+
upworthy
Most Shared

The weird, true story of how pumpkin-spice everything conquered America.

In 2014, Americans spent over $360 million on pumpkin-flavored products — and that number just keeps going up.

Get ready. GIF from "The Muppets."

Granted, most people only indulge in one pumpkin-spice something per year, and half the time it doesn't even include real pumpkin in it. But love it or hate it — because when it comes to pumpkin spice, it's pretty polarizing — it's hard to deny that pumpkin is the official flavor of fall.


But back in the 16th century, early American settlers weren't exactly looking forward to the pumpkin-flavored everythings.

Native Americans relied on the ribbed orange squash in numerous ways to get them through the winter. So when the European settlers showed up, they followed suit.

Historical footage of colonial Americans settlers, upon first discovering pumpkins. GIF from TY Interwebs/YouTube.

Of course, they'd never seen pumpkins before, but pumpkins were plentiful and also full of starchy sugars, so that seemed like a win. Plus, pumpkins lasted for a long time, and when the other crops ran out, they could use them as beer or as meaty nutrients in their stews. As author Cindy Ott explained in her book, "Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon," "When people had no apples for pies, barley for beer, or meat for supper, they could substitute the prolific pumpkin."

That doesn't mean that any of this pumpkin stuff was good though. Back then, without the spices that we know and love today, pumpkin was just kind of a bland way to get calories into your body.

Historical footage of colonial Americans after realizing that the bland pumpkin was pretty much their most consistent source of food. GIF from San Diego Zoo.

By the early 19th century, the pumpkin craze had become a relic of hearty American nostalgia, or so we thought.

Because pumpkins weren't very tasty, they started to go out of style. And as American prosperity grew, people began to look down on pumpkins as a "last resort" food, something their poor ancestors ate to rough it through the hard times.

But then, in the 1950s, pumpkin pie spice entered the scene.

The first known reference to pumpkin pie spice was published in The Washington Post in 1936. And shortly after World War II, the McCormick spice company began to advertise a pumpkin pie spice mixture as a kind of comfort food, offering a pre-mixed, pre-packaged combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger.

Suddenly, pumpkin's venerable frontier reputation became desirable and delicious — even though it was really the spices and not the pumpkin itself that people were diggin'. (On the bright side, those spices did offer some additional health benefits, though.)

My mother always warned me that if I ate too much of something, I was going to turn into it. GIF from "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers."

And finally, the kicker: In 2003, the pumpkin spice latte burst onto the scene. That's when everything changed.

Basically, it's all Starbucks' fault. There were some other companies offering pumpkin spice coffees (and candles) as early as 1996, but the legendary PSL is what really kicked the trend into high gear. Starbucks was looking for another seasonal drink to compliment its popular winter holiday offerings, and although they tried several other options, there was just something about the pumpkin spice latte.

The limited availability certainly didn't hurt customer excitement. And while the PSL was an immediate hit, it really took off after the recession hit. "Pumpkin became recognized as part of the comfort food trend during the recession in 2008," said Suzy Badaracco of Culinary Tides in an interview with Vox.

Approximately 50% of the American population come August, when pumpkin spice season mysteriously smarts amid the oppressive summer heat. GIF from "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!"

Ott echoed this idea in her book, too. "Those ideas, about last resort and hard times and, ‘Throw the pumpkin in and take care of yourself and your family on your small plot of land,’ became symbols and stories of American survival," she wrote. "It’s these kind of associations that people are buying, and the associations are really positive and affirming."

In retrospect, it seems kind of silly that a once pervasive and annoying squash could become such a phenomenon.

When it comes to pumpkin in particular, there's also the added irony that a "flavor" that harkens back to colonial America and has such strong associations with "whiteness" actually has more to do with imported spices than with the bland squash of its namesake.

White people dancing for pumpkin flavor derived from spices taken from former British colonies. GIF from KXVO15 10:00 News/YouTube.

But this story isn't just the story of pumpkins. It's actually true for a lot of the foods we consider popular today.

For the vast majority of world history, the vast majority of people were very, very poor. The culinary treats that we recognize today were rarely delicacies; they were just what was available at a low cost to feed a lot of people.

Soups and stews like minestrone, gazpacho, and ratatouille, crops like rice and potatoes, bread and polenta, and even a lot of sausages only gained in popularity because they were the only options available, and people needed to eat.

Now, with more people rising out of poverty than ever before, these cultural touchstones of necessity are becoming commodities. Whether that's a good or bad thing is entirely up to your personal taste — kind of like that sweet Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Kevin Bacon's farm songs have become a social media favorite.

