For several years now, pumpkin spice has been the flavor and scent that lets many of us know that it is officially fall. We’ve got the usual suspects of lattes, candles, and lotions – just to name a few. But these days, the list just continues to expand, including things like pumpkin spice flavored M&Ms, cream cheese, and even chips. However, this homey and nostalgic flavor didn’t just recently become a part of fall. Let’s have a closer look at the origins of pumpkin spice.
While pumpkin spice may taste like a delicious homemade pumpkin pie, many don’t realize that the vast majority of pumpkin spice products have no pumpkin in them. The presence of the squash’s flavor is actually from the fact that these are spices we have associated with pumpkin cooking for a long time. So when did this blend of spices (which includes cinnamon, allspice, clove, and ginger) start being referred to as “pumpkin spice'”?
Early American settlers may have made pumpkin pies that contained similar spices as early as 1620, by making stewed pumpkins or by filling a hollowed out shell with milk, honey and spices, and then baking it in hot ashes. But it isn’t until 1936 that we find the earliest popular mention on record for anyone using the term “pumpkin spice” for this blend of flavors. That year, the Washington Post published a recipe for “Pumpkin spice cakes”. With the title “Spice Cake Of Pumpkin Newest Dish: Delicacy Tempting to All Appetites and Easy to Prepare. Ideal Dessert for Family Dinner, Healthful for Children”, this dish made use of the popular flavors we know and love today, while also containing actual pumpkin.
It wasn’t until the 1950’s that spice companies actually began selling blends labeled “pumpkin pie spice”, which was then simplified to “pumpkin spice” in the 1960’s. While these flavors had been frequent companions in pumpkin pie for some time, cooks soon began to get more comfortable using the blend in a variety of other dishes, often those containing other squashes or sweet potatoes.
While everyone may assume that Starbucks was first company to begin the modern pumpkin spice craze, it actually appears that a candle company in New Mexico beat them to it, releasing a pumpkin spice candle in 1995. Soon after that, small coffee shops around the country began to become interested in the spice blend, and pumpkin spice coffee started showing up everywhere. By the early 2000’s, someone had realized the flavors were even more delicious if you added milk and sugar, creating the latte. And, well, you know the rest.