While infiltrating an Uruk stronghold in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor this past weekend, I thought I overheard a captain talking about a pumpkin spice latte. This was likely due to that unexplainable auditory phenomenon where you hear people talking about things you are thinking about. Needless to say, with fall in full swing, I am always on the prowl for pumpkin spice goodies.
But you can't get pumpkin spice anything in Middle-earth. There are no pumpkins in Middle-earth.
Responding to my tweet about the alleged Uruk conversation (which was obviously not about pumpkin spice lattes), Hidden Path Entertainment CEO Jeff Pobst said that, factually, there is no way Middle-earth, let alone Mordor, is packing that pumpkin spice.
Pobst spent three years working at Sierra Entertainment on The Lord of the Rings-based video games. During this time working on the Xbox version of developer The Whole Experience's The Fellowship of the Ring, Pobst said that a scuffle with Tolkien Enterprises led to the team having to demolish all Middle-earth's pumpkin crops.
"We had pumpkin patches in the Shire, and the Tolkien Enterprises people went nuts about it," he said. Pumpkins, as it were, are a New World crop. Middle-earth is J.R.R. Tolkien's vision of an ancient Europe, with the author going so far as to base his maps on the continent. Pumpkins are native to North America, therefore there's no way they'd be growing organically in a fantastical take on ancient Europe.
Development on the game was halted until the offensive pumpkin patches were removed.
"When we asked why, because we couldn't find that anywhere in the books, they went on about New World crops and Old World crops saying Middle-earth only had Old World crops," Pobst said. "It was a big deal to them."
Designer Paul Reed, who worked on Inevitable Entertainment's 2003 title The Hobbit, shared a similar story involving tomatoes. As a New World crop, they wouldn't appear in Middle-earth. This resulted in the team having to change all existing in-game tomatoes into large berries to pacify Tolkien Enterprises. Tomatoes were, however, used in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films, but Inevitable couldn't use them due to "movie pollution."
"We received detailed notes and comments, including a firm request to remove all tomatoes from Hobbiton due to movie pollution," Reed told Polygon. "Turns out tomatoes are a New World thing, and there aren't any of those in Middle-earth, contrary to what the film folks would have you believe."
Furthermore, cinnamon — undoubtedly one of the strongest notes of the famous pumpkin spice mix — is also not something you'd find in Europe. "True" cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka, with more being produced in China, Vietnam and Burma. Nutmeg heralds from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Caribbean, with cloves coming from the same region. Ginger is native to Asia and West Africa. And allspice is a New World crop, heralding from southern Mexico and Central America. So even without the pumpkin, there's no reasonable way to conjure up the familiar spicy punch accompanying that warm pumpkin flavor.
"There are tons of stories by developers when working on licensed properties, stories from James Bond, Tolkien, Harry Potter — there is often conflict between the needs of the license and the needs of making a fun game, and it can be complex trying to resolve them," Pobst added. "The pumpkin issue was a surprise to us, of course."
So there you have it. One does not simply order pumpkin spice in Mordor.