“That’s hard-hitting journalism, Kat.”
Growing up with a mother who watched too many food documentaries, I didn’t have a lot of processed pumpkin food in the fall months of my childhood. “Think of all of the high fructose corn syrup! I love you too much to let you eat that,” my mother would say. To be clear, our household doesn’t aim for excellent dietary habits, as the only hard rule is “don’t become too obese.” Pumpkin pie was a foreign taste until well into my tweens. I can still vividly recall that first bite: so incredibly mediocre, so overhyped, so disappointing. I still remember the cold paper-towel texture of the pale crust and the slime of the fluorescent pumpkin gel that I swallowed with a forced smile. That moment still holds a title on my list of top 20 all time worst gastronomic experiences. Number one on that list is the piece of bear paw I was pressured into eating by my relatives. Number two is the bowl of microwaved orange juice/milk combo I drank when I was four because I thought it would taste like a cozy creamsicle.
But since then, I’ve grown to accept and even like pumpkin. I ask for whipped cream on my pumpkin pie. I enjoyed (ENJOYED) my first pumpkin spice latte a year ago, because I was alone in San Francisco, and the likelihood of running into anyone I knew was slim. Naturally, I ordered a trenta. I almost threw up, as this was my body’s natural reaction to drinking a liter of orange goo. But mentally, I was at peace. My stomach may have been shrieking, but my mind was whimpering, having finally succumbed to my guilty desires of high fructose corn syrup and diabetes. I rode home on BART in a daze, somewhere between this world and the next, as I simultaneously loved and hated myself. I haven’t really been the same since that day.
If you know me, you know that I love Trader Joe’s. For Radar readers
The author, age sixteen, having the time of her life.
on the East coast or perhaps Radar enthusiasts outside of the United States, allow me to explain the earthly paradise that is TJ’s. Trader Joe’s is a magical wonderland of a grocery store that is a tiki-themed shopping experience full of love. And every year, during the fall, Trader Joe’s unleashes a wave of seasonal pumpkin-flavored products. I had a crazy idea. Mid-October, I emerged from the Lafayette Trader Joe’s victoriously. I had a complete list of all of the pumpkin spiced goods available at Trader Joe’s. Three pages of pure glory. The very next day, I pitched the idea Dr. Kojan. With some reluctance, he agreed, and with no reluctance, I went to TJ’s to buy a gourmet meal fit for a queen. I assembled an almighty taste test team, and we set out to challenge our taste buds and our temptation to throw up.
A cart full of everything you’ve ever wanted in your life. There were so much goodness in this cart that I could have sworn I heard Guy Fieri softly whispering “get ready for flavortown” over and over again.
With all of these items, I set up a fine dining experience at school, and invited three official judges. Let’s meet them.
A history teacher with a secret life on instagram, it’s highly possible that a great portion of his 287 instagram posts are about food. He was my teacher for the first two years of high school. Full of good humor, critique, and dedication for the Radar, he’s our guy when it came to selecting judges for a pumpkin spice flavor test. He’s picky, he’s hard to please, and he’s satisfied only by the very best. He’s our Gordon Ramsay.
Pumpkin SPICY fact: His undying love for Carly Rae Jepsen was accidentally revealed to the whole school when he received hundreds of Carly Rae Jepsen fan paraphernalia in the mail, at school!
Christina has great sense of fashion but an even better sense of good food. As senior at College Prep, Christina has been an avid participant in community service, and what better way to serve your community during 7th period than taste fifty dollars worth of pumpkin food? She’s one of the funniest, most down-to-earth people I know, and I’m counting on her to make the heinous parts of the taste test more bearable. Think of her as the Guy Fieri of this crew, minus the platinum spiky ‘do, the red muscle car, and the phrase “flavortown.”
Pumpkin SPICY fact: Her favorite fact is: mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.
Ah, freshmen, always eager to try new things. Our next judge is Harry. Harry is a new member of College Prep, and with his mad ping pong skills, we’ll expect speed and agility when it comes to eating pumpkin mochi with a fork. Although he’s young, he’s unafraid. We have high hopes for this one. As a light hearted judge, Harry is certainly more of a Bobby Flay figure and rather than an Alex Guarnaschelli figure.
Pumpkin SPICY fact: He likes almost everything he eats. Harry is not a picky eater! One has to have a strong diet to support a booming legacy in table tennis.
Guest Mystery Judge!
Judge X is a talented knitter, cook, halloween-costume-maker, jokester, and now, pumpkin-taster! Her laugh is so distinct, so infectious that I look forward to funny announcements during assembly just to hear her giggle. You know who she is, kids.
Pumpkin SPICY fact: She handmade peregrine falcon costumes for her kids for halloween.
Crew’s all here! I set up camp.
An hour later, we ranked them in order of the most edible/enjoyable purchases to the most puke-worthy ones.
Sweet in complexion and taste, these cuties seem to be a clever spin on the classic Cheerio. After chewing for a couple of milliseconds, they develop a pleasant gluey texture. I had a bowl with milk at home after the taste test, and with milk they tasted more like pumpkin-y rice puffs. In final review, these topped the list. This is how it went down:
Everyone else: These were so good!
Kennedy (a guest star): No.
