Remember when Halloween was just a kid's holiday, with simple costumes, low-key trick-or-treating and maybe an apple bob? Now it's a full-fledged marketing opportunity with elaborate yard art, slick costumes and its very own specialty foods.
And we're not just talking pumpkin pie or a slice of pumpkin-tinged cheesecake. There are pumpkin-flavored entrees, appetizers, pastries--even nutrient-rich oils. And desserts of course. Here's a sampling of some of what's available in the area.
DEAN & DELUCA
Leave it to D&D to have the most varied selection of pumpkin-inspired foodstuffs. There's Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil ($17.50 for 8.5 ounces) made in Austria and said to be rich in Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids (it makes a mean vinaigrette, too). And there's pasta, including pumpkin panzotti with sage stripes ($9.50 per pound) and pumpkin gnocchi ($9 per pound). Among the desserts, D&D offers the ubiquitous pumpkin cheesecake and also a pumpkin creme brulee ($9 per pound) as well as a moist pumpkin tea bread ($9.50 for 16 ounces). And there are real pumpkins, of course, plus plenty of interesting gourds. (At Dean & DeLuca, 3276 M St. NW; call 202-342-2500.)
You wouldn't think something as simple as a pumpkin muffin ($1.30) or a pumpkin bar ($1.75) would be memorable, but the ones we picked up at Firehook's main bakery on North Fayette Street in Old Town Alexandria were definite keepers. "That's much better than your average muffin," was how one of our tasters put it after he bit into one of Firehook's cinnamon-dusted muffins, which was moist, smooth and almost velvety. The pumpkin bar--think of a light, moist cheesecake-type filling on a graham- cracker bottom--was equally smooth and creamy, with just the right amount of spice. Yum. (At all Firehook Bakery outlets, with locations in Old Town, Dupont Circle, Farragut Square and Cleveland Park.)
We weren't able to sample the roasted pumpkin and roasted apple bisque ($4 per pound); they won't be available until early next month. But their other fall specialty--pumpkin bread--is available now at $4.75 a loaf. Don't confuse this hefty, rustic round with a dainty loaf of sweet tea bread. This natural sourdough bread is made with roasted pumpkin and roasted pumpkin seeds. Ours, which we bought at the Chevy Chase/D.C. store, was a little light on salt, but had a wonderful texture that would be great toasted. Or topped with cream cheese. (Available at all Marvelous Market stores.)
SUTTON PLACE GOURMET makes a big deal over the seasonal shift to autumn. In the bakery there are more than a half-dozen specialties that contain pumpkin, including the usual cheesecakes and pumpkin pie. The New Mexico Avenue location was all out of the pumpkin and black pepper bread ($5 each), so we couldn't get a look at its promised "whimsical Halloween shape." But we were able to sample the pumpkin tea bread ($5 each) and the pumpkin bar ($2 each), which were both pleasant. We had higher hopes for the beautiful pumpkin cake with caramel icing ($15 each), but it turned out to have little flavor.
Our hopes were also dashed on the savory side too. The pumpkin and sage panzotti ($7.99 for 12 ounces) looked great, but a pasta salad ($9.99 per pound) made with those same panzotti was a big disappointment. Our little group of tasters turned in a split verdict on what was surely the cutest pumpkin item we purchased: baby pumpkins stuffed with chevre risotto ($2.99 each). That day's risotto just had too many onions in it, which overwhelmed the delicate chevre flavor. But for sheer visual impact, they would be a showstopper at your next dinner party. (Available at all Sutton Place Gourmet locations.)
You've got to do a little work with the Pumpkin Spice Quick Bread ($8.50), but not much. This bagged mix comes with instructions for making it in either a bread machine or a conventional oven. We did ours the old-fashioned way, adding eggs, butter and water and baking it in an oven, and it turned out just fine. More of a spice loaf than a pumpkin loaf, but not bad for a mix. (Available at all Williams-Sonoma stores.)
CAPTION: Pretty pumpkins, clockwise from top left: Marvelous Market's pumpkin bread, Firehook Bakery's pumpkin muffin and Dean & DeLuca's pumpkin panzotti. Center, Sutton Place Gourmet's baby pumpkin stuffed with chevre risotto.