What is pumpkin spice made up of? Who came up with pumpkin spice? Where did this spice blend come from and how has it seemingly tapped into a national craving?
Indeed, pumpkin-spiced everything has been pleasing our autumnal palettes for quite some time now. This fall flavor has infiltrated food stuffs up and down each and every aisle of the supermarket, our coffee shops, bakeries and even the local brewery.
WHAT IS PUMPKIN SPICE MADE UP OF?
The traditional ingredients of pumpkin spice can vary depending on the recipe though most will consist of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove or allspice. All of these spices are considered aromatic and warming. Cinnamon, nutmeg and clove are all spices that originated in the East Indies while ginger originally hails from China. Allspice is the lone spice from this side of the hemisphere, Jamaica. There is however, many pumpkin spice flavored products on the market that may not contain any of these pure ingredients and instead be made with artificial ingredients that mimic the flavor along with a whole bunch of sugar. With a few steps and a few ingredients you can make your own pumpkin spice blend to be sure you are using the purest ingredients in your baking.
WHO CAME UP WITH PUMPKIN SPICE?
It’s a bit of a misnomer to call it pumpkin spice when it contains absolutely NO pumpkin. Though it seems to have all started with the Pilgrims, to whom pumpkins were considered a valuable food source. Pumpkins were introduced to the settlers by the Natives of America. The pilgrims quickly adapted to this new fruit and found various ways to incorporate it into their diet. They would cut the top off of the pumpkin, scoop out the seeds and fill it with cream, honey, eggs and spices. Then they would place the pumpkin top back on and cook it in the ashes of a hot fire. When finished cooking they would remove it from the ashes and scoop out the contents along with the cooked flesh of the shell. It was like a custard or pudding. Pies were common in Europe as were the use of the warming spices that made their way to the ports of America along with the colonizers. It didn’t take long for these cooks to mate the two and create pumpkin spiced puddings, pies and other baked goods.
Pilgrim verse, circa 1633
For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.
THE MARKETING OF PUMPKIN SPICE
While the origin of spices mixed together to flavor pumpkin baked goods evolved organically based on the resources that were available to the colonizers, the introduction of a pre-measured pumpkin spice mix in a tin was a marketing angle aimed at easing the workload of the busy cook. It offered a more calculated attempt at selling this pumpkin pie spice. In one 1916 October edition of the Bakers Review we see an ad for “Something New from the House of Quality and Service, a Reliance Pumpkin Pie Spice blend for ‘uniformity of flavor”.
About 30 years later, McCormick introduced its own Pumpkin Pie Spice which quickly became a pantry staple that helped cooks create delicious pies and cakes for their family and communities.
100 YEARS LATER AND ITS A CULTURAL CRAVING?
Fall offers up a certain comfort in the crispness of the air and the act of bundling up in a warm sweater. The vision of sunrays falling on an ever changing palette of autumnal hues and in the feasting on fresh apples, squashes and warming, aromatic food and drink. We begin to move into a reflective space and a period of coming together with family and friends for gatherings. We often reflect upon our gratefulness. It’s as if autumn offers a brief state of heightened sensory input while we transition from summer to winter.
Our senses are piqued and in particular, our olfactory sense. Smell is the only sense that has a direct link to the deeper parts of our brain, the amygdala and the hippocampus. These areas are directly related to memory and emotion. The pervasive use of aromatic spices like cinnamon, ginger and clove means that with just one whiff of something a memory can be created or retrieved and an emotional response invoked.
By flavoring everything with pumpkin spice, the hundred-year-old blend of cinnamon, clove, allspice and ginger, creative marketers might be tapping into our sense of nostalgia that abounds this time of year. Combine that with a ”limited time offer” and it has become a marketer’s delight. Either way, from pumpkin spiced beer, coffee, cat food and cereal the trend is real.
Are you a fan of the pumpkin spice craze or does it drive you crazy?
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye,
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?
- John Greenleaf Whittier