Everyone else: Why?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?
Kennedy: They didn’t taste like pumpkin.
Everyone else: That’s why it was so good.
2. Pumpkin Waffles
I actually started the entire experience with toasted pumpkin waffles with Pumpkin Pie Spice spread. While the pumpkin pie spread was not a favorite, these were delicious. Fluffy, fragrant, and overall more beautiful than I am even with a good hair day, these stole the show and won the award for “Best Pumpkin Spiced Flavor Thing From Trader Joe’s That Actually Tastes Like Pumpkin Wow Is There More No Sorry I Only Bought One Box.” Gold Medal! Blue Ribbon! Kudos to TJ’s! (as always)
3. Fall Harvest Salsa
The story is this: when I first pitched my idea to Koj, I showed him a picture of this salsa. The main ingredient is pumpkin and this little jar of joy supposedly has traces of apple and squash. It quickly became a prominent character of his nightmares. In reality, it was quite tasty if paired with Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Tortilla Chips. (Who comes up with these concepts?) Harry is also pictured in his mini biography enjoying some Fall Harvest Salsa.
4. Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Tortilla Chips
Kojan: *reaches for the bag*
Kojan: *wordlessly grasps a handful of chips using just the tips of his fingers, delicately munches*
Kojan: *nods with purpose*
5. Pumpkin Cream Cheese Spread
In fine dining, there’s usually a cheese course, so this was it. Creamy, sweet, and overall very satisfying, this cream cheese was used as a dip for the chips because my local Trader Joe’s ran out of the Pumpkin Bagels. Tragic, yes. But the show must go on. Kojan, however, was not a fan. He used the words “gross” and “gummy” to describe this delightful spread. No one else agreed with him. Then, he attacked Harry for not being critical enough, saying something along the lines of “Harry likes all of it anyways.” I’ll have to quote check him, but I was too busy enjoying my cream cheese spread.
6. Pumpkin Flavored Pumpkin Seeds
Personally, I thought these were disgusting. I’m mostly mad at their existence because of the redundancy of having pumpkin flavored pumpkin. Nevertheless, people ate these with great vigor and enthusiasm, leaving me to wonder if their taste buds had simply stopped functioning. I hear that the body, under highly rigorous conditions, will shut itself down in an effort to save itself. Although the seeds are roasted quite well, there is a certain musty aftertaste that can’t seem to leave the palate.
7. Pumpkin Pie Mochi Ice Cream
The weirdest thing about this one was that there were pieces of pie crust lodged in the mochi. I initially bought two boxes, one for my mother, who actually enjoyed it. High fructose corn syrup for the win! But not everyone was a fan.
Guest Mystery Judge: This is not what mochi is supposed to feel like. I don’t like this. Please stop eating it.
Everyone: guiltily enjoys it as Guest Mystery Judge looks on sadly.
Guest Mystery Judge: Look at how brittle it is! Not right.
Kennedy: Sensei always says mochi should feel like an earlobe.
Me: *Squeezes my earlobe and bites into the ice cream simultaneously*
8. Pumpkin Seed Brittle
I loved this. Everyone else hated this with a burning passion (even Harry). Heath bars are my favorite candy, so maybe that’s why I had such a soft spot for this. But as popular vote proved, Pumpkin Seed Brittle is not for everyone. I was corrected on this. “Pumpkin seed Brittle is not for anyone.”
9. Organic Frosted Pumpkin Toaster Pastries
They tasted like oxygen and dust. The only reason we kept eating was because we didn’t understand what we were eating. Save these for afternoon snacks when your tastebuds need some time off.
10. Pumpkin Cheesecake
It tastes like what you think it tastes like, but with more misery and disappointment.
Christina: How was it possible to mess this up?
11. Pumpkin Pie Spread
12. Pumpkin Soup
I didn’t know people could feel so strongly about soup until I made them drink this. Fresh out of the state of the art microwaves near the vending machines, This soup promised to sterilize everything in its path. On the very top, there rested a thin layer of film, more thin than a widow’s veil. Sips were taken. Soft swearing could be heard. Internal bleeding probably occurred. Somehow, a tiny carton of pumpkin soup made us all question the decisions we made as humans that led us to the soup. These are also some of my favorite photographs in the world.
Kojan: I thought I was throwing up in my mouth, but it was just the soup.
Bonus: I originally planned to serve TJ’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee, but I bought a version that was specially packaged for a coffee machine we didn’t have. I was determined, so I went home, but we didn’t have it either. Frustrated but determined, I poured the contents of one of the little containers into a mug of boiling water and microwaved it. Within mere seconds, the water spewed everywhere, and I spent the next hour of my life crying and cleaning up. I would include pictures, but I’ve been too traumatized by the experience.
At the end of the day, I’m doing this for a greater good: so you didn’t have to. I consider myself to be a savior of sorts. As always, I’d like to thank Trader Joe’s for giving me the love and support I need to get through high school. I would live in Trader Joe’s if I could. I hope that some of the more negative reviews will not affect my future shopping experiences at Trader Joe’s. I do it all out of love. Right now, 15/16 of a pumpkin cheesecake is in my freezer, and it’s weakly calling my name. Until next time, friends.