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The Rise of Pumpkin: From Kiddie Carving to Culinary Staple

It’s that time of year again. Grab your lattes, and let’s learn why Americans are obsessed with all things pumpkin.


Ready for a trip down memory lane? Imagine yourself at Grandma’s Thanksgiving dinner. Your plate is piled high with turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole. You stuff yourself to oblivion, but leave just enough room for a spoonful of pumpkin pie. Then, you ceremoniously pass out in a food coma. Same story every November, right?

As a kid, this was probably the only time during the entire calendar year that you ever consumed even a hint of pumpkin anything. And let’s be honest: pumpkin pie isn’t the best thing to hit the dessert display. Flash forward a couple of decades, and today’s America couldn’t be more different.

 The pumpkin revolution

Nowadays, when September arrives, you walk out the door, and you’re instantly bombarded by all things pumpkin. You can’t escape the wrath of this globally renowned gourd. From Starbuck’s famous pumpkin spice latte to homemade farmer’s market pumpkin bread, this thick-skinned produce is really having a moment. So what happened? Why did pumpkin become so popular overnight? And outside of pumpkin pie, how am I supposed to cook with it?

‘Tis the season to celebrate this awesome culinary treat. We’re breaking down the recent history of all things pumpkin. Then, we’ll explore what this uniquely flavored fruit tastes like, and what recipes you can try to give your local foodies a run for their money. For maximum success, be sure to have your Made In cookware handy.

By the way—we’re also tackling the long-standing question: is the famous Starbuck’s PSL really made with pumpkin? If you’re dying to know, read on!

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From gourd to greatness

To start, the recent pumpkin revival isn’t really about pumpkins at all. In fact, all of those specialty coffee drinks, breads, cakes, cookies, donuts, and other pumpkin-flavored fare are often given their super cozy, cinnamony kick thanks to Pumpkin Pie Spice, which you can find in the grocery store.

The McCormick brand has been making their signature ‘Pumpkin Pie Spice’ ever since 1934. It’s composed of a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice; just a sprinkle, and you infuse any dish with sweet, warm, yet subtly spicy flavor. It’s difficult to describe. But in a word, Pumpkin Pie Spice tastes like ‘home.’ Back in the day, busy moms would use the blend as a quick and dirty alternative to the real thing. And as we all know from carving jack-o’-lanterns, pumpkins can be downright messy.

Flash forward to 2003, and Starbucks debuted their now notorious pumpkin spice latte (aka the PSL). Since its initial introduction, the drink has sold in excess of 350 million, making it the chain’s most popular seasonal beverage. As the PSL gained traction over the next fifteen years, other stores followed in their pumpkin footsteps, attempting to match the drink’s unique flavor profile.

Industry experts agree: once the copycats come, the public soon catches on. Over the last five years, pumpkin spice everything has arrived earlier and earlier. In fact, the PSL launched on August 28th of this year. Talk about too soon.

As for the age-old question: does the PSL actually have real pumpkin in it? The answer is, sorta. Although Starbuck’s signature fall drink is mostly comprised of spices, locations now use a small trace of authentic pumpkin puree and a ‘pumpkin-flavored’ syrup.

A sprinkle of the season

Beyond clever marketing, many psychologists theorize that pumpkin’s popularity has something to do with our yearning for home. The pumpkin is an icon of the simple, country life. From its days as a key source of sustenance for Native Americans to the homemade centerpiece of mom’s dining room table, pumpkins also represent childhood, warmth, and happiness.

So whether you’re in the bustle of the big city or still cultivating your culinary skills in the comfort of mom’s basement, a little pumpkin spice makes everything right.

So, what does real pumpkin taste like?

While pumpkin pie spice conjures up memories of french toast, crumb cake, sugar cookies, and holiday pastries, the real flesh of the pumpkin tastes much different. Rich, smooth and earthy with a hint of sweetness, this seasonal produce has a limited range in the kitchen. But when you prepare it right, the reward is tremendous.

Top 5 Recipes Featuring Pumpkin & Pumpkin Pie Spice

Now that you know the distinction, embrace the fall season by trying these top recipes curated by your favorite cookware gurus.

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Photo: Monika Grabkowska

1. Fluffy Pumpkin Pancakes from Taste of Home

Don’t worry. You won’t be carving or gutting any pumpkins first thing in the morning. This scrumptious dish calls for canned pumpkin, which is the basis for many a Thanksgiving dessert. Pumpkin pie spice and other dry ingredients are folded into the batter as a nod to the popular PSL; after being flipped over the stovetop, the pancakes are then topped with butter and maple syrup. Delish!

2. Pumpkin Scones from Brown Eyed Baker

Featuring a fabulous spiced glaze with hints of pumpkin pie spice, these scones can be served either warm or at room temperature. If you’re looking for a homemade accompaniment to your favorite Starbucks espresso drink, today is your lucky day. The blogger behind this recipe modeled her ingredients after the chain’s similar breakfast (or after-dinner) treat.

3. Spicy Pumpkin Soup from Southern Living

If you love a rich, warm, nutty bowl of butternut squash soup, this recipe will knock your socks off. Step outside your comfort zone with a Mexican-inspired pumpkin soup recipe incorporating ground cumin, chipotle pepper, smoked sausage and more. The result is a fiery kick of lip-smacking pumpkin pleasure. To simmer everything, you’ll need a quality stockpot or dutch oven ready to go.

4. Pumpkin Spice Muffins from Delish

Grab your handy jar of McCormick’s, and prepare for soft, warm, crumbly bliss. Instead of your typical chocolate chips or blueberries, celebrate the spirit of autumn by adding pumpkin filling and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg to your muffin batter. Our chosen recipe boasts the perfect balance of sweet, spice and everything nice.

5. Slow Cooker Pumpkin Chili from a Pumpkin & a Princess

Don’t forget: now that football season is here, chili cook-offs are underway! Wow friends and family at your next competition with this gourd-a-licious take on the typical ground meat and kidney beans concoction. Pumpkin puree makes a lovely base to accompany your tomato sauce and other slow-cooker staples. Before trying out this slightly spicy recipe, don’t forget to consult our past article featuring top chili competition tricks and tips!

Did your Made In cookware set serve you well when preparing all things pumpkin? Stay subscribed for even more sensational seasonal cooking advice.

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