Before a single leaf changes colors and lets loose, long before the first football kick off and yet while white shoes, skirts and pants are still within social/seasonal boundaries, fall menus appear filled with pumpkin everything.
The usual orange suspects are now plentifully available… pumpkin donuts, lattes, milkshakes, pancakes, muffins… Do people even like the flavor of pumpkin? That’s beside the point.
As I looked over this year’s fall LTOs, I searched for interesting, inventive and unusual offerings. Let’s not bore customers. Let’s take these pumpkin specials where they don’t usually go.
- It only lasted one day, but Morristown, N.J.-based Villa Italian Kitchen offered a Pumpkin Spice Pizza. The dough was loaded with pumpkin pie filling, including nutmeg, clove and cinnamon, and was topped with mozzarella and baked. I’d give that the prize for most buzz worthy. (I’m sure it tasted awful, so a one-day-only special was perfect for that.)
- Au Bon Pain wins the prize for most widespread use of pumpkin. The shotgun approach includes a sandwich (turkey, ham, Swiss and maple pumpkin butter piled high on a warm croissant); soup (butternut squash, pumpkin and apple purees simmered in a vegetarian velouté with sweet cream, maple syrup and rosemary); a pumpkin pie latte; a pumpkin pie tart; a pumpkin croissant; and just in case, a maple pumpkin butter & lite cream cheese spread to apply to everything else on the menu.
- Cracker Barrel developed a less-expected pumpkin dessert: Pumpkin Custard N’ Gingersnaps that plays on the flavors typically associated with pumpkin desserts. It simply layers pumpkin custard, gingersnap crumble and whipped cream, all topped with a fresh-baked gingersnap cookie. It wins the “I think I’ll try that” award.
- If pumpkin cookies, donuts and muffins work, why couldn’t pumpkin pretzels? Both Auntie Anne’s and Wetzel’s Pretzels went with it, but of the two, Wentzel’s wins the “alluring award” because it includes a condiment. Auntie Anne’s simply calls its fall offering Pumpkin Spice Pretzel Nuggets. Wetzel’s is called Pumpkin Spice Bitz, which are pretzel bites tossed in a sugar-spice blend and paired with a pumpkin caramel dip.
- The craveable presentation award goes to Slim Chickens for its Pumpkin Cheesecake Dessert in a jar. The mason jar idea (customers get to keep the jar) caught the attention of Fox news, which featured a segment on it and described the jarred, layered pumpkin pie dessert as repeating layers of cheesecake, pumpkin pie and whipped cream that are easily ordered to-go, shareable and possible to eat over an extended period of time after putting the lid back on and returning it to the fridge after a few bites.
What could be next for pumpkin? It’s probably too late for this year, but maybe R&D chefs could start now experimenting with pumpkin bowls, fermented pumpkin, sous vide, and how about a little African spice? Can it live without sugar? Could it be shaved and served raw on a salad? How would pumpkin fries taste? I think there’s still plenty of opportunity for the fall favorite.
Tell me what you think.