Welcome, dear readers, to The Takeout Draft, our recurring feature that combines our love of food, fantasy sports, and arguing on Slack.
Every week, we will select a topic of conversation from the food and drink world. Takeout writers will then field a team via the snake draft format. After five rounds, The Takeout commenteriat will vote on who they believe was victorious in that week’s draft. At the end of 2020, the staffer with the most weekly victories will select a charity of his/her choice that The Takeout will make a donation toward. (The 2019 victor, Kate Bernot, selected the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild National Charity Foundation.)
The previous Takeout Draft: Best Ballpark Food drew many passionate voters who were more than ready to reminisce about summers past. After a tight race throughout the first day of votes, Aimee Levitt pulled ahead and scored a well-earned victory with expert picks like garlic fries and lemon slushie (as well as an unexpected swerve toward lobster rolls in the final round). Congrats, Aimee!
This week’s draft is nothing if not seasonal, and it’s equally likely to delight and disgust you: Best pumpkin spice items. Is this a joke? Maybe. Are we about to take our Draft duties very, very seriously? Absolutely.
Competing in the Thunderdome this week are members of the Takeout staff: Aimee Levitt, Allison Robicelli, and Marnie Shure. The randomizer has selected a draft order:
Now let’s cozy up to fall’s coziest flavor.
Marnie: Okay, let’s kick it off with the acknowledgment that Aimee winning the Best Ballpark Food draft is appropriate, since she’s the biggest (only?) baseball fan of the three of us.
Allison: Everybody loves hot dogs.
Marnie: And garlic fries. This Draft will be tough to win people over with. But Allison’s got first crack at it.
Allison: Wait... I have the first pick? I can’t remember the last time this happened! I’m so overwhelmed!
Marnie: Use it wisely
Allison: Alright, so obviously my first pick has to be the iconic pumpkin spice latte. It’s the crossover item that made us a pumpkin-crazy nation.
Aimee: An icon!
Marnie: OF COURSE
Allison: Once upon a time, back in the Dark Ages, coffee and pie were two entirely separate things. No one had dreamed they could be together in one cup.
It changed the way we see everything. There would be no Cronut without pumpkin spice lattes. No sushi burritos. Why have one when you can have both?
Marnie: Do you think its popularity is deserved?
Allison: I am a devoted black coffee drinker, and I still get a PSL whenever the first crisp day of fall arrives, and one on Thanksgiving morning.
Aimee: There almost wasn’t a Pumpkin Spice Latte. Starbucks didn’t think people would like it!
Allison: I don’t know how anyone could drink them regularly, but they’re a nice treat. And, nowadays, a good reason to get out of the house.
Going out to get a PSL is not an errand. It’s an event.
You need a special outfit that includes a soft sweater, and maybe a scarf. You need to inform everyone you know on social media before, during, and after.
Aimee: You need to be Mr. Autumn Man!
Marnie: That would have been my first pick too. So now I’m in a lurch. But I’ll say Pumpkin Spice Tea. Because we always talk about how it’s really just spices like clove and nutmeg and cinnamon, and those are nice in a warm drink beyond coffee.
Allison: You know, I don’t know if I’ve ever tried this. How does it differ from chai?
Aimee: No milk?
Marnie: It’s probably just like any number of other warm spiced teas, just with pumpkiny marketing. But Trader Joe’s “Pumpkin Spice Rooibos” tin is adorable, dammit!
Aimee: Of course it is.
Marnie: I fall for it every time. And it’s not as sweet as a PSL.
Aimee: Well, few things are. But maybe if you dumped in a few tablespoons of sugar?
Marnie: I’m obviously down to experiment with sugar
Allison: Or actual pumpkin...
Aimee: That would spoil it! It’s about the SPICE!
Allison: What about blending pumpkin with maple syrup, and putting a spoonful of that in your tea?
Aimee: Huh. That could either be really good or amazingly terrible.
Marnie: TBD.... First pick, Aimee?
Aimee: Pumpkin bread!
