From the end of August well to Halloween, there is a special buzz in the air. As the weather cools and the leaves change, an energy of excitement follows. Not only is this time of year filled with special events like apple picking and hayrides, but also holidays that celebrate the passage of time like the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and numerous festivals to commemorate the end of the harvest season and changing of the trees. Foods that are in their peak season: corn, apples, and most notably, pumpkins, take center stage and shine in our meals and desserts. What draws us to them? Why do we become so excited when we see our coffee shop selling pumpkin spice lattes? How does a humble gourd and some spices bring such joy, especially in a tumultuous year like 2020?

Cognitively, our brains like to connect memories to senses. Grandma only made pumpkin pie once a year, but any time you smell pumpkin pie, you are transported back to her kitchen. Fall is filled with so many sensory experiences that it’s hard not to find joyful memories. It could be jumping in piles of crunchy leaves with your children, a cool morning hike with your dog, or the sharp sweetness of apple cider at your favorite farm. There are so many experiences we love to repeat, and the joy we find carrying on these traditions compounds with the memories of our past experiences, making it more exciting and more memorable. Even lighting a pumpkin spice candle in our house can set the mood for a good day!

When we see pumpkins appearing at the grocery store, this also reminds ourselves of these fun times, as pumpkins are widely regarded as a symbol of the season–just look at what most kids carry while trick or treating! It’s hard to deny it that honor.

Pumpkins are cheerful, healthy, and with the right spices make any dessert mouthwatering. Like other squashes, pumpkins are dense in vitamins and minerals. They’re full of fiber to keep you full for a busy afternoon enjoying the weather, and contain antioxidants to keep you healthy through the winter months. Pumpkins, like carrots, get their orange color from beta-carotene which has been shown to support your eyesight and skin health. There’s plenty of ways to incorporate it into our fall diet. To get healthy benefits from pumpkin, pumpkin puree can be mixed into our oatmeal for breakfast. You can roast the seeds and top them with your favorite spices for a crunchy snack throughout the day. If you are craving a sweet and simple recipe, combine a can of pumpkin puree with a box of cake mix, following the instructions on the box for baking times. Top with cream cheese frosting and you have a cake worthy of any fall festival or Halloween party!

Whether trying a new recipe with your grandkids, carving pumpkins and roasting the seeds, or just sharing a pumpkin candle with your neighbor, taking part in the season is a sure way to enjoy fall!