Thursday, October 29, 2015

View From The Farce Side: There’s no Excuse for Pumpkin Pie!

It’s that time of year when odd traditions take centre stage, culinary concessions are made, and people seem to lose all sense of perspective and taste. There are three foods here in America that appear to be gastronomic royalty, especially during the holidays – but for the life of me I can’t work out why.

The first of these are blueberries. To begin with, they’re not really blue; they’re more purplish, especially once bitten into. Setting aside my nit-pickery over naming conventions, blueberries just aren’t, well, very good. They taste of very little so you have to eat an entire handful to really even get a sense of what they are. Once you do — or at least once I did – the sensation is altogether underwhelming. It certainly wasn’t worth staining my palm purple, or blue, or whatever colour that is. And don’t even get me started on the irritation generated by their seeds unfailingly getting stuck between teeth.

But blueberries aren’t my biggest food-related annoyance at this time of the year. Autumn and winter aren’t really blueberry seasons so, mercifully, we see very little of them. My second-most perturbing foodstuff, though, does pop up more frequently right about now: pecans.

I can already hear your wails of derision and disbelief, my American cousins. Spare me. Pecans are, behind peanuts — which I know strictly speaking aren’t even nuts — the most over-rated nut in North America. Actually, if we want to get really pedantic, pecans aren’t really nuts either, but moving on… Yes, pecans have a decent flavour and, unlike the insipid blueberry, there are ways to prepare pecans that will at least enhance their taste to a degree that make them worth eating. Toasted pecans, with their rich, coffee-like aroma coupled with a slightly caramel-ish tang, are quite enjoyable. So I suppose it’s not the pecan per se that I have a problem with – it’s pecan pie.

The inconsistent jellified texture of a pecan pie — especially when purchased from a chain grocery store, clumsily littered with sickly-sugar-coated pecan halves — culminates in an inedible combination that unfortunately reminds me of a mouthful of vomit. Yum.
But there’s worse, much worse. The one foodstuff that confuses, confounds and disgusts me more than any other is not only ubiquitous at this particular time of the year, it’s the star of the show! More disappointing than blueberries, more short-changing than pecans; ladies and gentleman, I give you…pumpkins!

The passion for pumpkins truly is a complete mystery to me. They’re carved, painted, displayed in centrepieces, used as ornaments and, most confusingly of all, frequently eaten.

I know, I know, pumpkins are the traditional fall ‘fruit’ with their new world origins traced back — if you believe Charlie Brown — to the earliest pilgrim settlers. That begs us to reconsider why did the pilgrims flee their homeland? To escape the clutches of a despotic caste system? For the opportunity to practice their religious beliefs without fear of persecution? Maybe. However, I think the answer may be more straight-forward than that. Unbeknownst to them at the time, the primary delineation between those who stayed home, and those who boarded the Mayflower was all down to a matter of taste. Those with taste buds stayed home. They would surely have perished had they made the trip, only to be forced upon arrival to endure pumpkin as part of their diet. Personally, I would rather have starved.


Pumpkin pie is entirely redundant. To start with, it has no taste other than that provided by the copious amounts of nutmeg and Cool Whip you need to pile upon every slice to make it even vaguely interesting. And don’t get me started on the fervour that surrounds the annual coming-out party for Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Latte (note the essential need for spice); it’s madness! I’m certain that at this very moment there are readers cursing my name, suggesting I know absolutely nothing about anything. To those I say, you are entitled to your opinion, and you’re probably right.

However, I would counter with the following: things that confuse us aren’t always bad. For instance, though the combination is quite brilliant, I can’t for the life of me work out how yams, or sweet potatoes (or are they the same thing?) ever got coupled with marshmallows? Or how cranberries can tease every taste bud from sweet to tart, but still somehow taste so delicious with turkey that you’d imagine every bird must have been born with a can tucked under its wing. But all of these culinary curiosities, to my mind and belly, at least work.

This is a strange time of the year when it comes to the American palate – but strange isn’t always unpleasant. More often than not, it’s a beautiful thing. Now if we can we all just agree to substitute blueberries for blackberries, pecans for hazelnuts, and pumpkin for… Forget it, I got nothing.


Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for the past 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer, hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weather's rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter - @melchett. Some additional examples of his writing can be seen at the csindy.com.

6 comments:

n0aaa said...

I don't agree about blueberries, but I do about pumpkins. I get everyone else a pumpkin pie or two and myself an apple pie (with lots of cinnamon).

BevAnneS said...

Can't agree you on the pecans. In the south, we put them in many, many things including chicken salad, brownies and German chocolate cake. But maybe we just do it for texture as you are right, they haven't a whole lot of flavor on their own.

Brittaney said...

I prefer hazlenuts over pecans. Even though I'm a southerner I completely agree with your assessment of pecan pie. And the thing they call pumpkin pie isn't made with actual pumpkin (which I'm sure would actually improve its' taste) but with "pumpkin" out of a can. I disagree with you though over pumpkin flavor. You should give pumpkin bread a taste. It's pretty good.

Beth Pawelski said...

I so agree that pecans/pecan pie is the most retched invention to grace a table.
Pumpkin pie is awesome though, even if it is mostly an excuse to eat whipped cream, who cares? It's whipped cream! But it can be made super tasty. Pumpkin Spice Lattes however...the magic just doesn't translate.

CriticalListener said...

Gotta be careful here, mate. All three plants you don't celebrate are native to the Americas, no doubt a contributing factor to why we here have cooked with--and eaten--them for generations. All three make excellent pies. Commercially made ones usually aren't as good as homemade, so the starchy version of pecan you encountered wouldn't be the one to make you understand what any fuss is about. Interestingly, pecan pie is culinarily related to chess pie, which is supposed to have come from Britain. You've been here awhile, so you know how blueberries often feature around July 4th ("red white & blue" themed salads and desserts). While I personally prefer really ripe, sweeter blueberries to the small, tart ones, their piquant flavor is so uniquely theirs, it's just...part of American SUMMER for many of us. As is the pumpkin for American FALL--it's the primary symbol, as you've observed. Contrary to Charlie Brown, it was featured in the diet of the southwest native Americans centuries before the Pilgrims ever made it here. They ate it as a regular vegetable. (For a very nice savory recipe, look up Martha Stewart's roasted pumpkin with sage leaves.) Because I grew up with a mom who loved pumpkin pie, I got excited about (and looked forward to) it too. You didn't, so you don't. I--and lots of other Americans--got conditioned to like it; you didn't. I think it's that simple!

Mark said...

Great comments, all! Thanks for taking the time to read my piece. Tongue was largely in cheek, though still somewhat on point. Glad it generated some great observations!

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