Marnie: Oh damn, of course
Allison: There has never been a day where a pumpkin bread has been in front of me and I didn’t eat the whole thing.
Aimee: I especially love the recipe in Joy of Cooking. It’s sweet and spicy and perfect.
Marnie: The “spicy” makes all the difference. I think it should make your nose wrinkle a little.
Aimee: But I also love the pumpkin challah in The Jewish Cookbook. I made a couple last week and they make the best French toast.
Allison: I used to make a pumpkin brioche and use it to make bread pudding. It was pretty damn amazing.
Aimee: My next pick is pumpkin spice waffles.
Marnie: You were born for this draft
Aimee: I was actually torn between waffles and pancakes, but I love waffles more, so that’s what I’m going with.
Allison: I have not had these either, and am wondering how these particular waffles have been pumpkin spiced.
Is there pumpkin in the batter? Poured on top?
Aimee: In the batter, and mixed with the ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.
Marnie: Does it need cream cheese drizzle on top to really sing?
Aimee: Oooooh, yes, that’s genius!
Allison: I’m thinking of the recipe I did last year for butternut squash pavlova, but making the topping with pumpkin and putting it on a stack of Belgian waffles.
Every possible idea I have for pumpkin waffles is a good one. This can’t go wrong.
Marnie: Aimee’s double whammy of delicious pumpkin spice carbs has me reeling. How can my second pick compete?
Aimee: I believe in you!
Marnie: I will say pumpkin spice Cheerios. Getting to drink pumpkin spice cereal milk is a lovely way to start the day.
And it’s a nice contrast with all the hot pumpkin spice stuff we usually eat and drink
Allison: Oh GODDAMNIT that was my pick!
Allison: I was apprehensive about buying that, but I had to because of the pumpkin spice bet I have with my husband. When we tried them, the Cheerios made the milk taste like pumpkin pie custard.
Aimee: Cereal milk FTW!
Allison: We bought like 20 boxes so we could enjoy them all winter. It was a fine decision.
Marnie: Allison, what’ll you choose now that I’ve swooped into the cereal space?
Allison: I’m going to take pumpkin spice ice cream, much for the reason you picked the Cheerios—it’s a nice cold option, in contrast to the PSL and so many other pumpkin spice’d foods.
Aimee: With caramel sauce and lots of whipped cream! Maybe pecans?
Marnie: Ooo, any particular brand?
Allison: Remember those Talenti layer things I love? They’ve got a pumpkin pie one now with pie crust and stuff.
Marnie: DAMN I want to try that
Allison: What’s also nice: we’re all so ready for fall the second Labor Day is over, but it’s still hot. And even though it’s hot, I’m STILL wearing a cute jacket outside, out of principle.
Marnie: True. We need pumpkiny items for the last legs of summer
Aimee: With the hot sun of summer but the cool breeze of fall...
Allison: I anticipate eating a LOT of ice cream over the next five weeks or so.
Next up: pumpkin pie toaster strudel. You can debate the need for pumpkin spice-anything all you want, but when you see pumpkin toaster strudel, it’s like “this makes perfect sense”
There’s nothing to quibble about. It’s a thing, and it should be a thing.
Aimee: This is true. It’s like a pie.
Allison: If anything, the pumpkin spice latte walked so that pumpkin spice toaster strudel could run.
Aimee: That’s beautiful. Brought a tear to my eye. (Pumpkin spiced tear, of course.)
Marnie: Only major downside of toaster strudel is that you absolutely have to warm it, whereas a Pop-Tart is flexible and can be eaten room temp. But a warm toaster strudel really is amazing
Allison: What I don’t like about pumpkin Pop Tarts is that they should be better. It’s like, if Pop Tarts respected us, it could be amazing. But they don’t. They phone it in.
Aimee: I feel that way about most Pop Tarts.
Marnie: Okay, my third pick might be....controversial. But hear me out: pumpkin pie
Aimee: Ha ha!
Marnie: The original pumpkin spice item
Aimee: It’s true! It’s so obvious, no one even thinks of it anymore. Someone should call it pumpkin spice pie.
