Welcome to All Things Ubiquitous: An introspective look at some of the many things that catch my magpie-esque eye whilst I make my way through daily life ...
7 Oct 2012
Britain should resist the US pumpkin invasion ...
Pumpkins: Seasonality reduced to an artificial syrupy flavour.
Happy autumn, citizens of the United Kingdom! We will all soon be able to consume something called a "PSL" (which stands, of course, for the autumnal pumpkin spice latte) at your nearest corporate coffee chain, Starbucks. This auspicious event has provided me with the occasion to let you in on a little secret that most Yanks would never admit, here goes: pumpkin is crap.
Wait. Let me amend that a bit: pumpkin is an idea, a symbol, a seasonal icon. And the idea of pumpkin has very little relation to an actual pumpkin patch, or to the flavour of pumpkin. And yes, I'm sure that the PSL is tasty, in its corporate, mass-produced coffee chain way, laced with its artificial flavours, caramel colour and preservatives. But I'm pretty sure the artificial pumpkin flavour that makes the PSL so addictive isn't actually pumpkin at all. Most likely it's artificial squash flavour, as squash (and spices) is really where the warm, cosy flavour we so associate with autumn truly comes from.
Here in the U.K. we're engaged in this massive fraud where we pretend to eat pumpkin, but what we really eat (or really should be eating) is squash. No one eats carving pumpkins – they are tasteless and watery. A few heirloom pumpkin varieties are indeed tasty, but for the most full-flavoured pumpkin taste, squash is where it's at. I'm partial to deeply orange or green varieties, which are not only generally higher in vitamins but most deeply flavoured, too: kabocha squash, hubbard squash, even the pale and generally underflavoured butternut squash, which can be a dinnertime godsend because it has so few seeds and is so quick to peel. All of them are vastly tastier than most pumpkin varieties.
That's where my real annoyance with products like the PSL comes from: they reduce seasonality to an artificial flavour. As a person with tastebuds, I'm offended by the fact that summertime means artificial lemon flavour in our powdered lemonade mix, winter is fake peppermint sweets dyed with cancer-causing dye, and fall is pumpkin flavour from a bottle. British people want the idea of pumpkin, and we've decided that the word "squash" doesn't sound quite right. So we synthesize what fall should taste like in a lab, and that's what our taste buds become accustomed to. And when we go into the kitchen to make an autumnal dinner after drinking our PSL on our commute home, we can't quite get the squash risotto or pumpkin soup to taste like it seems it should.
Multinational corporate food giants, with their labs and food scientists pushing the flavour of "pumpkin" to the absolute most extreme levels (so that we crave the intensity of their products, and develop dependences on them) rob us of a little old thing called "the actual flavour of a thing". The actual thingness of squash, its literal squashiness, is getting lost in the modern chemical soup.
This is a shame because they are all lovely – roasted to perfection in a hot oven with warming spices (real ones!) and lots of olive oil until it develops a golden brown crust, mashed like potatoes with some coconut milk and thyme, or rosemary and crushed garlic. Ah, squash. This season's best friend! Don't go down the pumpkin patch route, stick with squash. Trust me on this