Pumpkin eater

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Over the rustling of crinkling leaves, they start to make their presence known again. Amidst the wood smoke wafting through a biting breeze, they assemble with sinister, grinning visages. Beneath a starkly darkening sky, they seep ever deeper into our lives. Synonymous with autumn, they even supply its thematic colors. You might try knifing them or smashing them, but for a while now, you might as well just get used to them.

No, I'm not talking about politicians. Yes, I'm speaking about pumpkins (though I do believe one of the prominent campaigners often flashes a sardonic and jarring jack-o'-lantern-like smile).

So yeah, pumpkins and "pumpkin-spiced" limited-time specials are popping up everywhere. It's all a lot of fun, and I think Ohio really hits its highlight stride right around Halloween. But sometimes those orange squashes sneak their way into rather suspect products (pumpkin pie, sure, but pumpkin pizza?).

So, for a little consumer review, I guinea-pigged-out around town, tasting the season and snapping up some less-than-routine pumpkiny flavored things (usually that just means getting tweaked with the familiar aromatic spices).

Here's a mini report on a few tricks and treats, some of which are swallow-worthy and some that don't really work. (Pumpkins were awarded on a scale of zero to five.)

Pattycake Pumpkin Whoopie Pie

Vegan baking can be a tall -- hell, towering -- order to fill, but the ultra-cool, ultra-cute Pattycake Bakery does a good job of it. Open up and say "whoopee" as you chomp down onto this big, hamburger-looking confection. Two super-sized, super-moist "bun halves" taste like good pumpkin bread made (as they indeed are) with actual pumpkin and spiced with traditional pumpkin seasonings like cinnamon. In between is a light, somewhat grainy filling.

Innocent of the too-common crime of overspicing, this queenly treat is just lovingly touched by nutmeg. It's Creamsicle orange in color and tastes like pumpkin pie filling perfectly integrated into smooth, soft-serve vanilla ice cream. I also like the textural contrast provided by its many crunchy pie-crusty "mixins."

In theory, I suppose there's things you can do to a donut to make it undesirable. In theory. Fortunately, Tim Horton's didn't go there. This pleasant, restrained, fat and cakey light-orange-colored donut is mildly pumpkin spiced -- some clove and nutmeg shine through -- and thankfully, only lightly glazed.

This orange-tinged copper-colored ale has plenty to offer: an amusing label with a fierce-looking, warlord-like pumpkin emperor inciting his minions of jack-o'-lanterns; enough bold beer flavor to handle its clove and cardamom spicing; 8 percent alcohol (!); and a hint of real pumpkin squash on the finish.

You certainly can't fault this for its liquor content -- it's all hooch. Vanilla vodka, chai creme and pumpkin liqueurs combine to make this sweet and frothy pale-orange cocktail. It might have a whiff of nutmeg and a hint of clove, but to me, it mostly tastes like a super-sweet Baileys drink, only with more of a kick to it.

Let's say you enjoy a cup of coffee with your comforting pumpkin baked goods, but are pressed for time. Then why not bypass the bothersome chewing stage? Behold this all-in-one Starbucks sipper, which is a sweet and creamy orange cup of coffee that tastes barely of coffee but of nutmeg and so much clove you might think you smoked a silly clove ciggie afterward -- hey, that's like yet another step-skipper for this beverage. One of the drink's awarded pumpkins goes to a Mount Rainier-like topping of good whipped cream.