Well since it’s Fall and nearly Thanksgiving for us Canadians, I decided another appropriate post would be about pumpkins. I suppose I should begin this post with a confession – I hate pumpkin pie. I have this thing about texture, you know? Love the taste of bananas, can’t eat fresh ones because of the stringy texture. It’s the same with pumpkin. Love the taste but can’t stand the texture in pumpkin pie Despite that, I still have my cravings for the spicy taste of cinnamon and nutmeg spiced pumpkin goodies each fall and I still do my share of baking pumpkin pies for others to enjoy! OK OK, one more pumpkin confession. When I was in university, one summer I returned home to London, Ontario and worked at our local amusement park Storybook Gardens. My job? Well, I was Peter Peter the Pumpkin Eater’s wife and yes indeed, they placed me in a pumpkin shell…a giant pumpkin shell that served as a snack bar/souvenir stand. The worst part wasn’t actually that I was stuck inside a pumpkin shell all day…it was that the dang peacocks inhabiting the park seemed to have a great fascination for ice cream (my number one item for sale) and they were constantly jumping up on the counter, squacking loudly, and attempting to peck at my hands trying to get to the ice cream. Ahhh, memories!
In my post about apples, I tried to provide as much information as I could about apples; their history, some of the types of apples available, the best ways to choose apples, the most appropriate choices for various uses and so on. In my search to provide you with as thorough a post on pumpkin, I found this wonderful site, aptly titled All About Pumpkin. There is information here on how to grow pumpkins, the many varieties of pumpkins, how to choose and store pumpkins, and more! http://allaboutpumpkins/com/ I have summarized some information here but really if you want more details, you should try that site!
Pumpkins and other varieties of squash were present and being farmed by Native Americans/Canadians in North America long before European explorers set foot on the continent. Along with beans and maize, they made up what was known to Native Peoples as the Three Sisters. This phrase was used to describe a complimentary relationship which existed among the three plants when they were planted together. The corn would act as a trellis to support the bean plants while the bean plants added nitrogen into the soil necessary for the corn to flourish. The vines of the bean plants would wrap around the corn plants and help hold them safe and steady on windy days. The pumpkin/squash plants would then protect the shallow roots of the corn and help deter weeds and hold in moisture. By utilizing such a planting method, all three crops were far more successful and once harvested, they could be dried and preserved in various ways to sustain the community throughout the long winters. Pumpkins were prepared in many ways and even the seeds and blossoms were used. Dried pumpkin was even ground into a flour that could be made into baked goods. Pumpkin shells were cleaned out and dried to be used as bowls and storage containers. The pumpkin meat once dried, could be pounded and flattened into strips that then could be used as a material for weaving into mats and other such items.
Once European settlers began to colonize North America, they learned of pumpkin from the Native Peoples and it quickly became part of their diet as well due to its versatility and the ability to store it over long winters. As we are all reminded each year at the time of American Thanksgiving, pumpkin was served at the first Thanksgiving but it certainly was not the pumpkin pie we see as traditional nowadays. The ingredients needed to make a piecrust were extremely scarce in the colonies at that time and they had nothing resembling an oven in which to bake a pie in. At that time, pumpkin was generally served plain and simply boiled. The earliest known written recipe for pumpkin pie came well after 1621 and it was not the type of pie we are familiar with today. Instead of being made with pureed pumpkin and creating a custard-like filling, the pumpkin was cut up into pieces like apples would be for apple pie. Often those pieces were then fried before putting them into the crust. In time, Pilgrims developed a method of cooking pumpkin that involved cutting off the top, scooping out the seeds, and then filling the opening with cream, honey, eggs, and spices. The top was put back on the pumpkin and the whole thing was put into the hot ashes of a fire. Inside this charred blackened shell was a sweet delicious pumpkin custard and likely the precursor of the pumpkin pie we most often serve on our Thanksgiving tables. Like the Native Americans, Pilgrims used the pumpkins for many purposes and tried to make use of as many parts of them as possible. They added persimmons, hops, and maple sugar to pumpkin to make pumpkin beer and they even used the shells much in the way as the classic “bowl on the head” to ensure perfect haircuts. Because of this, people of the region were sometimes referred to as “Pumpkinheads”.
How to Choose a Good Pumpkin: Once again, as with apples and other fruit, you need to sniff your pumpkins! There should be a fresh pumpkin smell. Pumpkins should feel firm and there should be no soft spots, splits, or mould on them. You want a pumpkin that feels heavy for its size and that has a lovely consistent colour. The skin should be smooth and free of wrinkles. A green stem is an indicator of a fresh pumpkin and the stem should feel firmly attached to the pumpkin.
Storing pumpkins: It is essential that you store pumpkins out of direct sunlight as just like with all fruits, the sun will simply accelerate the rate of ripening and spoilage. In addition, pumpkins need to be kept in a location where they will be safe from frost. If using pumpkins as part of an outdoor display, covering them with blankets at night may be sufficient in protecting them from an overnight freezing. Pumpkins can be stored successfully inside your home for a few weeks but room temperature is too warm for long term storage. For longer storage, they need to be kept in someplace cooler like a cold cellar or a barn or even a covered porch. Pumpkins should not be placed directly on hard surfaces – use something like cardboard underneath them to cushion them. A loose layer of straw over the pumpkins will help much in the way that the blankets do to protect them from freezing and it was suggested that you only place the pumpkins in a single layer to allow air to circulate freely around them. Kept properly most varieties of pumpkins will keep for 3-6 months if you can keep the mice away from them! You should check on these frequently in case any of them do begin to spoil sooner than expected so that you can remove them and hopefully use them up quickly while still viable!
