Andreae Prozesky takes the pumpkin back.
As we near the end of November, all but the last traces of smashed jack o’lanterns have been rained off the city’s sidewalks and front stoops. The last survivors may indeed be the ones slowly decomposing outside my front door. Fine food for slugs, but I’ll pass. Our local American expats will likely be making a pie or two for their Thanksgiving dinners, and then pumpkin season as we know it will be well and truly over.
“Pumpkin for breakfast, pumpkin at noon, / Were it not for pumpkin, we’d all be undoon,” goes an old American rhyme, suggesting that the early settlers to our south had little else to get them through the long, dark months. They must have been sick to death of it by November. Not being a pilgrim of any description, I’m happy to eat pumpkin any time at all.
Don’t worry if the grocery stores don’t have a single pumpkin right now; buying pre-cooked pumpkin purée is often the better option anyway. It’s much easier than roasting, and doesn’t require a lot of knife-work; I haven’t read up on pumpkin-related injuries, but, given that there are many people out there who can’t slice a bagel without ending up in Emergency, I imagine the statistics aren’t reassuring.
This may seem inconsistent with my attitude of do-it-yourself-ish-ness, but the pumpkin you get in a tin is actually much nicer than what you would have gotten by roasting your jack o’lantern. Most commercial pumpkins are bred for size, shape, and carveability. “How are we going to get this thing into the oven?” isn’t a question that comes up. As a result of all this, the pumpkins that show up in shops aren’t as tasty as they should be. Great for seasonal décor, not so great for soup.
Or for pies, or muffins, or anything. Just like with many other vegetables out there, “bigger” seldom means “tastier” when we’re talking pumpkins. Everything you want in a jack o’lantern – bulging roundness, heft, thin walls – is everything you don’t want in an eating pumpkin. No, an eating pumpkin ought to be compact, no more than a few pounds, with thick, fleshy walls and only a small cavity.
There are varieties of pumpkin bred specifically for pie-making, although they don’t show up here in Newfoundland all that often. These guys are small, and have cute names like “Sugar Pie” and “Baby Bear,” in case you’re looking. The other thing is this: pumpkins really are just one particular kind of squash. By which I mean to suggest that you can substitute other hard-shelled winter squash types for pumpkin in any recipe that calls for pumpkin purée and no-one will be the wiser. In fact, if your choice is between a bland, woody jack o’lantern pumpkin and a sweet, tender (though ugly) Banana squash, or a nutty, fine-fleshed Butternut squash, well, that’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.
There are even a few varieties of winter squash that look a lot like your standard pumpkin, only in miniature. Delicious Buttercup and Ambercup squash show up in grocery stores and markets, as do Gold Nugget varieties (sometimes called oriental pumpkins). The French “Musquée de Provence” makes gorgeous eating, and looks like the pumpkin carriage that Cinderella rode off to the ball in. There’s a wee tiny squash variety called “Sweet Dumpling,” too; these guys only weigh in at about half a pound apiece, but they’re pumpkin-shaped, nicely green-and-white striped on the outside, and as orange as any pumpkin on the inside.
Once you get your pumpkin or relative-of-pumpkin home, prepping it couldn’t be easier. You do what you do with any other winter squash; cleave it in half (careful with that knife), scoop out the seeds, and then roast the two halves in a 350F oven, which will take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes, depending on the size and variety. If you’re making purée for a cake or muffin recipe or such, then just bake the two halves cut-side-down on an oiled baking dish. When the skins are easily pierced with a fork, you’re done. Take a spoon and scoop out the fluffy, baked flesh, mash it up, and bake yourself a pie. Or some pumpkin bread. Or the spicy, chocolatey, nutrient-packed cookies below.
Wildly Wholesome Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Cookies
Makes about 30 2 1/2-inch cookies.
(I know the white bean purée sounds a little crazy, but trust me on this. You won’t taste it, and you’ll be fuelled by protein for hours. You can eat these for breakfast, even; they’re better for you than any junk grocery-store breakfast bar.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white bean puree (drain and rinse canned white kidney beans, then whirr them around in the blender until pureed, adding up to 1/4 cup water if necessary)
1 cup mashed, roasted pumpkin or other orange-flashed squash (or canned pumpkin purée, in a pinch)
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour (spelt is also good in this recipe)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed (optional)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350F
In a large bowl, dissolve baking soda in milk and vanilla. Add egg, oil, molasses, sugar, bean purée, and pumpkin, one at a time, beating thoroughly with a wire whisk between additions.
In a small bowl, stir together flour, flaxseed, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add to pumpkin mixture and stir well to combine. Stir in chocolate chips.
Drop batter by heaping teaspoons onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or with a silicone baking mat. Bake 10-12 minutes, until cookies are slightly dark and dry to the touch. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge. Cookies will be soft and cake-like.
Send your questions, comments, and squashy suggestions to email@example.com