Fall means sweaters and hayrides, corn mazes and crispy leaf piles. It also means the return of temporary and coveted pumpkin spice-flavored food and drink.
In 2015, Forbes projected pumpkin spice as a $500 million industry. The craze, fueled in no small part by Starbucks’ immensely popular Pumpkin Spice Latte, which was introduced 14 years ago, shows no sign of slowing down. In Centre County, the pumpkin spice fanatics are as fervent as anywhere, with pumpkin ravioli, pancakes, doughnuts and danishes among goodies available at local bakeries, restaurants and coffee shops.
The main dish
Dante’s Restaurants Director J.P. Mills said it starts at the beginning of the summer. That’s when they start hearing the question from customers: “When are you starting pumpkin ravioli this year?”
A fall tradition in Centre County, Dante’s staff developed the pumpkin ravioli about 18 years ago at Mario’s Italian Restaurant.
“We worked with Tait Farm, Harner Farm and other local growers on sourcing their tasty pumpkins and using them as inspiration to create the original recipe and tweak it over the years,” Mills said in an email.
The homemade ravioli starts by oven roasting Tait Farm pumpkins, Mills said. They’re incorporated in Dantes’ take on mostarda di cremona, a Northern Italian condiment made of candied fruit and a mustard-flavored syrup and combined with other ingredients, spices and seasonings. The next step is to mix and bake amaretti cookies so they can be crushed and added to the filling mixture. When the filling is complete, Mills said fresh pasta dough is made and rolled into sheets. The filling is added and the large ravioli are cut to shape.
“We then cook each dish to order by pan-finishing them with a brown butter walnut pesto sauce,” Mills said. “Yes, it is as good as it sounds.”
After Mario’s closed this summer, Mills said it was a “no-brainer” to offer pumpkin ravioli at Hi-Way Pizza Pub. That’s where you can find it now through the end of November.
“We are also excited to introduce this seasonal favorite to a new audience of hungry Hi-Way eaters that didn’t frequent Mario’s in the past, so it’s really a win-win all around,” Mills said.
With its own pumpkin patch, it should be no surprise that the Way Fruit Farm bakery in Port Matilda serves up seasonal delights. They include pumpkin danishes, pumpkin bars and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.
“Pretty much anything that you can put pumpkin in, we’ve tried it,” said Megan Coopey, a co-owner who works primarily in the bakery.
Coopey said the most popular item, though, is the pumpkin doughnut they make September through November. For Way’s festivals, including Saturday’s Apple Festival, she estimated 1,000 pumpkin doughnuts are made. Check Way’s Facebook page for updates on what’s cooking, including a Saturday breakfast special of pumpkin pancakes that’s sometimes offered.
At Dam Donuts in Bellefonte, pumpkin doughnuts get a twist with Pumpkin French Toast, Pumpkin Pie and Pumpkin Spice Delight flavors. Of those, co-owner Traci Beck said Pumpkin Pie is the most popular.
“It’s our own recipe — we use pumpkin frosting on top,” she said.
Even as Dam Donuts rolls out its Halloween flavors, pumpkin flavors will still be available until Thanksgiving.
“People get pumpkin fever,” Beck said.
That fever has also spread to Boalsburg, where the Pump Station Cafe has pumpkin cinnamon danishes and pumpkin muffins with cinnamon glaze among its latest offerings, according to the cafe’s Facebook page.
Dolce Vita Desserts in State College has pumpkin spice cupcakes, pumpkin cannoli and pumpkin cookies. The bakery also has gluten-free and vegan pumpkin options.
Washing it down
It’s easy to find a caffeinated pumpkin drink from a local shop — Barranquero Cafe, Irving’s Bagels, Cafe Verve and Saint’s Cafe all have versions in downtown State College. If you’re looking for something with a little (or a lot) more kick, Gigi’s Southern Table has a Pumpkin Whiskey Jar on its current menu with bourbon, Tait Farm pumpkin butter, lemon juice, simple syrup, pimento dram and ginger beer.
Happy Valley Brewing Company has a pumpkin beer that’s so popular, it’s already gone. Head brewer Josh Davies said they made two batches (about 55 kegs) of Scream and started selling it in mid-August. By early October, it was sold out.
“My goal with it is really to make it taste like pumpkin pie, without having the negative comments you hear a lot about pumpkin beers — that it’s too sweet or overspiced,” Davies said.
If you want to try for yourself, be sure to get there early next fall to check it out.