When Beyoncé dropped two songs from her upcoming album of country tunes, Renaissance: Act II, she may not have expected to make history, but that's exactly what happened. Her first single from the album, "Texas Hold 'Em," shot to the No.1 spot on the Billboard country music charts, making her the first Black female artist to hit that top spot. The catchy tune also topped the Billboard Hot 100 the last week in February 2024, a week after it debuted at No. 2.

Presumbaly, Queen Bey didn't expect her song to become an Irish stepdance hit, though that's also exactly what happened. And surely she didn't expect it to be sung by Kevin Bacon to a bunch of farm animals, yet that also has happened.

Perhaps we should all have expected that, though. There's a precedent here, after all.

Keep ReadingShow less
Courtesy of Woodell Productions

This speech had all the things, and the Maid of Honor wasn't even there

May we all have a best friend like Ally Lothman.

Lothman had just given birth to her first child (according to Today.com) and was unable to make it to the wedding of her lifelong best friend Michelle Levenson. But Lothman’s Maid of Honor duties were still gloriously fulfilled.

A now-viral video, posted to TikTok by wedding photography and videography company Woodell Productions, shows that even though Lothman couldn’t celebrate in person, her FaceTimed wedding toast managed to bring everyone at the reception—along with everyone who watched online—to tears.
Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Two brothers Irish stepdancing to Beyoncé's country hit 'Texas Hold 'Em' is pure delight

The Gardiner Brothers and Queen Bey proving that music can unite us all.

Gardiner Brothers/TikTok (with permission)

The Gardiner Brothers stepping in time to Beyoncé's "Texas Hold 'Em."

In early February 2024, Beyoncé rocked the music world by releasing a surprise new album of country tunes. The album, Renaissance: Act II, includes a song called "Texas Hold 'Em," which shot up the country charts—with a few bumps along the way—and landed Queen Bey at the No.1 spot.

As the first Black female artist to have a song hit No. 1 on Billboard's country music charts, Beyoncé once again proved her popularity, versatility and ability to break barriers without missing a beat. In one fell swoop, she got people who had zero interest in country music to give it a second look, forced country music fans to broaden their own ideas about what country music looks like and prompted conversations about bending and blending musical genres and styles.

And she inspired the Gardiner Brothers to add yet another element to the mix—Irish stepdance.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

People think everyone should experience these things 'at least once in their lifetime'

Things like seeing an eclipse and having a true best friend make life worth living.

Representative Images from Canva

Here are some things everyone should experience once in their lifetime

If there’s one thing human beings all have in common, it’s our shared impermanence. No matter our race, gender, social class, wealth status, health regimen, moral code, political leaning, or any other divisive element, we all get one life. One life to hopefully fill with as many memorable, soul nourishing, expansive experiences as possible.

But let’s face it, there are more experiences available that there are days and hours in which to do them. Therefore, we have to use discernment. So, which experiences are truly must-haves in our all-too-limited time on this planet?

The answers to this question are undoubtedly personal, but perhaps some things, just like the inevitable exit of mortal coil, are universal.

According to a recent discussion on Ask Reddit, here are things one must absolutely “experience at least once in their lifetime”:
Keep ReadingShow less
Family

Helicopter's thermal imaging helps save a young autistic girl lost in a Florida swamp

“I just love how the deputy greeted her. What a beautiful ending. You guys are the best!”

A deputy locates a missing girl in a Florida swamp.

A 5-year-old with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) wandered off into a swamp near Tampa, Florida, around 5:00 pm on Monday, February 26. The good news is that the girl was saved in about an hour thanks to the work of some brave sheriff’s officers and their incredible thermal technology.

The girl wandered from her home and was quickly reported missing by her family to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff quickly dispatched its aviation unit that used thermal imaging technology to scan the nearby swamplands to try to find the young girl before nightfall.

Thermal imaging technology captures images based on the heat emitted by objects, allowing us to see temperature differences even in the dark, making it super handy for night vision and heat detection. The thermal technology helped the officers quickly identify the girl from high above the trees.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

10 things kids get in trouble for that adults get away with all the time

Why do we expect children to have more self-control than grown-ups?

Photo by Keren Fedida on Unsplash

Kids know when we're being hypocritical.

Raising kids is tough and no parent does it perfectly. Each child is different, each has their own personalities, strengths and challenges, and each of them requires something different from their parents in order to flourish.

But there's one thing that parents have long said, with their actions if not with their words, that justifiably drives kids bonkers: "Do as I say, not as I do."

To be fair, both moral and actual law dictate that there are things that adults can do that kids can't. Children can't drive or consume alcohol, for example, so it's not hypocritical for adults to do those things while telling kids they cannot. There are other things—movies, TV shows, books, etc.—that parents have to decide whether their kids are ready for or not based on their age and developmental stage, and that's also to be expected.

But there are some gaps between what adults do and what they expect kids to do that aren't so easy to reconcile.

Keep ReadingShow less