October 1st is National Pumpkin Spice Day. What is pumpkin spice? It’s a blend of ground cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg, and sometimes allspice (photo #2). It was first used as a seasoning for pumpkin pie.
While for many years the baker of a pumpkin pie measured each particular spice from its jar, enough pies were being baked to warrant a blend.
While “pumpkin pie spice” is mentioned in cookbooks dating to the 1890s, blended pumpkin pie spice was introduced commercially by McCormick & Company in 1934 [source].
The blend eliminated the need to measure four or five ingredients separately…and to make sure that you had those ingredients on hand.
Pumpkin is an American fruit, pie knowledge came to America with the Pilgrims, who put the two together.
An early “pompkin” pie recipe used a spice mix of ginger, mace, and nutmeg. Here are two recipes from the first known published American cookbook, American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons, published in 1796:
No. 1. One quart stewed and strained, 3 pints cream, 9 beaten eggs, sugar, mace, nutmeg and ginger, laid into paste No. 7 or 3, and with a dough spur, cross and chequer it, and baked in dishes three quarters of an hour.
No. 2. One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.
Says The Spice House: “Some people prefer to make their own pumpkin pie spice so they can tweak the measurements and create a flavor that’s unique and perfectly crafted for a certain recipe. You can make your own pumpkin pie spice and store it in a sealed jar for up to 6 months to use whenever you please.”
It can be used in recipes both savory and sweet.
To make ¼ cup of pumpkin spice, start with these measurements:
While fall always meant that food producers would present seasonally spiced goods, pumpkin spice as a “thing” owes its thanks to Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, which debuted to fanfare in January 2003. Suddenly, a good number of Americans were rabid fans of the “PSL,” as they nicknamed it.
It became Starbucks’ most popular seasonal beverage [source].
Was it the cinnamon perfume in a steaming hot coffee beverage topped with whipped cream…or the spiced sugar syrup that made it so addictively good (rhetorical question)?
Seeing Starbucks’ success, product lines that did not previously have a fall pumpkin flavor—everything from Kit Kat Bars to Goldfish Crackers (photo #4) to Chobani Greek Yogurt—got on the bandwagon.
While some brewers had traditionally produced a pumpkin ale or beer for the fall-winter season, other beverage producers realized they had been missing out on pumpkin-spiced drinks.
Today you can find:
And of course, there are Starbucks Cold Brew, Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Nondairy Creamer, and more.
And that, ladies and gents, is why you can’t turn in any direction in a supermarket without bumping into a pumpkin spice special for the season.