Friday, October 29th, 2010...5:38 am

Dreaming of Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie by endless beauty

This is the season that I start dreaming of pumpkin pie.

To make my pie from canned pumpkin or to buy a fresh pumpkin, that is my question. I like them both. A friend says that because fresh pumpkins are so expensive and canned pumpkin is so cheap and so good, why go to the bother of making it from a fresh pumpkin. I agree that pumpkins are terribly pricey especially when they are sold by the pound. And you really get so little meat from the pumpkin- I read that a 4 lb sugar pumpkin will only give you about 1 1/2 cups of pumpkin- not even enough for the famous Libby’s pie recipe.

But I think it is fun to use fresh pumpkin at least once. I think it helps the farmer and if people will try various varieties, the farmer will have reason to plant different types. If only canned pie is used, the farmer will only farm for the factory and variety might be lost for the future. So at least once each year, I buy my fresh pumpkin.

Now if you want a pumpkin pie, what type of pumpkin should you use? There are many different varieties that can be used. I have read that one must never use the Jack o’Lantern variety because they are not as flavorful as other types and they are too stringy. Of course if you carve the pumpkin, you shouldn’t use it because when carved, insects or molds can get in. This GardenLady has used these pumpkins for pies and they have turned out to be yummy pies.

There are other varieties of pumpkins to choose from that are sweeter and less stringy, so you should try some of them. There are pumpkins called sugar pumpkins or a variety called cheese pumpkins that make excellent pies. I try to find them in the market. But if one can’t find them, then the Jack o’Lantern pumpkin will work. You can decorate it for Halloween and then bake it. Use nontoxic paints.

To add more confusion into the mix, TheGardenLady was told that a number of the companies do not even use pumpkin in the cans that are sold as pumpkin for pumpkin pies. They use squash. Mainly, I was told that they use a type of squash called Hubbard Squash. So this year, TheGardenLady set out on a quest to find Hubbard Squash.

Hubbard Squash by Hellsgeriatric

This year seemed to be the easiest year to find pumpkin varieties. There were lots of cheese pumpkins on sale, so to be sure that I had pumpkin for my pies, I bought one.

But I persisted in looking for Hubbard Squash this year and was amazed that few, if any, knew what a Hubbard Squash was and this was at the Farmer’s Market. But I finally found one farmer who had two Hubbard Squash left that day. She told me that cooks in the know use Hubbard Squash for the best pumpkin pies. I was thrilled. The only problem was that the squash was huge. They can grow as large as 50 lbs. I worried that it might be too large for my oven. I should have worried about something else- I will talk about that later.

The easiest way to prepare the pumpkin is to cut it in half. Then scoop out the seeds and try to get as much of the stringy part out as possible. I use a serrated grapefruit spoon to scrape some of the strings off the inside of the pumpkin. Then I put the cut halves of the pumpkin onto the largest jelly roll sheet I have. ( A jelly roll sheet is like a cookie sheet but it has sides. You need the sides to catch any juice from the pumpkin because you don’t want the juice to dirty your oven. ) You don’t want the pumpkin to hang over the sides of the sheet. Too large a pumpkin might not fit in the oven nor fit on the sheet. And the larger pumpkins might be stringier inside. These are the reasons to NOT buy the largest pumpkin in the field. When you put the pumpkin, cut side down on the sheet you can add a little water to the bottom of the sheet so the pumpkin won’t dry out too much or you can brush some butter or margarine on the cut edges of the pumpkin flesh. (You can’t always tell from looking at a pumpkin how much water is in it.) Then put the sheet with the pumpkin in the oven and bake it at 375 to 400 degrees for about 2 hours. (check during the baking in case you might have to ladle out some of the liquid.)

After about 1 1/2 hours, take a pot holder and press on the curved part of the pumpkin to see if it is soft and sort of collapses. Depending on the size of the pumpkin, it might take less or more time to bake through. When you feel the softness on the pumpkin, take it out and cool it enough to handle. Then scoop the cooked flesh out of the shells and put it into your cuisinart to puree. You may have to do this in batches. This will also break down any strings that the grapefruit spoon couldn’t pull out. Refrigerate the puree up to three days or put in containers and freeze to be used later in the year. I put 2 cups of pulp in the freezer containers so when I take it out, I have it already measured. (If the recipe says 15 ounces, 2 cups will be 16 ounces and can be used for the recipe.)

Now I told you that this GardenLady bought a Hubbard Squash this year. When I tried to cut it in half, as I do the pumpkins, I was shocked to learn how difficult this is with a Hubbard Squash. I had not known that the Hubbard Squash has the toughest outer skin of any squash. It is almost impossible to cut through. I imagine that is why it is no longer popular and sold in stores. I wonder if one should use an electric knife or saw on it? I used a mallet to knock the knife into the squash and slowly cut it in half. I read later that is one way of cutting a Hubbard Squash it.  See here.  Be VERY careful not to cut yourself.

I baked the Hubbard Squash just as I bake a pumpkin. The baked flesh of a Hubbard Squash is much sweeter than any pumpkin or squash I have ever tasted. It is delicious. I now have to package it and freeze what I made. Meanwhile I made a little vegan recipe out of it to serve as a vegetable for a friend who recently had surgery- though with more brown sugar, it could become a dessert.

Into some cooked Hubbard squash I mashed in a little brown sugar to taste, salt and pepper, and a few tablespoons of canned coconut milk. I used some melted light Smart Balance margarine to pour inside and on the top of the squash and baked it for about a half hour at 350 degrees. I hope my friend enjoyed the squash souffle.

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