Colin Nissan’s groundbreaking essay “It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers” originally appeared in McSweeney’s on October 20, 2009, just a few years after Starbucks introduced that godforsaken pumpkin spice latte (the “PSL” for short). Unfortunately, America has been completely fucking unglued about pumpkin spice ever since. If eggnog is akin to drinkable cake batter, the PSL is like drinking liquid pie filling. And with more than 70 pumpkin spice products on their shelves, Trader Joe’s is leading us all, babbling and foaming at the mouth, to a nutmeg-scented padded cell.
Fuck all that.
We may be inundated with the flavor of gourds this time of year, but you can kick pumpkin spice squarely in the nuts. Here are just a few of the better ways to reap this season’s harvest.
Tabor Bread (5051 SE Hawthorne)
This busy little corner bakery sits quaintly in the foothills of Mt. Tabor, and while it might look like any other neighborhood coffee shop, they are not messing around. They mill their own grain! Ancient, toothsome shit like red wheat and einkorn! Their savory whole-wheat delicata scone is filled with tender little hunks of roasted squash and studded with whole cloves of roasted garlic and coarse shreds of parm baked into the top. Good god, it’s delicious.
The Goose (2725 SE Ankeny)
Serving it up Southwest-style, the Goose has butternut squash tacos on their dinner menu as well as during happy hour. You get two of them for $7.50, regardless of which menu you’re holding—which seems kind of like, “what’s even the point of happy hour?” But whatever, right? I mean, vegetarians need tacos no matter what time it is. Plus you get your decorative gourd seasons’ greetings two ways: butternut squash served up with crunchy pumpkin seeds, and then a bunch of other delicious shit like a triple whammy of dairy products, such as smoky chile crema, barn-dank goat cheese, and crumbly-sharp cotija, plus some refreshing cucumber pico.
Little Bird (215 SW 6th)
Holy fuck, does curry taste great with butternut squash. And Jesus, so does sage. Who’d have thought they could all three go together? I’ll tell you who: Gabriel Rucker. You think he won that James Beard Award by dicking around? Fuck no. Here, the squash is sometimes available as a soup du jour so warm and velvety smooth that you’ll take a bath in it, or it’s cubed up and all roasty-toasty with crispy little pepitas for texture. The dribble of slightly spicy curry-sage crème fraîche is good enough to drink by itself. The squash is just a side dish—but who doesn’t love a good side dish, amirite Brad Pitt?
Shut Up and Eat (3848 SE Gladstone)
Why they took their butternut squash sausage-egg biscuit off their breakfast menu, I’ll never know. It was well-balanced perfection and now I don’t believe in nothin’ no more. I mean, I get it. Butternut squash is hard and it fucks up your knives. I will still defiantly smear their roasted butternut squash applesauce on a hash brown patty and eat it while maintaining unbroken eye contact with the line cook.
Chepe’s (17539 SE Stark)
Ayote is a winter squash native to Mexico that tastes like an earthier zucchini, and Chepe’s serves ’em up shredded into melted mozzarella for their queso y ayote pupusas. They come with a little bowl of fresh lettuce-onion slaw that’s been dyed an unsettling shade of yellow (“otherwise it’s just white,” the kid working the front of the house register helpfully explained). Just ignore the lurid color and enjoy the goddamned pupusa. It’s warm, gooey, and vegetal, and at $3.35 a pop it’s a steal. Shit, get two of ’em. Hit it with some of the house-made hot sauce and some pickled onions, and you’re laughing.
Thai Seasons (5824 NE Sandy)
There are tons of places to get pumpkin curry, but Thai Seasons is a clean little spot nestled next door to BTU Brasserie, one of about eleventymillion Viet-Thai joints on Sandy. The kabocha is crinkle-cut into bite-sized chunks and simmered with spicy red curry-infused coconut milk, with julienned jalapeño and red bell pepper, lots of basil to keep it aromatic, and served with a perfect little hemisphere of jasmine rice. Like a mother’s love, it’s a warm bowl of sweet, creamy, spicy comfort.