As the temperature drops and the leaves begin changing, we know that autumn is finally here. But these days, nothing signifies the start of fall like return of pumpkin flavor.
This time of year, you expect to see pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread in cafes and restaurants. But walk down a supermarket aisle these days and you’ll also see pumpkin cereal, pumpkin Oreos, pumpkin marshmallows, pumpkins bagels, pumpkin soy milk and even pumpkin dog food.
There's a reason for this seasonal pumpkin-boom: Adding pumpkin to things is quite profitable. Last year alone pumpkin-flavored products accounted for more than $360 million in sales nationwide, a nearly 80 percent increase from three years ago.
In New Hampshire, local businesses are also trying to get a piece of the pie.
Chelsey Erikson owns Finesse Pastries in Manchester. She begins her days at 3 a.m., making all the pastries she sells by hand. This season, she’s baking an assortment of pumpkin-flavored treats, including pumpkin pie macaroons, a pumpkin Napoleon and Citrouille Cake -- which is "pumpkin" in French.
“Usually when we stop them for the Christmas time for the winter, people are like, ‘Can you bring it back? Can you special order these?’ So, people go nuts for them,” Erikson said, adding that the most popular is the pumpkin-flavored croissant. Every week she sells 800 of them.
Unlike most pumpkin flavored treats Erikson uses real pumpkins in hers, which she buys at farm stands around the state.
“So we basically just clean it up, we take out the little stem, take out all the insides, so you are just left with the outside. Then we clean that off and usually for the pumpkin croissant and some of the other pumpkin things we roast it first. So we cook it with a bunch of spices until it is nice and soft and then we make a puree out of it and then you can throw that into anything.”
When it comes to coffee, most places, including the True Brew cafe in Concord, use a pumpkin spice syrup -- made up of cinnamon, old spice or cloves, ginger and nutmeg flavors.
Devon Piper, who works at True Brew, said pumpkin is by far the most popular flavor. “Probably during the fall at least 75 percent of the drinks I make are pumpkin something,” Piper said.
You can also get a pumpkin whoopee pie a few blocks away at the Crust and Crumb Baking Company on North Main Street, or a pint of the Long Trail Imperial Pumpkin Ale at The Barley House.
At Granite State Candy Shoppe, which has locations in Concord and Manchester, you can get homemade pumpkin flavored frappes. Jaime Metzger, who works at the shop in Manchester, said the store has gone through three two-and-a-half size tubs of pumpkin ice cream so far this season.
“The current frappe of the week is pumpkin with ginger ice cream. We do pumpkin s’more, and pumpkin cookie dough; we mix pumpkin and cookie dough ice cream, pumpkin and apple pie," Metzger said.
And New Hampshire farm stands, pumpkins have also seen record-breaking sales. At Carter Hill Orchard in Concord owner, Robert Larocque said he's sold three times as many pumpkins as last year.
“Ridiculously busy, it’s been stupid. We had 12-acres of pumpkins with thousands, tens of thousands out there and they are all gone,” Larocque said.
But why and when did pumpkin become such a big deal?
Nelson Barber, the chair of the hospitality department at UNH, points to the past.
“I think because we have slowly moved away from a closer connection to the harvest and maybe our agrarian background, the idea of when you see that first pumpkin, it signifies something warm," he said. "Yes, it's fall, it's harvest time, it’s a special time of year. Halloween might be coming down the road or you think about the Thanksgiving feast.”
Metzger couldn’t agree more. She said pumpkin-based foods, particularly a maple-pumpkin cheesecake, is the staple at her family’s Thanksgiving.
“It’s pretty fair to say that people are fans of pumpkin that’s for sure – 'tis the season right.”