Chart of the day, pumpkin edition

By Felix Salmon
October 15, 2012
a short piece about pumpkin in the latest issue of New York magazine.

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I have a short piece about pumpkin in the latest issue of New York magazine, trying to work out why has started to become almost as ubiquitous as bacon at this time of year. After all, bacon is delicious; pumpkin, not so much.

The secret, it turns out, is in the semiotics. No one ever feels virtuous eating bacon, but pumpkin has connotations of locavorism, as well as warmth, and sweetness, and family, and the toasty colors of fall. And yet the pumpkin in “pumpkin” dishes is even less healthy than the bacon in bacon dishes: it’s mainly sugar, along with autumnal spices like cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Partly because few of us ever eat pumpkin straight, the taste of pumpkin in the public mind has basically just become a sugar-and-spice combo.

Which helps explain the chart. Pumpkin is found mainly in desserts (lots of sugar), and beverages (lots of sugar). A venti Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks runs 470 calories — that’s double the 240 calories in an identically-sized 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola. Or, to put it another way, it’s the same number of calories that you find in seventeen rashers of bacon. Would that Starbucks were selling out of the stuff. (It isn’t.)

8 comments

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I actually quite like pumpkin – particularly roasted (in which case it doesn’t need much additional flavour) or as a soup (when a good mix of spices helps a lot).

Posted by timg | Report as abusive

If you really want to sell pumpkin to the Amer-obese public, wrap a piece of bacon around a chunk of it, dip it in donut batter and deep fry it and sprinkle it with powdered sugar ..

Posted by Woltmann | Report as abusive

I revise every recipe I make. Here is my “revised” recipe for Pumpkin Panna Cotta

1/2 Cup Half & Half
1-1/3 cup milk (your choice, skim, 1% or whole)
1/4 cup Maple Syrup (Or Sugar)
1 cup Pumpkin Puree (you can get away with less or more if you like — original recipe calls for 3/4 cup)
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Nutmeg
1 Package (1/4 Ounce) Gelatin
1/3 Cup Milk

Directions:

Place the 1/3 cup of milk in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it, stir gently and leave for 5 minutes to soften.

Combine the rest of the milk and the half and half in a small saucepan with the syrup and pumpkin, and heat until the mixture just reaches the scalding point but does not boil, whisking often.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the cinnamon and nutmeg.

Whisk in the gelatin mixture until smooth.
Divide the mixture into 4 glasses or ramekins and refrigerate.

This is under 150 calories or so per serving and has lots and lots of vitamins and other good things. It’s a lot healthier than bacon. The problem isn’t with “pumpkin” the problem is with trying to eat healthy in a restaurant culture that makes it virtually impossible. But if you want to try, you can go to au bon pain and have the pumpkin harvest soup, which is also quite tasty and good for you.

Posted by rb6 | Report as abusive

In France they do this a lot better:

Dice a kilo or so (Nutmeg Squash is better) in 1cm cubes, toss in flour, excess shaken free, then in lots of persilade, pack in large deep gratin dish, season, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 2 hours or so at 160C, until a crust forms. Very nice with pork of various sorts or lamb shoulder, I suppose. No sugar is involved (there is already lots in the squash) though huge quantities of garlic certainly is.

Alternatively, large wedges of pumpkin tossed in oil or goosefat, seasoned and baked loose for a couple of hours at 150C.

Lots of possibilities – though specifically halloween pumpkin is a bit thin tasting, I grant.

Posted by seanmatthews | Report as abusive

For cooking (as opposed to carving) pumpkin, you need a variety called “sugar pumpkin”; otherwise, other varieties of squash are better for bringing out the best pumpkin/squash flavor. You don’t need to use sugar if you roast as per these two recipes, but my tried and true recipe for ANY autumn vegetable that can be roasted but that doesn’t caramelize well (cauliflower, brussels sprouts, turnips) is to roast in salt and olive oil (or duck fat — you cannot do better than this for flavor) and, with 10 minutes to go add one measly tablespoon of maple syrup and finish cooking.

Posted by rb6 | Report as abusive

Starbucks is hoping you have all read the smell of pumkin/spice is an aphrodesiac.

The sugar pumpkins are fleshier, not stringy, less moisture and tastier. (I still have 3 left from the garden, so I know them well) These make for excellent pies as a custard can’t have too much moisture or it won’t set or be smooth and splits or has a grainy and unsavory look.

I made a dozen pies for visiting Australian families, as little did I know that they use it only on the “barbie” as a veggie and were loathe to even try a bite. So much for my gesture to impress Aussies with pumpkin pies after the Thanksgiving feast.

The “other” popular and much larger pumpkin is a jack’o lantern that is bought more for show and scary effect as they are easy to carve and more visual on the landing. Those are the stringy ones you wrote about. They are not inedible, but have to be cooked forever (losing nutrients) to lose the moisture content.

Large ones are best used as a side, baked, or pureeed after roasting to put in cakes or muffins. A pumpkin cake roll with chantilly cream or cheesecake filling is to die for… but you can easily search for any great recipes as it makes for a really moist cake.

As a baker, I love (and laughed) that I am reading recipes in a finance blog! Yummmm!

Posted by youniquelikeme | Report as abusive

Pumpkins that are appropriate for carving into a jack’o'lantern are not delicious. The Sugar Pie varietal, however, is, as are close relatives like Butternut Squash (known in some English-speaking countries as Butternut Pumpkin). If you’ve never had the Afghani dish called Kadu, I highly recommend seeking it out immediately. Back when I lived in NYC, there was a quite good Afghan place called Khyber Pass on Saint Mark’s Place. Go there, forthwith, and enjoy.

Posted by Auros | Report as abusive

PS: My own recipe for Kadu can be found here:

auros.livejournal.com/322816.html

Posted by Auros | Report as abusive