This was a great year for pumpkins in Virginia City. I grew the little sugar pie pumpkins like the one pictured, and this year I was able to harvest almost a dozen before the deer came from Washoe Valley and had a feast with everything in the garden. Last year they even ate the green pumpkins on the vine. I love fresh pumpkin for all of the wonderful traditional holiday recipes. Sugar pie pumpkins are the ones not used for Jack-o’-lanterns, but grown especially for cooking. Try replacing butternut or acorn squash with pumpkin in any recipe featuring the winter squash.
Don’t be intimidated by cooking with fresh pumpkin. Cut the fresh pumpkin into large chunks, de-seed, then peel and place the chunks of pumpkin in a large pot on the stove with an inch of water. Cover and cook at medium to low heat until you can test the pumpkin with a fork and see that it is cooked thoroughly. You may need to stir up the chunks a few times during the cooking process which may take up to 15 minutes or so. Drain the pumpkin chunks very well in a colander before processing in a food processor or simply using an electric mixer to puree. Feel free to eat the puree as a vegetable side with dinner (don’t forget the freshly ground nutmeg), freeze or can, or use the puree immediately in any recipe calling for solid pack pumpkin from a can. The pumpkins can also be roasted; just cut them in half, de-seed and bake at about 400 degrees for 30 – 35 minutes or until they register done with a fork test. Cool and scrape out the pumpkin pulp and process as before in a food processor or with an electric mixer.
One of my favorite pumpkin sides is the slightly spicy pumpkin butter used in place of jam or jelly on a hot toasted English muffin or breakfast toast. I’ve only made this from fresh pumpkin puree. It is simply:
1 1/4 cups of fresh pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Cook all ingredients over medium to low heat stirring constantly. Bring to a low boil, stirring constantly, and cook for about 5 minutes. Cool and refrigerate until needed. For extra spice, try a pinch of cardamom. If it cooks too fast and dries out, try a little apple juice for liquid. For true pumpkin aficionados, try the pumpkin butter on the:
Spicy Cream Cheese Pumpkin Muffins
For muffin batter:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed, dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooked pureed fresh pumpkin or solid pack canned pumpkin
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray (with butter-flavored spray) 12 standard-size muffin tin indentations, or line with paper baking cups. Stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix together the pumpkin and wet ingredients in another bowl, and add the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, and mix well until all ingredients are incorporated. Add batter to the muffin tin about two-thirds full. Mix together the cream cheese filling ingredients, and fill a decorator bag with a large opening tip with the cream cheese mixture. Pipe a little of the filling into the middle of the batter in each of the muffins. Sprinkle with about 1/3 cup chopped walnuts over the top of the cream cheese filling. Bake muffins at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the muffin part of the muffin. Cool and serve. There is no adjustment for high elevation; lower elevations may need more bake time.
Cream Cheese Filling
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 teaspoons heavy cream, if needed
Beat together the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until well blended. Add a little of the heavy cream to make a smooth consistency that will flow easily out of the decorator bag. You can, of course, use the pumpkin seeds (pepitas) in place of walnuts for the topping, but I always save the seeds for next year’s garden. Wish me luck with those deer in 2014! Happy and safe holidays to everyone.
Carolyn Eichin owns B Street House Bed and Breakfast in Virginia City.