This has been my year for pumpkins. I’ve made delicious pumpkin and pear soup almost every weekend in October, I served a to-die-for pumpkin crème brulèe at a dinner last weekend and I’ve made more pumpkin cookies with caramel glaze this year than any other year (it’s our October tradition). It’s pumpkin season and it feels good.
Just last week I went into Harvest Barn in Niagara-on-the-Lake and owner Sue Enrich gave me a Jamaican pumpkin. It wasn’t a brilliant orange like our Canadian pumpkins and it was a bit flatter. “What can you do with it?” asked Sue who plopped one into my grocery cart.
While many pick up their pumpkins to carve a Jack-o-lanterns, I love to cook with them. The best cooking pumpkins are the smaller, sweeter varieties. Pick out ones that are free of any blemishes or soft spots and make sure a bit of the stem remains. The best pumpkins should weigh heavy for their size. Shape is unimportant. A lopsided pumpkin is not a bad eating pumpkin. If you store a pumpkin in a cool, dry place, it will last an entire winter. When you cut open a pumpkin, it must be cooked the same day because it’s highly perishable.
Rarely used on their own as a vegetable, a pumpkin’s mild flesh is ideally suited for savoury dishes, such as soup, sauce or lasagna, as well as for sweet specialties like muffins, cookies, cakes, cheesecake, ice cream, jam and pie. Pumpkins can be substituted for or combined with other squashes in most recipes.
Cooking pumpkin is relatively simple. To boil or steam, peel and cut the pumpkin into large chunks and cook in a pot with about one cup (250 mL) of water. The water doesn’t need to cover the pumpkin pieces. Cover the pot and let the water boil for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender. To check if it is done, poke the pieces with a fork. Drain the pumpkin and save the liquid because it’s really delicious in soups. During cooking, the pulp will turn a darker colour and that’s normal. The pulp puree should be used within two day.
The Jamaican pumpkin was subtle leaving plenty of room for seasoning with nutmeg, allspice and cloves. I made to-die-for pumpkin whoopee pies and bought a jar of marshmallow cream for the centre. I haven’t purchased a jar of this gooey stuff for a few decades so I had no idea they changed it from the peanut butter aisle to the ice cream cone aisle in the grocery store (thought I’d share because there’s never anyone to ask in grocery stores!).
There’s a lot more you can do with pumpkin other than carving a frightening face. Roast sugar pumpkins and acorn squash in the oven, scoop out the pumpkin flesh and mash with sautéed shallots in butter, a bit of cream and season with fresh thyme. Spoon this yummy mixture into the centre of the acorn squash and serve it warm. If you’re really creative, you can layer lasagna noodles with pumpkin purée, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and sautéed spinach for a hearty one dish savoury cool evening meal.
At this time of year there are those of us who enjoy our fill of pumpkins. Whether we eat them, snack on them, carve them or just have fun with them it’s the brilliant orange season – enjoy!
Jamaican Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) vegetable oil
3/4 cup (180 mL) pumpkin, purée
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
2 teaspoons (10 mL) ground cinnamon
1 tsp (5 mL) ground ginger
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cloves
1 jar marshmallow fluff
Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat together the brown sugar and oil until well combined. Add in the pumpkin purée and egg, beating well. Add the dry ingredients and slowly combine to form a smooth dough.
Drop dough by heaping teaspoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake at for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool in wire racks. To make a whoopee pie, simply put 2 cookies together with marshmallow fluff as the filling. Makes 2 dozen whoopee pies.
Pumpkin Pear Soup
6 medium Bartlett pears
1 sugar pumpkin (about 1 pound), peeled and diced
1 turnip (about 3 ounces), trimmed, peeled, and diced
1 sprig fresh sage
4 cups (1L) chicken stock
1/4 cup (60 mL) heavy cream
Pumpkin seeds for garnish
Preheat oven to 200F (100C). Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, cut 2 medium pears lengthwise into paper-thin slices. Arrange the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until pears are dry, about 1 hour. Let cool completely on sheet on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, peel, slice and core remaining 4 pears. Place pears, pumpkin, turnip, sage, and salt in a medium soup pot. Cover with stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Discard sage and using a hand blender, puree the soup. Bring soup to a simmer over medium-low heat. Whisk in cream, and season to taste. Serve garnished with dried pears and pumpkin seeds.