Full disclosure: I love some basic things, like bathroom mirror selfies, pressed juices, saying “sweater weather,” hate-watching every episode of Emily In Paris in one sitting, and, naturally, anything pumpkin spice. But most of the seasonal pumpkin spice items on the market taste more like spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. When I had my first pumpkin spice latte, I chuckled and asked, “Where’s the pumpkin?”
When I was growing up in Jamaica, our drinks had that unmistakable pumpkin taste: earthy, rich, and slightly sweet. Jamaicans are skilled at turning fruit and vegetables into delicious beverages: juice, punches, and “drinks.”
Drinks are cheap to make, light and refreshing, and you can have them at any time throughout the day. Until I attended chef school in Toronto, I didn’t know that they had a specific name: agua fresca. In Jamaica, we just called them “drinks.” They are made from water, blended fruit, lime juice, and sweetened with sugar. For a bit of razzmatazz, you can add beverage crystals, cordials, or fruit-flavored syrups. Juices, on the other hand, are made from 100% fruit and consumed mainly at breakfast.
And then, for Sunday dinners or special occasions, there are punches. Real Jamaican punches are fortified with dairy and alcohol (for the adults) and thickened to the consistency of Ensure. If you were to have enough, it could be a meal replacement. In Jamaica, almost anything can make a punch—peanuts, oats, carrots, Irish moss, soursop (guanábana), and, of course, pumpkin.
It was a journey for me to perfect my pumpkin punch skills. It’s like zabaglione: you don’t wake up one day and have it down pat. My first few tries tasted of just rum; the spices seemed to have gotten lost. Though I was following a recipe, the proper technique is integral to a successful pumpkin punch.
My dad used to make the best batch, as he would remind you every time you closed your eyes as you took a sip. It became a bit much. But my mom and I would trade our peace of mind for his gloating and a pitcher of pumpkin punch. It would take me close to 20 years to dethrone him.
Our punch starts with fresh pumpkin. To borrow a phrase from the Barefoot Contessa, if you don’t have fresh pumpkin, “store bought is fine.” It’s a pandemic; if you can only get canned pumpkin, go for it. Peel, deseed, and cut the pumpkin into cubes, then boil until it’s super soft. The water that the pumpkin was boiled in will be used in the drink. That’s the trick to making this punch tasty and delicious. (If you are using canned puree, plain water is fine.) Combine the pumpkin puree and pumpkin water with condensed milk, coconut milk, rum, stout, and a pumpkin spice blend. Pour it all over ice and be warned: with one sip, you’ll lose your religion.
A friend of mine first had pumpkin punch in a park in London, when a Jamaican vendor was walking around selling homemade bottles of the stuff. He called me immediately. He couldn’t believe what he was tasting and asked why I had never made it for him. This year, I’ll gift him a bottle.
Now that we’re in the thick of pumpkin season and the holidays are fast approaching, you, too, can give your pumpkin spice a Jamaican flair. Delight your senses—and your own friends—with a pumpkin beverage that’s anything but basic.
Makes two and a half quarts of punch
- 3 cups cooked pumpkin, crushed (about 1½ lbs. before cooking; cooking instructions below)
- 5 cups pumpkin water (the liquid used to cook the pumpkin) or plain water
- 1 cup canned coconut milk
- 1 cup condensed milk
- 1 ⅓ cups stout (Guinness is an excellent choice)
- ⅓ cup Jamaican spice rum (I recommend Appleton Estate)
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp. mixed spice (a spice blend typically used in baking that comprises cinnamon, coriander seed, caraway, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, and mace)
- 1 Tbsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. grated nutmeg
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- ⅛ tsp. almond essence
- ⅛ tsp. rose water
- Pinch of ground cloves
- Pinch of salt
Peel, deseed, and cube one and a half pounds of pumpkin. Place in a stock pot, add a pinch of salt, and cover with water. Boil until the pumpkin easily comes apart with a spoon. Turn off heat and set aside to cool.
Once completely cool, blend pumpkin with five cups of the water that it was boiled in. Pour into a pitcher. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir.
Pour over ice and enjoy.
- If you want a sweeter pumpkin punch use the entire can of condensed milk.
- If you want to make a dairy-free version, substitute brown sugar for condensed milk and replace canned coconut milk with canned coconut cream.
- If you can handle your booze, feel free to double up on the spiced rum.