The versatile pumpkin
“Are pumpkins decorations or food?” one of my little neighborhood buddies asked me the other day as I was unloading a big orange one from my Jeep. The question is legitimate. I was certainly intending this particular behemoth to be a decoration on my porch, and yet only the day before I had made a pan of pumpkin bars, a favorite at my house this time of year.
“Well I can honestly say they’re both,” I told the little one as I plunked my prize down, and then asked, “Have you ever eaten anything made from a pumpkin?” He scrunched up his forehead in thought. “Yeah, pumpkin pie!” he exclaimed jubilantly.
This happy declaration took my mind back to a Thanksgiving long ago when I decided to make a pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin. It was not that I was a newbie as far as pumpkin pie baking was concerned; it was just that I had never actually taken the time to make a pumpkin pie without using the canned stuff. I figured preparing the pumpkin mush from the real deal would render a masterpiece like no other; a dessert that would never be forgotten.
I informed my mother that I would be undertaking this important part of the Thanksgiving meal and she agreed that I could be in sole charge of this mainstay. I took this responsibility seriously. For weeks I hunted for just the right pumpkin to use in my pie. This is when I learned there are actually more than 100 pumpkin varieties grown throughout the USA and that about half of these are used as food and not carvers.
While big pumpkins with thinner innards make the best Jack-o-lanterns, it is the smaller and meatier varieties that are used for food consumption. That’s what I went on the hunt for, and found, in a small field next to a farmer who lived down the road from us. He ate them like squash throughout the winter months and their thick flesh was exactly what I was looking for.
There’s no trick to extracting the meat from a pumpkin to use in pie making, I learned. I think the best way is to cut the pumpkin in pieces and cook it in the oven until it’s soft. And that’s what I did for my pie, which I might add, turned out like a Martha Stewart masterpiece; perfect in every way. My pride in this thing was boundless and I couldn’t wait until I could present it to my family during the Thanksgiving meal.
But that vision was never to be realized. No, my beautiful pie, in a jumble turn of events, found itself being worn upside down by my father as an sort of off-beat hat, after it was flipped out of my hands by a younger sibling, who managed to joggle me as I was leaning over a banister the very moment Dad was greeting guests at the front door below.
I’ll never forget it. It wasn’t the disappointment of that masterpiece being ruined that sticks with me to this day, but rather the look on Dad’s face as he gazed up through a shroud of pumpkin mush which would, after sliding off his face, hit the floor in irregularly timed disgusting plops.
My mother rushed to his rescue, cleaned up the mess and the day went on, but that particular Thanksgiving has never been forgotten and every year someone, without fail, will ask the question, “Remember Dad’s pumpkin pie hat?” and the entire family will recall this adventure for those that weren’t present at the time.
I divulged this tale to my little friend the other day as we sat next to my big pumpkin on the porch. Of course he found this story extremely funny, and since we were having such a good time, I invited him in to try one of my pumpkin bars. As we sat munching our treat, he decided that pumpkins are really pretty amazing, because not only are they good to eat, but they make really “cool” decorations as well.
And we agreed on something else too-that pumpkin pie hats will probably never go over big as a fashion accessory, at least without a good laugh. From first hand experience, I can verify that.
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
15-oz. can pumpkin
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine the eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin until light and fluffy. Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth. Spread the batter into a greased 13 by 10-inch baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting. To make the icing: Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again. Spread on cooled pumpkin bars.