When most of us think of pumpkins, we think of the orange orbs that get carved up for Halloween and pumpkin pie with gobs of whipped cream for dessert at Thanksgiving but pumpkins come in all shapes, colors, sizes and varieties. Some are good only for decoration, while others are not only decorative but very tasty in pies, soups and stews.
According to Wikipedia pumpkin “is a gourd-like squash of the genus Cucurbita and the family Cucurbitaceae (which also includes gourds). It commonly refers to cultivars of any one of the species Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita mixta, Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita moschata, and is native to North America.” Some of the fun activities besides decorative carving for Halloween are Festivals and competitions with pumpkin chucking being among the most popular. Chucking has become so popular that some competitors grow their own special varieties that will survive being shot from catapults and cannons. The festivals are most dedicated to the competition for recipes and the competition for the largest pumpkin. This year that honor went to a 2058 pound beauty from Northern California will be on display this weekend at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival in San Francisco.
The pumpkin is one of the main symbols of Halloween and the Wiccan holiday of Samhain, which is a celebration of the end of the year, the final harvest and the coming of winter. The earliest that a craved pumpkin was associated with Halloween is 1866. Throughout Britain and Ireland the turnip has traditionally been used at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both readily available and much larger, making them easier to carve than turnips.
In cooking, the the fleshy shell, seeds, leaves and flowers are all edible. Canned pureed pumpkin is readily available in stores, as are the small, sweet variety of fresh pumpkin for the ambitious cook to make their own puree or for stews. When it comes to pies, the easiest is the canned, my favorite being Libby’s with the recipe on the label, label, label. It’s the only recipe I have ever used for pumpkin pie and I’ve never has a complaint.
Pumpkin and all it parts are also very nutritious, containing many vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidents. There is also an interesting medical study of pumpkin extract on type-1 diabetic rats:
(P)ublished in July 2007, suggests that chemical compounds found in pumpkin promote regeneration of damaged pancreatic cells, resulting in increased bloodstream insulin levels. According to the research team leader, pumpkin extract may be “a very good product for pre-diabetic people, as well as those who already have diabetes,” possibly reducing or eliminating the need for insulin injections for some type-1 diabetics. It is unknown whether pumpkin extract has any effect on diabetes mellitus type 2, as it was not the subject of the study.
One of my favorite recipes is Pumpkin Cheesecake with Bourbon Sour Cream Topping that is more popular than pie with my family.
For the crust:
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups solid pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, cut into bits and softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon if desired
For the topping:
2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon, or to taste
16 pecan halves for garnish
Make the crust:
In a bowl combine the cracker crumbs, the pecans, and the sugars, stir in the butter, and press the mixture into the bottom and 1/2 inch up the side of a well buttered 9-inch springform pan. It is important to make sure the sides of the pan are well buttered to insure easy removal from the pan after it is cooled. Chill the crust for 1 hour.
Make the filling:
In a bowl whisk together the pumpkin, the egg, the cinnamon, the nutmeg, the ginger, the salt, and the brown sugar. In a large bowl with an electric mixer cream together the cream cheese and the granulated sugar, beat in the cream, the cornstarch, the vanilla, the bourbon liqueur, and the pumpkin mixture, and beat the filling until it is smooth.
Pour the filling into the crust, bake the cheesecake in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the center is just set, and
let it cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes turn the oven off and close the oven door for another hour. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack.
Make the topping:
In a bowl whisk together the sour cream, the sugar, and the bourbon liqueur.
Spread the sour cream mixture over the top of the cheesecake and bake the cheesecake for 5 minutes more. Let the cheesecake cool in the pan on a rack and chill it, covered, overnight. Remove the side of the pan and garnish the top of the cheesecake with the pecans.
Some tips to making the perfect cheesecake:
- All ingredients should be at room temperature
- Gently cream the cream cheese before the eggs are added until it is smooth and lump free
- Avoid over-beating the batter. Over-beating incorporates additional air and tends to cause cracking on the surface of the cheesecake.
- Before placing the cheesecake in the oven, place an oven proof pan in the bottom of the oven and fill it half way with boiling water. Let the oven return to the proper temperature, then place the cheesecake on a rack in the center of the oven directly over the steaming water. This eliminates having to wrap the outside of the springform pan with foil to prevent water from seeping in the cake if place directly in the water.
- Don’t overbake the cheesecake. When perfectly done, there will still be a two to three-inch wobbly spot in the middle of the cheesecake; the texture will smooth out as it cools.