Allison: Pumpkin pie is one of my favorite “bed pies.” Have I told you about that concept?
Marnie: Sounds self-explanatory
Allison: I wrote about it a few years ago. It’s essentially a family bonding experience where we all stay in bed and eat an entire pie together from the pan while watching old cartoons, like Garfield’s Halloween and Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Pumpkin is ideal for this.
Allison: The filling isn’t going to plop out all over the sheets. And the crust isn’t ultra crumbly
Aimee: Ah, yeah, I guess you wouldn’t have bits of fruit falling all over the sheets.
Allison: If made well, you can pick up a slice of pumpkin pie and eat it with your hands. Just like pizza (non-folded, of course). I very much encourage both of you to try this.
Aimee: And you can squirt the whipped cream directly into your mouth. No mess!
Allison: You understand me, Levitt!
Aimee: My next pick continues the carb theme: doughnuts!
Aimee: Rolled in lots of cinnamon sugar.
Marnie: STOP TAKING THE GOOD THINGS WHILE I FAIL TO THINK OF THEM
Allison: I have not had a good doughnut in a while, and now it’s all I can think about.
Marnie: So just to be clear, we’re not talking about a filled doughnut
More like a cider doughnut, but pumpkinified?
Aimee: Well, I suppose you could... but yes, I was thinking of the cakey doughnuts. I love cider doughnuts so much.
Allison: Know what we need to do? Make pumpkin spice versions of the air fryer doughnuts I posted about in March. All we’d need to do is roll them in pumpkin spice! And maybe top them with pumpkin ice cream.
Marnie: Yes please
Aimee: Oh, yes. With a variation for the stove!
Allison: Here’s your variation for the stove: fry it in hot oil just like any other doughnut. There ya go.
Aimee: My next pick is pumpkin spice oatmeal. With lots of brown sugar.
Marnie: Interesting—does it come in that flavor or do you add the spices to make it that way?
Aimee: Quaker does make that flavor, but I’ll bet you could just add the pumpkin spice if you want to do homemade.
My philosophy is that anything that tastes good with cinnamon would also taste good with pumpkin spice.
Marnie: Yes, I can’t imagine anyone being all in on cinnamon but out on nutmeg. Cloves? Mayyyyybe divisive. But it all seems to speak to the same palate
Aimee: Warming spices!
Allison: And it’s coldest in the morning! This is science.
Marnie: How does the pumpkin factor in if you make it yourself? Pumpkin puree right in there with the oats?
Aimee: The beauty of pumpkin spice is that there doesn’t have to be pumpkin. Only spice: the blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves.
Allison: Yup! You can just stir it right in, with a bit of spice, and maybe some maple syrup to sweeten.
Aimee: (Unrelated: I am sitting outside and my neighbor just brought home a pumpkin.)
Marnie: I’m going to try to court the CPG crowd with a busy, on-the-go pumpkin spice item: the Spiced Pumpkin Pie CLIF Bar
Allison: Never eaten this! I had a Clif bar once in the early 2000s, and that was the end of that.
Marnie: Yeah, you either love them or hate them. I love that they actually feel substantial, like you just had breakfast. Regular granola bars never make me feel that way. And the Pumpkin Pie CLIF Bar comes with a drizzle of icing that, in my opinion, could stand to be paired with a lot more pumpkin spice items.
Pairs great with coffee! People are going to hate me for this but it’s my truth!
Aimee: That’s fine. You have every right to it.
Marnie: Aimee, do you have a firm stance on CLIF bars?
Aimee: I do not because I’ve never had one.
Marnie: I somehow think you’d despise them.
Aimee: I think so, too, which is why I’ve never had one.
Marnie: Last two picks, Allison!
Allison: Alright — my fourth pick is pumpkin butter. What makes this so great is it has the power to make anything into pumpkin spice.
Marnie: Here’s my question with pumpkin butter: what does it work best on? I can never figure out what to apply it to
Allison: You can stir a spoonful into your oatmeal, or put it on ice cream, or into your coffee or tea. Literally anything.
