It’s not the pumpkin, it’s the spice

September 28, 2019


Truth be told, we’re not really crazy about pumpkins. It’s the spice we love. A gooey stringy squash full of seeds just isn’t appealing until we mix it with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. It’s a lesson we learn in the kitchen that carries over to other aspects of Southern lifetake what God gave you and make the best of it.

My dad raved about his grandmother’s green tomato tarts. She explained, “Honey, anything’s good if you put enough sugar on it.”  Turning scraps into artistic quilts or corn into buttery grits is nothing compared to what we can do with a pumpkin in the fall. Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother had nothing on us.  

“Pumpkin spice! Pumpkin spice!” is almost a stronger cry around here in October than “War Eagle” or “Roll Tide!” Football may be fun to watch, but it does nothing to make your house smell better. 

We all knew someone like Fonda Faye Frizzer, of the Tuscaloosa Frizzers, who was the kind of girl, that at first glance, was destined to sit home every Friday night. She was the plain pumpkin of all the girls, normally left in the pumpkin patch to rot alone. But dang-it, if she wasn’t the sweetest thing in the world. Everyone just loved Fonda Faye and overlooked her homeliness because the spirited girl radiated genuine kindness. 

Her laughter was contagious, and after a while, you didn’t even notice her two front teeth pointing in opposite directions, much like a real jack-o-lantern. When it was time for Wednesday night church suppers, the bubbly young lady always had boys racing to pull up a folding metal chair to sit next to her. Fonda Faye understood that adding a little sugar and spice can turn the average into something amazing. 

Once you take a bland pumpkin and add spices, amazing things begin to happen. The aroma permeates the house and men, women, children and dogs are magically swept away from a still-hot Southern autumn day to a chilly cornfield in Iowa where we imagine wearing flannel and dancing in barns with scarecrows. If we can’t have a real-life Hallmark autumn with hay bales, hand-knit scarves and tumbling orange leaves, then by-George, we’ll douse everything in sight with pumpkin spice until we at least smell like we have a real fall. 

 We drink sweet tea year-round, but add mugs of hot cider in October, even if it’s still 80 degrees outside. We’re known for frying perfectly good vegetables to a crisp but have yet to develop a recipe for fried spiced pumpkin (I trust my imaginative readers will create at least three versions by tomorrow).  

I bought pumpkin spice hand sanitizer and people swooned over it more than any expensive perfume I’ve worn. Someone gave me toasted marshmallow spice lip balm and my husband wouldn’t leave me alone (well, nothing new there). 

All summer, we smell like coconut suntan lotion and sometimes even fish bait, but we reserve pumpkin spice for October and November — yet another tactic (like the white shoe rule), we use to keep the seasons straight. Off we go to stand in a long line to purchase a spiced pumpkin latte where we’ll fan ourselves while wearing pull-over sweaters and be kept company by Fonda Faye. Bless her heart, she’s so spicy sweet. 

This story first appeared on and in the Mobile Press Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.

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