Pumpkin spice haters, back off: It's okay to crave the seasonal flavor

Posted September 21, 2018 12:37 p.m. EDT

All right, okay, enough, I get it: You all hate pumpkin spice.

But I've got one request as we head into fall: Can you just let us have this?

There are many things on which to heap anger and despair right now, but please, that thing does not need to be a person's affection for an autumnal coffee drink.

A lot of people love pumpkin spice, and the flavor has worked its way into just about every food group. That's why it has become so maligned. Our culture loves a good backlash, and pumpkin spice quickly became too basic, too ubiquitous to be cool for long. Like brunch and selfies, pumpkin spice is the perfect punching bag for cynics who can't understand why anyone would like a little whimsy with their caffeine.

And it gets worse every year. The earlier Starbucks releases its Pumpkin Spice Latte, the more internet diatribes declare the decline of civilization. Calling the drink its "most popular seasonal beverage of all time," Starbucks released it Aug. 28 this year, no doubt driven by insane demand.

Frank Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote in 2017 a piece comparing pumpkin spice to all that ills this country:

"(Pumpkin spice) is invention run amok, marketing gone mad, the odoriferous emblem of commercialism without compunction or bounds."

You know what? Pumpkin spice is also fun! It's silly! It's festive!

Haters, it's time to let the hard feelings go. Please let us pumpkin spice lovers have this.

We know there's no actual pumpkin in many of these products.

We know it's a marketing scheme.

We don't care.

Oh, and can we stop with the semantics? No one is implying there is a spice called "pumpkin," or that everything labeled as such is supposed to contain any amount of real pumpkin, which tastes like squash. "Pumpkin spice" is most likely short for "pumpkin pie spice," which is definitely a thing, a mixture of spices like nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon.

Pumpkin spice represents that which all manufactured markers of the holiday season do: comfort, joy, nostalgia. It brings with it a longing for holidays past, for cozy family gatherings and fragrant roasting turkeys. It, along with plastic pumpkins and bales of hay you can buy at Walmart, signifies the shift from summer to a more pleasant time of year.

And nowhere do we need it more than in Florida.

Bruni, in that New York Times column, also said this:

"It's the transformation of an illusion -- there isn't any spice called pumpkin, nor any pumpkin this spicy -- into a reality."

For those of us who live here, a seasonless state that still stocks boots in its department stores every year, the illusion of pumpkin spice has come to represent fall itself.

It's how we are able to feel part of that collective national shift to a new season, even when temperatures remain exactly the same until January. It means being able to justify a scarf in 75-degree weather.

I will probably never buy pumpkin spice-flavored cereal, but its very existence on grocery store shelves makes me smile, a sweet annual reminder that my favorite season is just around the corner.

Sure, it's manufactured. That's okay.

After all, if you're going to bemoan pumpkin spice, a make-believe marker of a certain time of year, then I'm sorry, but you're going to have to cancel Santa, too.


Cinnamon Clove Coffee Cake

If you don't have tahini, a paste made from ground sesame seeds, peanut butter works just as well in this recipe.

For the topping:

¾ cup flour

? cup lightly packed brown sugar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon cardamom

? teaspoon nutmeg

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

For the cake:

1 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon cardamom

½ teaspoon ginger

? teaspoon nutmeg

? teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

? cup tahini or peanut butter

¾ cup sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ cup Greek yogurt

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8- by 8-inch baking dish.

Make the topping: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Using your hands, mix in the butter until combined and crumbly. Mix in the sesame seeds. Set aside.

Make the cake: In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, tahini or peanut butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg and mix to combine, then beat in the vanilla. Mix in half of the flour mixture, add the yogurt, then mix in the remaining flour mixture.

Scrape the batter into the baking dish and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Begin checking for doneness at 35 minutes.

Serves 8 to 10.

Source: Adapted from Molly Yeh