Warm milk! Pancakes! Toast!
Serve it with pork chops, smear it on cookies or graham crackers.
Marnie: Has an application ever failed spectacularly??
Aimee: This is like the shrimp scene in Forrest Gump.
Allison: ^^^and shrimp is a bad place to use apple butter.
But if you don’t know how to restrain yourself when feeding yourself pumpkin butter you should just stop cooking. Let other people do it for you. You can’t be trusted.
Marnie: Easy to make?
Allison: Very! I shared my super-easy apple butter recipe here last fall. You can do that with cubed pumpkin, or canned. As always, just keep an eye on things, because it’s all visual cues on that one. The line between apples and pumpkins in fall desserts is very thin.
Marnie: That’s a good utility pick and I feel like the voters will reward you for it.
Unless you mess it all up on the last pick.....
Allison: Don’t think I am, because I’m reaching into my personal back catalog again and going with pumpkin pie pudding. You know me and pudding.
Marnie: Picking your OWN RECIPE on the final round is A POWER MOVE
Allison: Damn straight it is.
Marnie: I begrudgingly respect this decision
Please tell us what makes it a worthy pick, for those of us who haven’t tasted its majesty yet
Allison: Pumpkin pudding is much creamier and luxurious than pie! And easier to make, in a way. You don’t need to fuss with the oven, and don’t need to worry about making a pie crust. I make a pie crust better than anyone, and honestly do enjoy the process, but it adds a good amount of time to the process.
Sometimes you’re okay with waiting a few hours for pie. And sometimes you’re like “I want pumpkin something within the hour,” and this is what can get you there.
Marnie: A shortcut to immediate pumpkin spice intake is key
Allison: Exactly. There’s a ton of variables I consider when coming up with recipes.
One of them being “how long do I have to wait before I eat this dessert”
Aimee: That’s always an important one.
Marnie: Sometimes you don’t need to consider cook time at all. Because sometimes the thing you want is not edible in the least. Folks, my last pick is a pumpkin spice candle. To make EVERY room in the house smell delicious, not just the kitchen!
Aimee: Ha ha!
Marnie: It is a far-reaching, long-lasting pumpkin spice item. Perhaps the most cost-effective, too.
Aimee: AND if you don’t like pumpkin, it’s still mostly a pleasurable experience.
Marnie: A signal of the changing seasons! Coziness incarnate. People of all palates can agree on smells, can’t they?
Allison: I believe I have at least ten of these in my house right now.
Even if it’s not fall outside, it can be fall inside, whenever you damn well please. You guys need to try lighting up one of those bad boys in April and see how that changes you.
Aimee: As long as they’re not those cinnamon brooms. I don’t know why, but they annoy the crap out of me.
Allison: What are these cinnamon brooms? Another midwest thing?
Aimee: They sell them at Trader Joe’s. They’re in the front where you first walk in, with the pumpkins and the plants, so you can’t avoid them.
Marnie: They look sort of sinister
Aimee: Exactly. They’d be good for witches, but they smell like cinnamon which is somehow not exactly witchy.
Marnie: Too inviting.
Anyway, last pick goes to Aimee! What’s it gonna be?
Aimee: My last pick is... pumpkin spice cotton candy. Mostly because I would really like to find out if you can taste the spices.
Marnie: Ex.......cuse me
Marnie: Does.....does it exist outside of your mind?
Aimee: Yes, it does!
This is the first time I’ve really thought about cotton candy having a flavor. Isn’t it usually just sugar, in technicolor?
Allison: I do not like cotton candy, and yet I want to try this.
Aimee: Once I tried a rosé cotton candy and it tasted like rosé if you did the taste equivalent of squinting.
Oh my god, this company makes lots of other flavors.
These people are geniuses!
Marnie: I’m excited to let this Takeout Draft loose upon the world.
Aimee: Because no one is tired of pumpkin spice yet!
Who won this week’s Takeout Draft? Vote in the comments.