The beautiful pumpkins in fields and stores this time of year inspire one to do something with them, but the pumpkins themselves are stringy and a mess to cook down and chop or strain into something useable.
Thank goodness for canned pumpkin, which turns a day-long ordeal into a 10-second wrist exercise.
My mom was the Queen of Thrifty, so fall meant, among other things, snatching up the canned pumpkin on sale in every store. That way, we’d have plenty for the pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie that my family adored, a delicious complement to her plain, good cooking.
I loved the smell of them baking, and we enjoyed having both items for dessert at special meals – and the leftovers for breakfast the next day. Now, I make pumpkin bread just to have with coffee in the morning.
I’ve also discovered fancy uses for pumpkin. At a party, I first tasted pumpkin soup presented beautifully in a pumpkin shell, seasoned with mustard and Swiss cheese. Here’s an unusual soup recipe from Epicurious.com. Lime, Mexican cream and squash seeds give the soup a southwestern flavor.
To save time, you can buy Mexican cream. Find pepitas as natural food stores, then toast them in a skillet and lightly salt them.
Spicy Pumpkin Soup With Mexican Cream And Toasted Pepitas
1Ú2 cup whipping cream
1Ú2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
6 cups finely chopped onions
3 15-ounce cans solid pack pumpkin
2 cups whole milk
11Ú4 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper
9 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
3Ú4 cup shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted
Whisk first three ingredients in small bowl. Cover; chill 2 hours. (Mexican cream can be made a week ahead. Keep chilled.)
Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Mix in pumpkin, milk and crushed red pepper. Working in batches, puree mixture in processor. Return to pot. Add broth; simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made a day ahead. Cool. Cover and chill. Bring to simmer before continuing.)
Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with cream. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.
My mom handed down a pumpkin bread recipe that already had been around a while when she got it. What’s great about this recipe is it makes three nice-sized breads from one batch – one to eat, one to freeze and one to give away. You also can divide this recipe into six of the mini-loaf pans for holiday gifts.
Ruby Kleist’s Pumpkin Bread
31Ú2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
11Ú2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
3 cups sugar
1 cup oil
4 large eggs, beaten
2Ú3 cup water
2 cups pumpkin (that’s 11Ú2 pound, less than a big can, so measure it out)
1 cups chopped nuts
1 cup chopped dates or raisins
Sift together the first five ingredients. In a large, separate bowl, beat eggs. Add sugar, oil and water, mix well. Add pumpkin and dry ingredients. Last, mix in nuts and dates, pure evenly into the pans. Bake at 350 degrees 1 hour, until the bread pulls away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted comes out clean. Let the breads set about 5 minutes, run a metal spatula or knife around the edges and turn out onto a cookie rack to cool.
– Published in “Bon Appetit,” November 1997
I prefer to use a mixture of dates and raisins, or just dates, but often leave them out and just add the nuts. I use walnuts because they’re handy, but it’s also delicious with pecans.
I also like to mix up my flours, using about one cup of whole wheat flour to the remaining white flour. It makes for a heavier and smaller loaf, which my mom didn’t like, but I feel better getting more fiber into my bread, and it gives it a bit richer flavor. Using whole wheat pastry flour helps lighten it up, and you can get it at the local natural food stores in the bulk section.
To fit baking into my crammed schedule, I often mix up the dry ingredients and the nuts one day, store it in a covered container, and add the wet ingredients and bake another day.
Pumpkin pie is probably the most basic dessert favorite for this time of year, another delicious complement to plain, good cooking.
A friend from Mexico City is “fascinated” by pumpkin pie, but you couldn’t get canned pumpkin when I lived there. Though squashes are New World vegetables, I never saw it in Mexico (perhaps it’s more northerly), and pumpkin is not part of the food traditions in most of Mexico. They do eat squash, and squash seeds (pepitas) are a common ingredient, but they come from a different type.
So my Mexican friend didn’t know about the miracle of canned pumpkin. One day when I was visiting, I walked into her little kitchen to see a large pumpkin on the table – probably grown in the north for export to the States – and begged for pumpkin pie. She thought you just cooked it all up!
Pie also is not a Mexican tradition, so she had no pie plate, no rolling cloth, no rolling pin! I made do with a large beer bottle on the heavily floured kitchen counter, and filled the crust on the second day of pumpkin preparation.
I’ve tried many pumpkin pie recipes, but never found any better than the pie recipe on the Libby’s canned pumpkin label, so I won’t include it here. But here’s my mom’s pastry recipe, which always turns out delicious and flaky; it’s from “The Good Housekeeping Cook Book” 1944 edition, which Mom received as a wedding gift. Just be careful to not use more water than it calls for.
Pie crusts take practice learning how to handle the tender, flaky dough, but don’t give up, this crust is worth it.
2 cups sifted flour (be sure to sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon salt
3Ú4 cup shortening (though lard is really the best)
51Ú2 tablespoons cold water (put it in the freezer a few minutes)
Measure the sifted flour and resift with salt into a bowl. Cut the shortening into the flour until well blended with two knives or a pastry blender. Sprinkle the cold water a tablespoon at a time, using a fork to blend it into the flour mixture one section at a time. When all the flour mixture has been dampened, lightly form it into a ball, wrap it in waxed paper, and chill half an hour – no longer. Then, divide it into two balls and roll out onto a lightly floured pastry cloth. Makes two crusts.
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