"Is Pumpkin Spice Dead?" The Shopping Trip (Part III)

You can catch up on what's happening here and read about the first two parts of the shopping trip here and here. If you want to skip all that, here's the quick summary:

I am on a hunt to buy everything in this grocery store that is pumpkin spice flavored, to prove that "Peak Pumpkin Spice" is over. To accomplish this mission, I've set up three ground rules:

  1. Any item labeled "Pumpkin Spice" must be purchased, no matter what it is.
  2. Anything that looks like it's trying to be pumpkin spice without actually calling itself pumpkin spice - "pumpkin flavored," "pumpkin and cinnamon," etc. - must also be purchased.
  3. Anything that seems just to be pumpkin product, minding its own business, ignoring current trends, can be ignored. Each of these products will be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis.

And now, back to the store, where I've just realized I'm going to have to learn how to bake pumpkin spice cookies and pumpkin spice bread and pumpkin spice pancakes. Things aren't looking good...

I turn from the baking aisle and into the bread aisle. Since I assume that anyone who wants pumpkin spice bread will be baking their own, I'm pretty sure I can make it down this one safely.

And I almost do, until right at the end:

21. Thomas Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice English Muffins

There was a time in my life where I really liked English muffins, but that time has slipped past. I'm not particularly bothered by them, but they have a strong wheat flavor to them that I don't fancy. Given the option, I'll always turn to a bagel, a biscuit, a muffin, or even simple toast. 

But it looks like I'm stuck with this one. I don't know who was crying out for a pumpkin spice English muffin, but they got their wish. 

"Made with real pumpkin." Now I get a wheaty, pumpkiny flavor to contend with. I'm gonna have to slap some pumpkin butter on top of this and try and kill two birds with one stone.

22. Thomas Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Bagels

You know what? I have no problems with this product. Bagel places are always throwing new products at you, trying to get you to stay interested. Have you ever had an "everything" bagel? It does not have everything on it. It doesn't even have everything they already had in the bagel store on it. It's just a collection of "what they had lying around that they couldn't find a use for." And you know what? It totally works.

That's the great thing about bagels. Toast 'em up, throw some butter or some cream cheese or whatever your topping of choice is on top, and it never sinks lower than a "meh." 

I once ordered a "salt" bagel from the bagel store around the corner for an egg sandwich. Let me tell you, whoever decided that covering up a bagel with seven soft pretzels worth of salt made an unwise decision. I went through about nine diet cokes that lunch. But still - I rubbed off the extra salt as best I could and the sandwich immediately became passable. Bagels are great.

I don't know whether these will be my favorite bagels of all time, but I'm pretty sure I can make it through one package. Into the cart they go.

23. Nuccina Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter

Who is this for?

To be fair, I've never understood the appeal of cookie butter. It's incredibly sweet, but I can't find anything to put it onto. Do I put it onto toast? Do I double up and put it on top of a cookie? Am I supposed to dip pretzels in it? I can't find the answer.

I definitely won't know what to do with this. And now I have two separate types of pumpkin butter I'm taking home with me. This is gonna be a rough go.

24. Belvita Pumpkin Spice Breakfast Biscuits 

Oh, come on, Belvita. Do you know how much I despise your regular product? I have never once awoken and said to myself "the thing that's going to get me through this day is a dry cracker." And yet here you are, taunting me with your purchasable drymouth.

Thank you for your "4 hours of nutritious steady energy." I don't know what happens afterwards. I assume I go into some sort of Belvita-induced withdrawal spasm. You're so boring I can't even dip you into anything.

And what's with the giant cartoon pumpkin looming behind you? You're already a fake food, why a fake pumpkin? Not to mention, in addition to the inevitable cinnamon sticks, you've also placed what looks very much like a small salami on the other side of your products. I have stared at this thing for five straight minutes, and I don't know what it is. Despite your product being pumpkin spice, it isn't ginger root, cloves, cinnamon, or nutmeg. It isn't anything that makes sense. It looks, more than anything, like a rotting potato. What on earth are you guys doing?

I'm going to have a very bad week of mornings coming up. Into the cart you go.

25. Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Oreos

I had heard that these existed, but I wasn't ready for how unappetizing they would look. Somehow, without the comforting blue of the standard Oreo packaging, it becomes clearer what a crime on nature Oreos really are. I love Oreos, but they're the fakest cookie on the block, and any version that switches out the chocolate for the bland vanilla version is a cookie worthy of disdain.

This doesn't even look like a real product, it just looks like an Oreo that's been soaked in formaldehyde. There's no way these are edible.

26. Saint Arnold Pumpkinator Imperial Pumpkin Stout

"Limit-2?" Not a problem, guys. I'm quite certain that one will be more that enough.

I have many questions about the packaging on this one: ignoring the villanous jack-o-lantern, and the dead tree, why does the priest have orange, pumpkin-centric robes? Also, who is he talking to? Because it looks like he's talking to the dead tree.

Furthermore, what's the story with the pack of white birds flying directly towards the viewer? And why has the moon been replaced with the outline of Texas? I feel like this drawing was designed by someone more concerned about casting a hex than they were about decorating a beer bottle. None of this makes sense. 

As for the beer itself: sure, pumpkin stout, why not? How bad could it be?

