I am unabashedly a fan of pumpkin in all things except hot drinks (PSL). I’ve made pumpkin brownies, cakes, pies, scones, cookies and chili.
My love affair began years and years ago when I baked my first pumpkin to make a pie. I wondered why I couldn’t just use a regular pumpkin to make pumpkin pie. I was young and there was no Internet then, so I used a regular pumpkin – the type you carve for jack-o-lanterns. Those carving pumpkins, however, aren’t for pies. They have a high water content and not much flavor.
As my baking experience developed, I learned about sugar pumpkin. This is smaller pumpkin with much more flavor than your Halloween variety. But, for reasons I didn’t understand, it didn’t match the flavor of what is in the can of pure “pumpkin.” Plus, I adore the fall Italian specialty of a pumpkin sauce, used over pasta and to make lasagna. But the Italian pumpkin I’ve tasted is much more flavorful than American pumpkin.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that Italian pumpkin isn’t the same as the American variety. It looks more like a Hubbard squash than a pumpkin.
And, it turns out that what’s in those cans of Libby’s pumpkin is actually Dickinson squash, according to various foodie news outlets. Indeed, according to the FDA’s own regulations, any type of golden-fleshed orange-type squash may be labeled as pumpkin. This would explain why, even if you cook at sugar pumpkin, it still doesn’t have the taste and consistency of canned pumpkin. Anyone who has eaten a butternut squash, a close relative of the Dickinson squash, can tell you that it is sweeter than even a sugar pumpkin.
So when my CSA includes both a sugar pumpkin and butternut squash, you can bet I cook them both up (cut in half, scoop out seeds and bake at 375 degrees for about 90 minutes to 2 hours or until a knife can easily pierce the squash). When they are cool enough, I scoop both out into a bowl and allow to finish cooking. You will find some water in the bottom (that’s usually from the sugar pumpkin), which I drain out. I then puree the two together and use that as my squash mixture for baking. If that sounds like too much work, just buy the canned pumpkin, but not the canned pumpkin pie mix. Why not the blend? Because I like to control the sugar and the spices that go into my food.
If you have a taste for pumpkin, you are probably craving those sweeter squashes, such as the Hubbard, Kabocha, or butternut.
The cooking times for these squash may make working with them tiresome, but you could also cook them in your slow cooker instead of the oven. I just discovered this for a butternut squash. There is no peeling, piercing, or attempting to split lengthwise while taking one of your fingers off.
Just put a whole butternut in your slow cooker, cover, and cook on low for 8 hours. Allow to cool, slice in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and scoop out the flesh. It’s never been so easy or so good.
Enjoy squash season.