Sunday, June 24, 2018
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Pumpkin conspiracy: Nothing can squash appetite for this gourd

Pumpkin penetration.

Those are the first two words of the title of a recently released chart from a food industry research company called Datassentials. It manages at once to be utterly unsurprising and totally startling. Over the last five years the use of pumpkin flavor in beverages at major restaurants in this country has gone up . . . 400 percent.

Starbucks has the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Fancy bars coast to coast make pumpkin cocktails that cost 13 bucks. Breweries, craft or not, have Punkin Ale, Pumpkin Ale, Imperial Pumpkin Ale . . .

It's not just drinks. Dunkin' Donuts has pumpkin muffins and pumpkin cream cheese. Planters has pumpkin almonds. Hershey's has pumpkin spice Kisses. Jell-O has pumpkin pudding. Betty Crocker has pumpkin cookies. Entenmann's has pumpkin loaf. Einstein Bros. Bagels has something called pumpkin poppers. Kellogg's has Pumpkin Pie . . . Pop-Tarts.

Pilgrims loved pumpkins. Pilgrims even made pumpkin beer, because they used what they had. Pilgrims probably would have died without pumpkins.

What's your excuse?

Here's the thing about pumpkins: They're just squash.

Know what people never say about pumpkins? That they taste like pumpkin. Know why? Because pumpkin is disgusting. The guts of a pumpkin are slimy like bad lettuce and don't taste much better. Mix it, though, with sugar and spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, so that it's mostly that and not what it actually is, and pumpkin tastes like . . .

. . . warmth and comfort. Like sitting on the porch back before the move to the city. Like the brilliant hues of the autumn leaves. Like a fleece vest to cut the nip in the air. It tastes like fall. And fall tastes like nostalgia. And nostalgia tastes like . . .

. . . money.

"Our pumpkin lineup is one of our most successful traffic-driving programs," Einstein Bros. boss Jeff O'Neill said last month in Nation's Restaurant News. "Our guests have a strong attachment to our pumpkin program . . ."

Traffic-driving.

Pumpkin program.

This is Yankee Candle's fault. Those geniuses made fake smell real. They're responsible for a world in which pumpkin's no longer pumpkin. It's Pumpkin. It's Pumpkin Pie. It's Pumpkin Patch. It's Super Pumpkin and Super Sweet Pumpkin. It's Pumpkin and Cupcake and Pumpkin Cream Pie. And it comes in a jar and then it goes up your nose.

Pumpkin lattes are just Yankee Candles you can drink.

Michael Kruse can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8751. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelkruse.

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