The Great Pumpkin
Forget the cans and make your own purée with local pumpkins or squash.
All pumpkins are edible, but not all pumpkins are perfect for pies. Large pumpkins are great for carving jack-o'-lanterns with their thin outer shells or setting on the porch for decoration, but they have lower levels of sugar. The best pumpkins for baking are actually winter squash, a relative to the orange orbs. Some varieties of winter squash such as butternut have a smoother and sweeter taste than pumpkins and aren't as stringy.
If you insist on using pumpkins, use small sugar pumpkins no larger than four pounds. Pumpkins with the deepest orange color and flesh have the largest amounts of vitamin A and potassium. And remember, buy pumpkins with stems that are at least two inches long. But don't carry pumpkins by the stem - without stems they decay much faster. There are many, many varieties of sugar pumpkins, and a few to consider are Baby Pam Sugar Pie pumpkin or Baby Bear pumpkin.
Most canned pumpkin you find in the U.S. is the Dickinson pumpkin, which is actually a variety of butternut squash. This fruit has a non-traditional shape and color (cream color) and has the longest storage potential of any winter squash variety. The longer you store the Dickinson pumpkin, the sweeter it becomes. Besides the butternut, try the Pink Banana squash for pies. It has a nice smooth and sweet taste. Or maybe the Red Kuri - it has a tear-drop shape and is also great for pies and purées.
One of my favorite fall desserts is a quick and easy Pumpkin Cheese Tart. The filling can be made a day ahead and so can the pre-baked tart shell. Baking time is less than an hour and is best served at room temperature with lightly whipped cream or a caramel garnish.
Pumpkin Cheese TartMakes two 10-inch tarts
Pre-bake a 10-inch tart shell till light brown in color.
1 pound 8 ounces cream cheese
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups pumpkin purée
1/4 cup sour cream
5 whole eggs
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
(See recipe below)
Mix the cream cheese and sugar together on low speed of a stand-up mixer and blend until smooth. Scrape the bowl often.
Add the pumpkin purée, the sour cream and eggs, and mix on slow speed.
Finish with heavy cream and blend.
Bake in a pre-baked 10-inch tart shell until set, approximately 35 to 40 minutes.
Serve with a lightly whipped cream and candied pumpkin seeds.
Fresh Baked Pumpkin Purée
1 small pumpkin (1 lb. pumpkin or squash will equal 1 cup of purée)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the pumpkin in half and clean out the seeds and stringy part. Cover a baking sheet with foil. Brush a little melted butter on the cut edges of the pumpkin. Place the sides cut side down on a baking pan. Cook for one hour or until the pumpkin is soft. Cool. Remove the pumpkin skin. Cut into pieces and blend or put through a food processor until the mixture is smooth like canned pumpkin.
Pumpkin Pie SpiceIn a small bowl, combine 4 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 4 teaspoons ground nutmeg, 4 teaspoons ground ginger, 3 teaspoons allspice and store in an airtight container.