In Season: Pumpkins
By Alex Cantatore
You may be more familiar with this squash as Cinderella’s carriage, or as the Headless Horseman’s replacement head.But the magical pumpkin is, first and foremost, food. The staple squash traces its roots to ancient Mexico, though our name for the pumpkin comes from the Greeks, of all places.
On first blush, an early Greek explorer or trader thought he’d found a large melon — a pepon. The French adopted the term pompon, which the British changed to pumpion, and American colonists morphed to pumpkin.
Depending on where you go, the word pumpkin can mean different things. In Australia, “pumpkin” can refer to any winter squash. And, really, the pumpkin is just a form of winter squash; some botanists point to a pumpkin’s rigid, prickly stem as the key element but the term “pumpkin” has no agreed upon scientific or botanical meeting.
Here in America, we frequently think of pumpkins as jack-o-lanterns. But the pumpkin as jack-o-lantern is a relatively modern tradition, dating back to just 1866. The tradition itself dates back to an older Irish myth about Stingy Jack, a drunkard who was kept out of heaven and now lives in the flames inside of carved turnips. Yes, the Irish carved turnips; early American immigrants carved the more common native pumpkin instead.
When it’s not being carved, the pumpkin is often being “chunked” great distances by catapults — an American tradition that inspired TV shows on the Science Channel. Or it’s celebrated at festivals which honor the largest pumpkin grown; some can surpass 2,000 pounds in weight.
Pumpkins can be quite good for you, when not eaten in pie form and smothered with whipped cream. They’re chock-full of lutein, alpha carotene, and beta carotene, good for vision and reducing the risk of breast cancer.
An astonishing 95 percent of America’s pumpkins intended for consumption are grown in Illinois. Of those, 85 percent are processed by Nestlé’s Libby’s brand — a clear sign of America’s love for pie. Internationally, the pumpkin is a common ingredient in sweet and savory dishes alike, from pumpkin stuffed ravioli to tempura pumpkin.
It’s not just the pumpkin’s meat that’s edible. The seeds, also known as pepitas, are a tasty snack when roasted — and a staple in some Mexican cuisine. And the leaves are eaten like kale or spinach in China and Kenya.
So why not forget about the carving, put down the spice latte, and give the humble pumpkin a try in your cooking this fall? Otherwise, a witch might turn you into a pumpkin.
Pumpkin Pie with Decorative Crust
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoon cold water
1 14 oz can of condensed milk
1 14 oz can of pumpkin purée
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk – whipped cream
8 oz cream cheese – room temperature
2 sticks of unsalted butter – cold and cubed
1. Place flour, sugar, and salt into a food processor and pulse several times to mix. Add cubed cold butter and pulse until crust mixture becomes crumb-like, with pea-sized butter. Slowly add cold water and pulse until dough pulls together. Shape dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
2. Divide out 1 pound of dough, and roll out to form 1/8”-thick crust in a 13-14” circle. Place crust into pie dish, tucking overhang to fit edge of crust. Cover in plastic and place in freezer. Roll out remaining dough and cut out shapes with cookie or pie crust cutter. Place on a plate and refrigerate.
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove crust from freezer, cover edge with foil to prevent browning, line bottom of crust with parchment paper, and place pie weight on top. Par-bake for 20 minutes, then remove.
4. Whisk cream cheese, then pour in condensed milk and whisk until combined. Add pumpkin purée, egg, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice, and whip until combined.
5. Take parchment paper out of pie crust and pour in pie filling. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 30-40 minutes.
6. Make egg wash by beating one egg with 1 tablespoon of milk. Brush egg wash on back of each decorative pie crust piece, then place on top of pie.
7. Heat oven to 400 degrees, then bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool, top with whipped cream, and serve.
Spiced Pumpkin-Pecan Pancakes with Maple Syrup
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup pumpkin purée
3 tablespoons unsalted butter,
melted and slightly cooled
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
3 to 4 teaspoons vegetable oil – butter – maple syrup
1/2 cup candied pecans
1. Whisk together milk, pumpkin, butter, eggs, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.
2. Combine both bowls, add pecans, and stir until just mixed and lumpy.
3. Heat a large skillet, frying pan, or griddle over medium heat. Once heated, add one teaspoon of oil to the pan, then tilt to coat pan.
4. Ladle batter into the pan in 1/3-cup increments. Cook 3-5 minutes, until golden brown, then flip with spatula and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
5. Top with butter, syrup, and candied pecans.