If 2020 has turned you into an unexpected expert in making homemade treats, maybe it's time to start pondering the pumpkin.
Einstein Bros. Bagels announced in September it won't be producing any pumpkin-spiced products in 2020, citing pandemic difficulties. And since 'pumpkin spice latte' isn't a flavor found in nature anyway, maybe this is a sign to step away from the processed drinks and turn over a new leaf. (Because you know that pumpkin is a squash and doesn't really taste like cinnamon and syrup on its own, right?)
These ideas will inspire you to have fun with real pumpkins and give you a whole new list of creative at-home projects as the seasons change. At the store or farmers market, look for sugar pumpkins or milk-fed pumpkins. These are the ones best suited for cooking, not carving.
Homemade pumpkin spice blend
If what gets you going every fall is the taste of pumpkin spice, it's not the actual pumpkin you're craving. It's the spice blend (amped up with sugar) that flavors lattes, cereal, Twinkies and more.
But now that we're all experts in cooking from our pantry, why not stir together a simple homemade pumpkin spice blend so you can pumpkin spice-ify anything your heart desires at home?
Pumpkin spice blend is a simple combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. Try this recipe and adjust the proportions as desired to make a custom blend that's perfectly suited to your taste.
For a mostly hands-off project that pays in dividends, pumpkin butter is the way to go. It can be made in a slow cooker, on the stove or in the oven. And once everything's in the pot, the mixture cooks down while you get everything else done.
Use 1 cup granulated sugar and 1½ teaspoons pumpkin spice blend for every 3 pounds cubed pumpkin. Stir together in a large Dutch oven or slow cooker. Simmer over medium-low heat or cook in a 350-degree oven for 1-2 hours, or set the slow cooker to low for 10 hours.
Once the pumpkin is very soft, puree with a stick blender or mash by hand for a more rustic texture.
If you like sweet potato fries, give pumpkin fries a try. Just like their root vegetable cousins, pumpkin fries can be baked in the oven or crisped up in the air fryer, and can skew savory or sweet depending on your cravings. This method also works with other squash varieties, like delicata or kabocha.
Peel and slice pumpkin into matchsticks and toss with olive oil and your preferred spice blend, then bake in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes or cook in an air fryer, stirring halfway through, for 15 minutes until browned.
Want them even crispier? Bread them in panko, just like you would a chicken cutlet, and add spices like cinnamon and sugar for churro-style pumpkin fries or Parmesan and garlic for Italian fries.
Dinner parties might not be on the calendar anytime soon, but even family dinner nights can get a little thrill when you serve fondue out of a real pumpkin. (Hey, it's allegedly one of Meghan Markle's favorite recipes!)
You can either fill a pumpkin with layers of bread, cheese and cream, then roast the whole thing; or pour stovetop-made fondue into a pumpkin. Either way, it's cheesy fun. The second option also allows for you to serve a white chocolate fondue for dessert.
And because the pumpkin itself doesn't have to be eaten — just the gooey fondue inside — you can make mini fondues for everyone in the family with smaller pumpkins. Bonus points for helping use up all the globes you just picked in your socially distant outing.
Is an oven-roasted pumpkin not ambitious enough for you? How about roasting a whole pumpkin in your backyard fire pit or in a campfire?
The method is almost too simple: Nestle a hollowed-out pumpkin directly in the coals of a fire and let it cook until a knife inserted into the pumpkin goes through easily, keeping the hot coals and fire going around it.
Once your pumpkin is roasted, it will be deeply charred on the outside. No matter — you're not here for the skin. Move it out of the coals until it's cool enough to handle, then scoop out the soft flesh inside and blend until smooth. Use this homemade puree for any pumpkin treat that strikes your fancy, like a pumpkin pie milkshake.
(You can also roast a pumpkin on the grill, but it's not quite as dramatic.)
Pumpkin beer chili
Even if you're not a fan of pumpkin beer, chances are you might have a can or two left in the fridge by some well-meaning friends. Don't dump them down the drain — make recipes that use the slight sweetness and spice of the beer style to their advantage, like chili.
Substitute any pumpkin beer for the hard cider in this recipe, which gives you a chance to use homemade pumpkin puree from your roasted pumpkin. You can also cube the pumpkin in place of butternut squash in any chili recipe, like this one that also includes pumpkin beer.
And don't forget, roasted pumpkin seeds make a great chili topping.
Pumpkin beer bread
Or are you in the mood for beer bread? Pumpkin bread? How about both?
Pumpkin beer bread has two things going for it: The yeast in the beer works with sugar, baking powder and flour as a turbocharger to help the bread rise quickly in the oven. Adding pumpkin puree gives it moisture and structure.
And when you're using real pumpkin and not a canned puree, you control the level of sugar and spices in the finished loaf.
Try this recipe and get all the fall feels without any of the fake flavors.