I nervously walked up and down this line, but fortunately, wine makers are appropriately snobby about this sort of thing. Of course, I'm not at all convinced you can make wine out of pumpkins anyway. Beer, sure. Vodka, probably. Wine... I mean, that seems tough. Regardless, there was no "Barefoot Pumpkin Merlot" with a bright orange label waiting for me anywhere, and for that I am grateful.

27. Leinenkugel's Harvest Patch Shandy

I didn't end up picking this one up, because it seemed a lot like it wasn't actually a pumpkin product. The pumpkin on the label just seemed to represent fall rather than actually indicating the presence of gourds within the contents. I went ahead and skipped it.

I probably would have given it a grab, despite my dislike of shandies, except that it was in the "Make Your Own Six-Pack" section, and there weren't any other beers with pumpkin on the label to pair it with.

Pumpkin spice may or may not be over, but the pumpkin beer craze has definitely come and gone.

Here's a concerning product. Is maple creme - excuse me, maple crème - the new pumpkin spice? Will we have fake maple flavor everywhere, until the products are so fake they can't even call them "maple" anymore, and you end up buying "mayple cream" and "mapul creem" products?

If I have to do a post next year about all the "sweet tree & cream" products in grocery stores while Nestle clear-cuts Vermont for sap, I am going to have some very strong words for America.

28. H-E-B Pumpkin Crème Soda

Well, we did it, guys. We hit rock bottom.

Look, I am somewhat anti-cream soda in general (as a child, I once vomited heavily after downing one, turning me off the beverage for a full two decades). I gradually returned to the drink in my twenties, and developed an appreciation for the delicacies of a good cream soda: the vanilla, carefully aged and not overpowering, the smoothness, the careful balance of sweetness and kick.

Whatever this... thing... is, it won't be that. This will be a blaring bullhorn of a soda, with raw pumpkin flavor pounding in over the top.

In college, I once bought a very cheap soda out of curiosity. It was "red" flavored - a generic knockoff of Big Red, I think - but this one was a specialty flavor. It advertised on its label that it "taste like an ice cream float!" (sic). I think it cost $1.25 for a 12-pack. I brought it back to the apartment and opened a can.

The flavor was so disgusting that I immediately passed it to one of my roommates so that they could experience the horribleness. 15 minutes later, we hadn't even finished half of a 12-oz can, and yet three of my four roommates were vomiting simultaneously, two of them taking up the toilets while one used one of the bathroom sinks. And still the taste stayed with you.

I've never experienced anything quite like that moment.

But I'm very, very afraid that I'm about to.

29. H-E-B Bakery Pumpkin Donut Holes

I can't prove that these are "pumpkin spice" donuts, but I certainly can't prove that they're not.

I have to try them and see exactly how pumpkin spicy they are. It is my duty, and my destiny.

30. Sugar Bowl Bakery Pumpkin Spice Madeleines

The madeleine is a delicate, spongelike cookie, with a rich history going back to genteel, adventurous bakers in the south of France in the 17th century. It doesn't deserve this.

Consider the wonder the madeleine has created throughout the years. One of Proust's most famous passages concerns the explosion of emotions and memories that skittered across his brain after taking a bit of one:

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. ... Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ... And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.    
— Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

There are many things I may write after taking my first bite into one of these, but "an exquisite pleasure has invaded my senses" is unlikely to be one of them.

I never thought I'd say this, but France doesn't deserve this. I'm calling these "pumpkin spice sponge clam cookies," which sound appropriately unappetizing. 

31. Alouette Pumpkin Spice Soft Spreadable Cheese

This is the big one. I did an Instagram post last year that featured all of the remarkable pumpkin spice things I had come across in the grocery story, packing thirty-six different pumpkin spice products into one picture. And yet I still saved this product for its own post, because it was simply head-and-shoulders above the other items I found in total grossness.

This is the item people tweet at me, or text me pictures of, to make sure I'm aware of its existence. And up until this very moment, I had never considered that I would have to actually try and eat it.

Something about this particular product pushes me over the edge. I start to feel ill. I want to move away from this shopping cart. I want to leave it here in the cheese aisle and never look back.

There is so much stuff.

I take a deep, long breath, and hold it as long as I can. The nausea passes. I grab the cart by the handles and wheel it towards the checkout counter.

32. Zachary Mello Creme Pumpkins

This is obviously not a pumpkin spice product, but it also seems wrong to spend an hour in this grocery store on a massive pumpkin hunt and not include this as part of the haul.

My selection would feel... incomplete. The pumpkins are coming with me.

32. Harvest Home Pumpkin Coloring Book

In for a penny, in for a pound. I find the book staring at me on the checkout aisle and add it to the pile. Sure, there's nothing pumpkin spice about it, but it feels thematic to bring it along with me. It doesn't even occur to me that I have no colored pencils or crayons at my house until I'm all the way home.

Buying the book helps me avoid making eye contact with the cashier, who is staring at me with something halfway between concern and disdain. I do not want to answer any of this lady's questions. I silently pay for my hoard of pumpkin-themed groceries, mumble a "thank you so much," and scurry off.

I am officially the proud owner of essentially all of the pumpkin spice product that this world has to offer.

So now my only problem is that I have to actually eat it.

COMING SOON: The great quest to eat - and rank! - every piece of this stuff.