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Monday, November 19, 2012

Pumpkins and Pies…’Tis the Season…

cheese pumpkinsThe other day I wished our bank manager “Happy Thanksgiving,”a pleasantry which prompted her to share the fact that this year she and her husband decided to scale back their holiday fare. “Just the two us this year,” she said. “No fancy trimmings or anything like that.” “No turkey?” I exclaimed. “Oh, we’ll have turkey,” she reassured me, “but we’re keeping it simple.” “Certainly you’ll have pumpkin pie, though?” She smiled, “Oh, you have to have pumpkin pie!”Yes, you do, and I started preparations for this year’s Thanksgiving pie…well, about this time last year.

We are big on tradition in our household, and I can’t remember the last time we purchased store-bought pumpkin in the can. Pumpkins are easy to grow; it’s a poor gardener who can’t grow a few: two or three plants will easily yield ten of the big globes. A few for Halloween display, a grinning  jack-o-lantern or two, and the extras just sit out there in the patch twiddling their thumbs. It’s one of these leftovers we choose for our holiday pies. However, these are field pumpkins, the best kind for carving geometric grimaces intended to scare the little visitors who show up on your doorstep All Hallow’s Eve. Field pumpkins’ meat is stringy and coarse grained and must be pureed to prepare it for pie filling.

Again last fall we had an excess of pumpkin and so as not to let them go to waste, I thought I’d research some different fresh pumpkin recipes. As you might expect, pumpkin recipes abound on the Net: pie fillings, puddings, cookies, breads, soups…pumpkin sausage (?). Almost all of them called for “cheese pumpkin.” Huh? Cheese pumpkin? I’d never heard of such a thing. Back to the search mode for more information. Cheese pumpkins, I discovered, are a medium-sized, beige colored pumpkin noted for its high sugar content and fine-grained meat. Its name derives from its shape: flat and squat like a round of cheese. When the onslaught of seed catalogs started appearing in the mailbox, I excitedly turned to the squash pages hoping to find cheese pumpkin seed. Territorial Seed had what I was looking for: “Long Island Cheese Pumpkins.” Anxious to give this “exotic” variety a try, I ordered a seed packet and in the spring, I started a half dozen plants indoors.

My efforts paid off this fall when at the end of the season nine Long Island cheese pumpkins squatted  heavily out in the patch. Some, as promised, I gave away (I have friends who as I, are experimental gardeners, too).Cut the cheese pumpkin

In the past I have tried two methods of cooking pumpkin: baking and steaming. This year I selected a nice, ripe cheese pumpkin, halved and cored it, and steamed one half on the woodstove; the other I baked shell upwards on a rimmed cookie sheet for one hour at 350 degrees. Innards removed(The oven pumpkin half required an extra twenty minutes baking time.) Either way, the pumpkin is done when a sharp fork or knife slides easily through the skin. If you elect to bake your cheese pumpkin, you need to consider a couple of things: because of the sugar content, the rim of your pumpkin will caramelize and brown. I scrape this portion away, so there is some wastage. Also, I learned to my dismay that cheese pumpkins contain a lot of water and this surplus can’t be contained by a shallow-rimmed cookie sheet. I spent some valuable time sopping up and scrubbing the oven floor clean of scorched sugar water.

Steaming the pumpkin is perhaps the most efficient way of removing the meat from the shell. I’m not sure which method, baking or steaming, brings out more flavor, but the shell is all you have to discard if you steam the meat—and you won’t have to spend any time on your hands and knees with your head in the oven, either.cut to fit

When the pumpkin cools, scoop out the flesh and set it aside for pies, breads, cookies, soups…(sausage?).

One cheese pumpkin has already made its way into two pies and one tasty batch of pumpkin/raisin bread. The second is cooked up, pies pending. steamed









pie ready

I’ve always been one for innovation, especially where cuisine and the kitchen are concerned. This year’s Thanksgiving pumpkin pie is going to be “pumped up”: first of all, a cheese pumpkin for the new filling. Secondly, my “secret ingredient” this year comes from a tip I heard on the radio the other day. We did our Thanksgiving meal shopping today, and one of the items on the list was ginger snaps. Yes, the cookies. The tip? Crush a few ginger snaps and sprinkle them on top of the pie crust before you ladle in the filling.

Not in the least do I mind sharing this secret with you—especially since I’ve yet to try it; however, here are a couple more tips (perhaps you know them already):

1. A filling-topped crust tends to slop over when you slide the oven rack into place. For a clean piecrust,  pour only two-thirds of the filling into the crust before you place the pie on the oven rack. Pour the remainder into a smaller container. Once the pie is in the oven, finish topping it off with the rest of the filling.

2. Oh…and whatever number of eggs the recipe calls for, always add one extra. Your guests will thank you for the surplus.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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