Saturday 27 September 2008

The Time for Pumpkins

October is almost upon us, and that's the time for pumpkins. As a fruit, pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family of plants (which also includes gourds) and are probably native to North America (the oldest known seeds having been found in Mexico). Indeed, the only squash known to be native to Eurasia is the green Chinese squash and it's this that's referred to in Roman and Medieval recipes (for example, Alexandrine Squash or Gourdes in Potage [Squash Stew]).

Not only are pumpkins and squashes very versatile in cooking, they're also the Halloween vegetable par excellence, whether you're using them for making a Jack O'Lantern or for preparing Hallowe'en dishes. So, here are a few classic pumpkin dishes for you to try.

Most of these recipes call for cooked pumpkin purée. You can, of course, buy tinned pumpkin but it's very easy to make pumpkin purée. Simply peel your pumpkin, remove the seeds and dice the flesh. Either boil or place in a steamer and cook for about 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain in a colander over the sink and allow the excess moisture to drain out for 10 minutes. After this time press gently with the back of a spoon to remove more moisture. Depending on how fine a purée you need you can either mash the pumpkin with a fork or you can press it through a fine-meshed sieve with the back of a spoon. Use this purée anywhere that calls for tinned or prepared pumpkin. You can even freeze the mixture as it keeps well. If making this for pumpkin pie then you can pre-spice the mixture by adding 2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend to every 200g (1 cup) of pumpkin purée.

Now for the recipes:

Pumpkin Pie

enough sweet shortcrust pie dough for a 22cm pie dish (about 250g)
200g pumpkin purée
150g sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend (or 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground cloves)
3 eggs, slightly beaten
250ml single cream

In a bowl, beat together the pumpkin, sugar, salt and spices. Mix until smooth then add the eggs and beat to combine. Finally add the cream and beat to mix.

Turn the pastry onto a lightly-floured work surface and roll out until large enough to cover the base of a 22cm diameter deep pie dish. Line the dish with the pastry and trim the edges. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the dish then transfer to an oven pre-heated to 210°C. Bake for about 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 170°C and bake for a further 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the centre of the pie emerges cleanly.

Allow to cool on a wire rack and serve either warm or cold.

Spiced Pumpkin Fudge

150g butter
600g sugar
160ml evaporated milk
100g cooked pumpkin, drained and mashed

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
300g butterscotch chips
210g Marshmallow Creme
120g toasted mixed nuts, chopped

1 tsp vanilla extract

In a heavy-based saucepan combine the butter, sugar, evaporated milk, pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 115°C, as measured on a confectioner's thermometer (the Soft Ball stage).

Take off the heat then stir-in the butterscotch chips until melted before adding the marshmallow creme. Finally stir-in the nuts and vanilla. Pour into a buttered 30 x 22cm pan and allow to cool completely then cut into squares. Wrap in waxed paper and store in an air-tight jar.

These recipes are reproduced, with permission, from the Celtnet Pumpkin and Squash recipes collection and the Halloween Recipes Collection (which also has a history of Hallowe'en and recipes from the Iron Age to the present).

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