Over the rustling of crinkling leaves, they start to make their presence known again. Amidst the wood smoke wafting through a biting breeze, they assemble with sinister, grinning visages. Beneath a starkly darkening sky, they seep ever deeper into our lives. Synonymous with autumn, they even supply its thematic colors. You might try knifing them or smashing them, but for a while now, you might as well just get used to them.

Over the rustling of crinkling leaves, they start to make their presence known again. Amidst the wood smoke wafting through a biting breeze, they assemble with sinister, grinning visages. Beneath a starkly darkening sky, they seep ever deeper into our lives. Synonymous with autumn, they even supply its thematic colors. You might try knifing them or smashing them, but for a while now, you might as well just get used to them.

No, I'm not talking about politicians. Yes, I'm speaking about pumpkins (though I do believe one of the prominent campaigners often flashes a sardonic and jarring jack-o'-lantern-like smile).

So yeah, pumpkins and "pumpkin-spiced" limited-time specials are popping up everywhere. It's all a lot of fun, and I think Ohio really hits its highlight stride right around Halloween. But sometimes those orange squashes sneak their way into rather suspect products (pumpkin pie, sure, but pumpkin pizza?).

So, for a little consumer review, I guinea-pigged-out around town, tasting the season and snapping up some less-than-routine pumpkiny flavored things (usually that just means getting tweaked with the familiar aromatic spices).

Here's a mini report on a few tricks and treats, some of which are swallow-worthy and some that don't really work. (Pumpkins were awarded on a scale of zero to five.)


Pattycake Pumpkin Whoopie Pie

Vegan baking can be a tall -- hell, towering -- order to fill, but the ultra-cool, ultra-cute Pattycake Bakery does a good job of it. Open up and say "whoopee" as you chomp down onto this big, hamburger-looking confection. Two super-sized, super-moist "bun halves" taste like good pumpkin bread made (as they indeed are) with actual pumpkin and spiced with traditional pumpkin seasonings like cinnamon. In between is a light, somewhat grainy filling.


Dairy Queen Pumpkin Pie Blizzard

Innocent of the too-common crime of overspicing, this queenly treat is just lovingly touched by nutmeg. It's Creamsicle orange in color and tastes like pumpkin pie filling perfectly integrated into smooth, soft-serve vanilla ice cream. I also like the textural contrast provided by its many crunchy pie-crusty "mixins."


Tim Horton Pumpkin Spice Donut

In theory, I suppose there's things you can do to a donut to make it undesirable. In theory. Fortunately, Tim Horton's didn't go there. This pleasant, restrained, fat and cakey light-orange-colored donut is mildly pumpkin spiced -- some clove and nutmeg shine through -- and thankfully, only lightly glazed.


Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale

This orange-tinged copper-colored ale has plenty to offer: an amusing label with a fierce-looking, warlord-like pumpkin emperor inciting his minions of jack-o'-lanterns; enough bold beer flavor to handle its clove and cardamom spicing; 8 percent alcohol (!); and a hint of real pumpkin squash on the finish.


Lemongrass Pumpkin Martini

You certainly can't fault this for its liquor content -- it's all hooch. Vanilla vodka, chai creme and pumpkin liqueurs combine to make this sweet and frothy pale-orange cocktail. It might have a whiff of nutmeg and a hint of clove, but to me, it mostly tastes like a super-sweet Baileys drink, only with more of a kick to it.


Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

Let's say you enjoy a cup of coffee with your comforting pumpkin baked goods, but are pressed for time. Then why not bypass the bothersome chewing stage? Behold this all-in-one Starbucks sipper, which is a sweet and creamy orange cup of coffee that tastes barely of coffee but of nutmeg and so much clove you might think you smoked a silly clove ciggie afterward -- hey, that's like yet another step-skipper for this beverage. One of the drink's awarded pumpkins goes to a Mount Rainier-like topping of good whipped cream.