Ideas for decorating with pumpkins http://www.skiptomylou.org/2009/09/30/decorating-with-pumpkins/
Make your own pumpkin pie spice latte like they serve at Starbuck’s http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/beverage/diy-pumpkin-spice-latte-096277
21 luscious pumpkin desserts http://www.bhg.com/holidays/thanksgiving/recipes/luscious-pumpkin-desserts/
Some delish pumpkin recipes!:
4 cups heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
16 egg yolks (you wanna make brulee, you gotta crack a lotta eggs!)
¼ cup brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
¼ cup white sugar
Instructions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Heat the cream and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Whisk together the egg yolks, brown sugar, white sugar (3/4 cup), cinnamon, salt, ginger, cloves, and pumpkin in a bowl. Slowly pour 1 cup of the cream mixture into the egg mixture stirring constantly. Pour the entire egg mixture into the saucepan and whisk briskly for 1 minute. Pour the mixture into ramekins and place them on a baking sheet. Bake until set for about 15 minutes and then refrigerate for 4-6 hours before serving. Just before serving, sprinkle 1 tsp. of white sugar over the top of each brulee. Use a torch or the broiler in your oven to caramelize the sugar. This can take up to 2-3 minutes using the broiler. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
Roasted Pumpkins with Bacon and Brown Sugar
6 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and drained, reserve the drippings
2 2-4 lb. pie pumpkins
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. coarse black pepper
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
2-3 green onions, sliced on a diagonal
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut off the tops of the pumpkins and remove the seeds and stringy bits. Reserve 2/3 cup of pumpkin seeds. Place the pumpkins cut side up on a foil lined baking sheet. Brush the insides of the pumpkins with some of the bacon drippings and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and brown sugar. Replace the tops on the pumpkins and roast the pumpkins in the oven for about 20 minutes. In an ovenproof skillet, stir together the pumpkin seeds, fennel seeds, green onions, and rest of the bacon drippings. Place the skillet in the oven for the last 10 minutes that the pumpkins are roasting. Remove everything from the oven. Sprinkle the seed mixture and crumbled bacon into the pumpkins. To serve, scoop out the pumpkin mixture or you can use a knife to cut up the pumpkin into wedges. Makes 8-10 servings
Pumpkin Cheese Ball
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup canned or cooked pumpkin
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, well drained
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 (2 1/2 ounce) package dried beef, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
Crackers and/or raw vegetables
Directions: In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, pumpkin and pineapple. Stir in Cheddar cheese, beef and onion. Shape into a ball; place on a serving platter. Score sides with a knife to resemble a pumpkin and add celery leaves for a stem.
Makes 3 cups.
4 cups pumpkin puree or 2 cans (15-16 oz. each) pumpkin
1 ¼ cups pure maple syrup
1/3 cup apple juice
2 T. lemon juice
2 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
Chopped hazelnuts for garnish (optional) – do not add to the pumpkin butter until just before serving.
Directions: In a Dutch oven, combine all ingredients except the nuts. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat. Cook, uncovered, over medium high heat, stirring often for about 20-30 minutes until the mixture thickens up. (Note: If the mixture is spattering too much you can reduce the heat as needed.) Remove this mixture from heat and allow it to cool. Fill jars or freezer containers leaving 1/3 inch of space at the top to allow for expansion. Cover and store in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Makes about 4 ½ cups.
Easy and Delicious Pumpkin Swirl
This pumpkin loaf, similar to a jelly roll, is my most requested recipe. Every fall I get calls from each school/office I have worked in previously with people requesting that my pumpkin swirl make a guest appearance. It is so tasty that I can’t really tell you how long it will last as leftovers are snapped up very quickly in our household. Since I don’t care for pumpkin pie, this is a Thanksgiving tradition in our home.
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin
¾ cup Bisquik baking mix
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 pkg. of plain cream cheese, softened
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Additional ingredient: 1 cup crushed walnuts
Using a mixer, combine the loaf ingredients together and blend until smooth. Pour into a jelly roll pan that has been greased, floured, and lined with waxed paper. Sprinkle on the walnuts. Place pan in a 375 degree F. oven and bake for about 13-15 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the loaf to cool partially on a rack. I find the loaf rolls up and retains its shape better if it’s still a bit warm but obviously you need it to be cool enough to handle and so that it won’t melt the cream cheese filling! Sprinkle a clean teatowel with icing sugar and turn out the loaf onto it. Use the towel to help gently roll up the loaf jelly roll fashion. Leave this loaf rolled up to finish cooling. With a mixer, combine the filling ingredients and blend until smooth. Gently (partly) unroll the pumpkin loaf removing the waxed paper as you do. Spread with the cream cheese filling and roll the loaf back up again. If you are like me, your loaf will have some cracks and imperfections but it will still be delicious!!! Note: In my online travels, I found variations of this recipe in which they used either 2/3 cup of banana or 2/3 cup of applesauce in place of the pumpkin with very good results. I personally have not tried those versions. Yet.