V for Veg: Annual pumpkin controversy spices up the fall season

An early fall treat from Dynise Balcavage's Pies and Tarts with Heart: Raw Baklava-Crusted Apple Pie.
An early fall treat from Dynise Balcavage's Pies and Tarts with Heart: Raw Baklava-Crusted Apple Pie.
Posted: September 20, 2013

AH, FALL: Time once again to rake the leaves, pull out the flannel and petition Starbucks for a vegan Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Yes, this is a thing: Apparently the base syrup has condensed milk - never a secret, but suddenly, in its 10th year, the seasonal beverage has its own change.org petition.

Will it spur Starbucks to change the recipe? Hey, who knows? The company did just that last year when people learned that the red coloring in one of its strawberry drinks was made from crushed bugs.

But I gotta ask: This is where we're drawing a line in the foam? Not, say, over the fact that Starbucks still has no soy creamer, only too-thin soy milk, and for 60 cents extra?

OK, so I'm not hugely invested in the pumpkin crusade. But I did contact the company about the petition. The press person ignored that issue and directed me toward all the other Starbucks drinks that vegans could enjoy during the fall.

Thanks, but if we have to go the "alternate" route, why stay within the confines of one chain? There is, dare I say it, a cornucopia of better ways to get that autumnal fix.

_ Grindcore House, in South Philly ( grindcorehouse.com. 215-839-3333), for instance, has not just a variety of vegan creamers (soy, almond, coconut and more), but Grindcore's own pumpkin spice latte gets its fall launch this week. Give it a try. Maybe the big chains don't, but Grindcore knows how to make vegan snacks and beverages totally delicious.

Grindcore also has cookies, a cool-weather treat now available in multiple "alternate" versions - vegan, but also gluten-free and nut-free.

* Speaking of cookies, a line that has impressed me is Lucy's, carried by many local supermarkets. Given everything that they leave out, these cookies taste surprisingly rich and satisfying.

* As for sweets in general, Andrea Kyan, of Pure Sweets ( puresweets.com, 215-518-9007), is looking to open a garden café just off Rittenhouse Square next spring. For fall, Kyan is concentrating on her line of organic, cold-pressed juices, called Pure Tonics, ranging from fruit-juicy to smoothie to sprouted nut milks.

And cider for fall, of course. Kyan's is made from Gala apples cold-pressed and steeped with cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, ginger root and lemon peels (all organic). "No added sugar," she noted. "We don't normally juice apples because of the high amount of sugar."

As for the Big Issue, Kyan avers that "Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte doesn't even have pumpkin in it. Just the flavors of a pumpkin pie!" Contrast that to Kyan's Pure Tonic Pumpkin Nut Milk - "like drinking pumpkin pie as a smooth milkshake."

She'll also offer a Pumpkin Espresso Nut Milk "for those who want to make this similar to Starbucks."

If you want to stay cozy for fall, make your own comforting concoctions with a timely guide that's just out, Pies and Tarts with Heart , by Philly's Dynise Balcavage (Quarry Books).

While she stresses that the book includes "pies for every season," Balcavage allows that "comforting, warming pies are definitely associated with fall, especially pumpkin pie and apple pie." ( Check out two recipes here.)

The book covers a great variety of plant-based desserts, and savory pies, as well. As it happens, Balcavage's pumpkin-pie recipe was the first she wrote.

"I created that back in the '80s, with tofu," she said, "and people loved it; they couldn't believe it had tofu in it."

On the other hand, if you're "protesting pumpkins," Balcavage chuckles, you could "try one of the other root-vegetable pies, like Surprisingly Sweet Parsnip Pie, which has a fun blend of spices with the almost gingery flavors that I find parsnips have."

Comfort foods are great, but don't just fall into the same dessert, juice or flavored coffee you've been leaning on for 10 years. Check out some of the alternates - there's a whole latte livin' to do!

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist,

writer, musician and 12-year vegan.

"V for Veg" chronicles plant-based

eating in and around Philadelphia.

VforVeg@phillynews.com or

@V4Veg on Twitter.

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