PSL in hand. Now, I’m physically repulsed by the notion of giving into the fad.
Honestly, pumpkin spice tastes fine, though not good. Morally, it’s unpalatable. The name is an actual lie; it implies some sort of autumnal elixir when the reality is a bootleg version of five spice. Don’t even get me started on the allspice dilemma (if allspice tastes like a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves, why bother adding them as well?). But, in the interest of maintaining the meagre slice of integrity this column may or may not hold, let’s redeem the supposedly irredeemable. Let’s make pumpkin spice great again (too soon?).
I’ll push aside politics to pose the question that people ask only on the edge of starvation, “How do you make something boring taste good? How do you make the one-trick pony compete in a triathlon?” Well, I’m glad I asked! The easy answer is you distance your boring ingredient from the very combination that makes it snooze-worthy. In the case of pumpkin spice the problem is two-fold. So don’t even think about pumpkin pies or lattes.
Instead, do the one thing that you should always do: take your sweet, sweet pumpkin spice and...dump it into a trash can. Then let rest until garbage day tumbles into view.
In all seriousness, if tossing your precious spices does not appeal to you, I can suggest a more viable alternative. Do the other thing that you should always do: take your sweet, sweet pumpkin spice and... make jerk chicken marinade. Seriously, it works (the spices in pumpkin spice are all used in jerk chicken marinade).
The beauty of recipes like jerk chicken, which incorporate flavour unashamedly, is that the balance is not superficial. My issue with traditional uses of pumpkin spices is how horrifically mundane the final product tastes while trying to put up a pretense of gustatory harmony. The truth is that balance does not equal blandness, as pumpkin-spice-flavored items would suggest. Balance is when flavour highlights another flavour in perfect symphony, when notes compliment each other without struggling against each other. The end result of balance shouldn’t be the chalky sweetness of a PSL that suggests one uninteresting flavour rules supreme. Rather, balance is the smoky, sweet heat of jerk chicken with shining hints of lime and ginger.
So, if you’re running from pumpkin-spice, screaming as the ventis and grandes of the world try to consume you, maybe all hope isn’t lost. Chicken out from the race and make some marinade instead.
Jerk Chicken Recipe (replace allspice with pumpkin-spice powder or blend):
Image via Food With Feeling (blog) by Brita Britnell https://foodwithfeeling.com/homemade-pumpkin-pie-spice/