I drank my first Pumpkin Spice Latte one chilly October Sunday in 2005 when my dad made me wait in line for six hours to see Rosa Parks’ casket at the Capitol Rotunda. Between my reverence for that event and the fact that I stopped drinking things with milk and sugar, I now typically experience the fall months free from the grip of the PSL, and I promise it’s not even a little bit wretched.
These days, it’s not just coffee, but also beer, bread, preserves, and basically the entire Trader Joe’s roster from now until the advent calendar drops, that are infected with the flavor of large pulpy squash accented by a cinnamon-forward baking blend. If you too are tired of pumpkin spice hegemony, I welcome you to join me in these alternative flavors of autumn.
Most of the apples sold year-round are months-old and stored in refrigerated rooms pumped with carbon dioxide to prevent spoilage. It shows in their mealy constitution and wan aroma — and it is why I only want to eat apples during months that end in -ber.
Orange vegetables that are not pumpkins
Carrots and sweet potatoes might not inspire the next drink at Starbucks (though you never know with them) but they are comforting in their own right and seasonally appropriate to boot. Most people will think of cake and pie, but a carrot cocktail or sweet potato gnocchi are more exciting ways to celebrate these beta-carotene queens.
Friend of pumpkin and turkey alike, sage is deeply underrated in its ability to provide a savory, dank herbaceous cloak to almost anything, especially when awakened in sizzling browned butter. Save the rosemary for after Thanksgiving.
I don’t know what it is about pecans that makes people save them for the end of the year, except that they are slightly expensive and very fatty. I love them because they taste a little bit more like wood than hazelnuts but not as much as walnuts. Of course they are famous for their contributions to pies, but there is nothing more welcoming than the smell of freshly roasted nuts as long as you don’t let them burn in the oven.
The first heavy red wine of the season
Juicy, chillable red wines have been the fashion for a while now, but once the leaves go crunch and the temperature dips below 60, I want my wine opaque, oaky, and at cellar temperature. Bordeaux, Napa, Rioja, I’m looking at you, at least for a few weeks until I remember that I do in fact prefer white wine year-round.
A baked potato on the grill
Last fall, before there was a Covid vaccine, if you wanted to hang out with a group of people you had to be outside. In my case, that meant congregating around the grill for dinner parties well past the end of warm weather, which is how I realized the perfection of a grill-baked potato.
As Mitch Hedberg famously noted, baked potatoes take an exceptionally long time to cook, but that becomes negligible once you’re sitting around a charcoal fire with a few friends and some drinks and perhaps a nice charcuterie board to start things off. The hour or so it takes for your potatoes to be done will pass with little distress and you will be rewarded with a tender, fluffy, very hot potato that could very well become your favorite thing about fall. Let’s just hope Starbucks doesn’t catch on — I am not ready for a baked potato macchiato.
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