It wouldn’t be a pumpkin festival without a slice of pumpkin pie. After being told Costco provided the pies, my expectations sank. Turns out, they know how to make a solid filling that was pleasantly smooth, though it could have used a bit more spice. The crust was more of the problem, tasting starchy and bland. Still, this was a fine pie that transported me to straight to autumn.
Breakfast included this excellent, moist pumpkin-spiced muffin. Flecks of raisins, walnuts, and the addition of ginger to the spice mix, plus a brown sugar dusting on top provided a beautiful, muffin that turned out to be the premier bite of the festival. Later I learned that downtown Half Moon Bay’s Moonside Bakery & Café provided the pastries.
With the morning fog causing temperatures to plummet down to the 40’s for opening time (that’s cold by California standards!), nothing sounded better than pumpkin pancakes for breakfast. Except there was a two block long, two hour line. In the cold. But don’t they look great or what?
Soft Pretzel with Pumpkin Dip
You pretty much can't go wrong with a warm, doughy, salt-kissed soft pretzel at a festival. As much as I like dipping pretzels in whole grain mustard, I will admit the pumpkin dip here (like a very savory cinnamon crème anglaise) charmed me.
There weren’t any pumpkin doughuts, but there were churros with a pumpkin glaze. The churro itself was fine, exhibiting the standard issue sugar-dusted crisp grooved exterior with a very thin cylindrical doughy interior. The pumpkin glaze was exactly like you’d imagine a normal glaze on a doughnut to be, with noticeable hints of clove and allspice.
Time for dessert. A big winner was this “pumpkin roll.” Think a carrot cake with pumpkin spice, then transformed into bread loaf form. After my second tasting of this at home, I noticed just how pumpkin-heavy and moist the actual bread was. All I was told was that this was homemade, and I could definitely tell.
An excellent graham cracker crust served as the base of this dessert, though I would’ve preferred a much heavier pumpkin emphasis. Still, the filling was not too light or dense, falling somewhere ideal in between. It was a fine barely-pumpkin cheesecake.
Pumpkin Ice Cream
Even less pronounced in pumpkin flavor, the pumpkin ice cream scoops from San Francisco’s Bud’s were a dud. Yes, it barely tasted different than a vanilla flavor, and the ice cream itself was far too dense. I’d strain my hand scooping the spoon through the ice cream. This is an area the festival must improve on.
Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese
Another novel use of pumpkin in a savory form. Yes, the macaroni and cheese was clearly Kraft from the box, instead of some artisan dry pasta with Tillamook cheddar. Still, the toasted pumpkin seeds and coating of pumpkin powder gave the liquid cheese a lift full of zest and crunch. When in doubt, always add pumpkin seeds.
Baked Potato with Pumpkin Curry
I’m not a sour cream guy to start with, and without a topping, does anything get more boring than baked potatoes? This option tried to get creative, with pumpkin replacing the usual butternut squash in a curry and a sprinkle of cilantro for garnish. Unfortunately, the curry itself had about as much spice as the baked potato itself…which means means it was neutral curry on neutral potato.
I barely detected any pumpkin in the pumpkin chili. Its texture was textbook hearty, filled with pinto beans and a few green peppers. Unfortunately, there was no excitement in this bowl, from pumpkin, spice, or anything else. At least it keeps you warm in the morning.
The one major letdown of the day came from the sausage grills. I had been promised there would be chicken pumpkin sausages. Alas, there was no such thing. On the bright side, it’s hard to pass up those hot dogs, bratwursts, and linguiças.
Brussels Sprouts with Marinara and Artichokes with "Italian Herbs"
This was the major clunker of the day, maybe because it didn’t have any pumpkin! However, Brussels sprouts and artichokes are two of the most prized local products, so you’d expect them to be treated with the utmost respect. Instead, the boiled Brussels sprouts were as bland as boiled cabbage, causing one of my dining companions to have nightmares of his youth. Just look at the “marinara.” It’s about six flecks of tomato skin. The artichokes were overcooked to a mushy state, overpowered by the “Italian” herbs, heavy on the garlic salt.
Pie Eating Contest
Presenting the next generation of Serious Eaters, going to work in the pie-eating contest. I bet most of them would easily defeat me if I competed.
Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.
The Half Moon Bay Brewing Company served three beers: the Pace Setter Belgian Style Wit, the Back in the Saddle Rye Pale Ale, and of course, the Mavericks Pumpkin Harvest Ale.
Mavericks Pumpkin Harvest Ale
Named for the famous nearby beach, home to one of the world’s premier surfing competitions, the Mavericks Amber Ale is brewed with 120 pounds of locally grown, roasted, and spiced Sugar Pie pumpkins. Frankly, it just tasted like a thin amber with pumpkin barely in the mix.
The Half Moon Bay Winery
The Half Moon Bay Winery provided this enjoyable 2012 Chardonnay, which was well-rounded, tart, and full of slightly unripe berries. The 2012 Fisherman’s Red blend also was being poured from the winery. Did you know Chardonnay goes great with pumpkin pie?
Like something you’d get at a dive bar, the “Pumpkin-rita” is tequila, some Torini pumpkin syrup, and way too much cloying, sugary margarita mix. No pumpkin was evident upon tasting. You could’ve fooled me that this was Gatorade. Stick to pumpkin beer and lattes.
It's the Giant Pumpkin!
There they are, the giant pumpkins. Imagine all of the pumpkin pies and pumpkin bread you could get out of these!
Try This At Home...
I like to think I’m a decent pumpkin carver, but my Jack-o-lanters are nothing compared to this pumpkin carver-artist working on a 1,200 pound pumpkin. Talk about an impressive canvas!