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Oct. 3, 2022

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The decadence of autumn: Indulge in tastes of fall in Clark County

Pumpkin spice coffee, pies, scones, cakes and ice cream abound in Vancouver and beyond

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Pastry chef Kyley Grabner, from left, owner and baker Dana Carpenter, and baker Calvin Goon show off a selection of fall treats at Di Tazza in Camas.
Pastry chef Kyley Grabner, from left, owner and baker Dana Carpenter, and baker Calvin Goon show off a selection of fall treats at Di Tazza in Camas. Photos by Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Days are shorter, the air has turned cool and crisp, and fall flavors are filling bakery display cases and coffee cups all over Clark County. Pumpkin, apple, pear, cinnamon are easy to understand. But, then there’s pumpkin spice. Starbucks introduced its famous (or infamous depending on your PSL leanings) Pumpkin Spice Latte in 2003. Since its introduction into popular American food culture it’s caused confusion: What does pumpkin spice mean?

Part of the problem is that the original PSL didn’t contain pumpkin. Yes, pumpkin spice doesn’t necessarily have pumpkin in it. It can mean a mixture of spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves) that can be found in the spice section in grocery stores in a container labeled pumpkin spice. To add more to this squash-related quagmire, Starbucks added pumpkin to its PSL in 2015.

In addition to creating bewilderment, the outrageous success of Starbucks’ PSL has inspired an endless amount of pumpkin spice products. Buffalo Wild Wings offers pumpkin spice wings and a Beemster cheese with pumpkin spice. Pumpkin spice groceries wind themselves around the aisles of Trader Joe’s for several months each fall. What has been the local response to this onslaught of pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and allspice?

Feeling hot

If you crave a unique and less cloyingly sweet version of the pumpkin spice latte, many local, independent coffee shops offer their takes on this autumn icon.

Relevant Coffee’s Great Pumpkin balances the lusciousness of pumpkin with a tingly mix of spices. Owner (and coffee mixologist) Mitch Montgomery created this drink for his wife, Kelly, who loves pumpkin spice lattes. Montgomery explained, “She would always look forward to this time of year when she could get one of her favorite flavors. The only problem was she always said they were too sweet or fake-tasting. She would order half sweet often but usually the PSL flavor was lacking. I challenged myself to create a PSL that was not only less sweet but actually be delicious and taste like real pumpkin.

“The outcome is the Great Pumpkin. We use real pumpkin pie filling and a bunch of holiday spices along with sweetened condensed milk to give a nice creaminess, so in essence we make a pie filling and add it to your drink. Soon we will be adding a PSL marshmallow to the top to really kick it up a notch.”

Ken Fletcher of Paper Tiger Coffee Roasters offers two versions of this seasonal drink — a pumpkin latte and a pumpkin pie latte. The first version uses a Fletcher’s house-made pumpkin spice syrup made of real pumpkin and spice. But, Fletcher isn’t heavy on the spices. He explained, “If I want spice, I’ll have a chai.”

The pumpkin pie latte is a more decadent affair — an espresso drink with pumpkin, almond cookie butter, heavy cream, spices, and whipped cream on top. It’s best consumed before a long nap.

If you prefer a more spice-forward, chai-like fall drink, Thatcher’s Coffee has an Autumn Spice Latte that tastes like a PSL visited Mumbai. Thank you, Thatcher’s, for avoiding confusion by calling this autumn spice; because, there isn’t any pumpkin in this drink. The dominant flavors are the bitterness and chocolate notes from the espresso (Thatcher’s Blend from Roseline Coffee), sweetness from vanilla syrup, and the spiciness of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Other chai ingredients such as ginger and cardamom would go nicely in this mix. This drink can also be ordered vegan by requesting almond, soy, coconut or oat milk.

Hidden River Roasters has a sign outside its coffeeshop announcing its house made pumpkin spice syrup. Despite the popularity of this drink, it’s tricky to mix coffee with spices. Hidden River does a nice job of accenting the richness of the chocolate notes in the coffee with pumpkin spice syrup by creating a careful balance of sweet, spice, and cream.

Sweet treats

Upon gazing into the baked good case at Di Tazza Gourmet Coffee Shop, it appeared that the Pumpkin Spice Fairy arrived overnight in her Pumpkin Spice Mobile and waved her Pumpkin Spice Wand all over this cozy cafe.

Alas, no. Owner Dana Carpenter or one of her two bakers, Kyley Grabner and Calvin Goon, came in at their regular time (3 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.) and baked almost a dozen different pumpkin spice treats. They include: pumpkin spice bundt cake, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, pumpkin walnut scones (with pumpkin frosting), pumpkin cream cheese rolls, and gluten free pumpkin cinnamon rolls. If you aren’t pumpkin-spiced out, there’s also a delicious pumpkin spice white chai, which you can sip while enjoying all the other pumpkin spice goodies.

Treat’s apple hand pies are a delight. These gorgeous hand pies with a buttery, flaky crust swirled around sliced local apples topped with a crumble of brown sugar are gone in four bites and very hard to share (for many reasons).

At Monica Kersey’s Chandelier Bakery at the Padden House, you will find pumpkin drop scones with a cinnamon glaze and a cream cheese center. She also offers pumpkin oatmeal cookie cream pies — two chewy pumpkin oatmeal cookies sandwiching a layer of cream frosting. She also makes a vegan pumpkin cheesecake that will be around until Christmas. It’s best to call ahead to make sure this vegan treat is available and to request vegan whipped “cream” topping. Her house-made pumpkin spice mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove and allspice tingles the tongue as you consume her fresh baked goodies.

Frost on the pumpkin

Frozen foods like frozen custard or ice cream are usually consumed in warm weather. But obeying this rule will rob you of some of the best autumn treats. One of the many good things about eating frozen goodies in the winter is that they don’t melt quickly. You can take your time savoring every bite without worrying about filling your lap with ice cream soup.

Conway Family Farm’s Country Store in Camas has freshly churned pumpkin goat milk ice cream with real pumpkin mixed with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Goat milk ice cream isn’t like a block of frozen chevre. Goat milk has a lower fat content than cow’s milk; so, this ice cream is creamy and at the same time light and foamy. It’s well worth a short car ride to get a pint of this seasonal treat.

Rally Pizza always has one or two seasonal concretes. The concretes are made from vanilla bean frozen custard blended with various crunchy and gooey things mixed it. On a recent visit, the offerings included an apple hazelnut crisp concrete with thick slices of local apples coated in cinnamon sugar and brandy with a toasted hazelnut topping mixed it and sprinkled on top — apple pie a la mode in a cup. There was also a pumpkin cheesecake concrete, with a pumpkin pie syrup mixed with house made sweet and tangy gingersnap crumbs.

As fall turns to winter, co-owner and concrete creator Shan Wickham plans to offer concretes with apple, pear, quince, citrus, and plum preserves. She also has some saffron she’s interested in experimenting with to create golden concretes (possibly with pear).

Over the years, Wickham has found that pumpkin spice mania is a fleeting phenomenon. She explained, “Pumpkin sells initially and then stops. People get over-pumpkined.”

So, go slow. Don’t get pumpkin-ed out. Try these goodies now; because, by Christmas they’ll be replaced by chocolate peppermint, gingerbread, and eggnog.

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