Monday, December 1, 2014

Pumpkins, Squash and Pumpkin Butter

Pumpkin, Squash or Gourd

Fall is all about pumpkins, squashes, gourds and beautiful Fall colors. Hallowe'en comes around and some of these pumpkins and other colorful specimens are made into pretty displays, hideous, grimacing faces or anything else one can think of as ornamental for the season. These displays hang around for a time, and then comes Thanksgiving to make use of some of the wonderful, edible Cucurbita. There are so many varieties of pumpkin and squash available nowadays. The colors, shapes and sizes are astounding. Just seeing all the varieties available in our little, local Farmers' Market took my breath away this year. Mainly, I am speaking of the varieties with hard shells, commonly known as Winter Squash. 

Squash at the Farmers' Market

Squash or Pumpkin?

Apparently the term of "squash" or "pumpkin" is somewhat subjective. Here in the US, the big, round orange ball shaped ones we think of as of Jack-o-Lanterns and pumpkin pie are most often called "pumpkins", while everything else seems to get lumped under the term "squash". Not necessarily so. Even what we normally call a pumpkin can be one of two different varieties: C. pepo or C. moschata. Many other types than these large round orange balls also fall into these categories. C. pepo also covers most of the summer squash varieties, with edible, soft skins. C. moschata also covers the very common butternut squash, which looks nothing like what we call a pumpkin. 

Apparently, according to Wikipedia and other sites around the 'net, Libby's canned Pumpkin is made from the variety C. moschata, called "Dickinson's Pumpkin". The Dickinson's Pumpkin is a variety with tan skin and vaguely roundish. It does not really seem like what we think of as a "pumpkin". But, as I have been finding, those big orange balls we call pumpkins are most often not what will make your best "pumpkin" pie!

What is Best for Pie?
Guicoy (

When I lived in Guatemala, they knew nothing about those big orange squash we call pumpkins in the US. The only winter squash variety that was available was called a Guicoy (we-COY). This green squash with orange-greenish interior flesh, a C. pepo variety, was what I used when I made a "pumpkin" pie. This same Guicoy squash, when small, is used as a summer squash, then called "guicoyitos" meaning "small guicoys". It was all that was available, and it was acceptable. The skin was so very hard I could rarely cut through it with a knife, most often resorting to throwing it repeatedly onto the hard, terazzo floors in order to crack it. I would cook the pieces and puree the meat with my trusty food mill. 

Since living in the US again, I have tried many kinds of squash to make pie. Have I noted how very much I love pumpkin pie? Well, I just love pumpkin pie. Come Fall, that is where my mind goes, and I can't wait to get to Thanksgiving and make pies. Not that it is critical to wait for Thanksgiving, mind you. But that mystique is there at that time, making it more special. 

Jarrahdale Squash
What I have found, trying out different (orange-colored) "pumpkin" varieties (such as a leftover Jack-o-Lantern type pumpkins, "sugar" pumpkins and Rouge vif d'Etampes, also called "Cinderella" pumpkins, is that I haven't been impressed. Many are mealy, even when I get the really small ones. A few years ago I bought a beautiful, blue Jarrahdale squash. I had never seen such a lovely blue color on a squash before and was curious. I baked the squash whole (after first using it in my Fall displays), so I had no idea what to expect from the insides. When I cut open the baked squash, it had the brightest orange-yellow flesh, ever. The flesh was also some of the smoothest and silkiest in texture. I used this squash to make my pumpkin pies that year and was most gratified. My pies not only tasted heavenly, but that silky texture followed through, giving me a most decadent mouth-feel also. On top of all that, this squash yielded a lot of pureed squash to use. I froze it in 2-cup portions in Freezer bags. 

My Favorites

Galeux D'Eysines, French Heirloom

This year, once again I got a blue Jarrahdale squash, but was also intrigued with an unusual variety, an heirloom from France called Brode Galeux D'Eysines (meaning "embroidered with warts", from Eysines). Both of these varieties are C. maxima. I got one of the Galeux D'Eysines and used it for almost 2 months in a display. I baked it and the Jarrahdale just before Thanksgiving. While the texture of the Galeux D'Eysines was oh, so silky-smooth, it was a very wet kind of pumpkin. Liquid was all over the place after baking, and I scooped out the flesh into a colander. While almost the same size (but not weight; it weighed far less) as the Jarrahdale, the flesh was far thinner and released so much liquid that all I got as a yield from that whole squash was three cups of puree! In comparison, the Jarrahdale, after allowing it the baked flesh to set overnight in a colander, yielded 12 cups of puree. Quite the difference!

I will say that the Galeux D'Eysines squash was the deepest, most gorgeous orange color; much deeper in color than the bright, orange-yellow Jarrahdale flesh. There just wasn't much of it. I used 2 cups of the Galeux D'Eysines squash to make my pumpkin pie last week for Thanksgiving, and I will say, the experience is decadent! It is the same with the Jarrahdale, so I would certainly recommend the Jarrahdale or another similar one I used called Jamboree, also blue-skinned.

So now I had a whole lot of squash puree. Yes, I was going to freeze it. But this amount was going to last just about forever. I love pumpkin pie, as I said. However, I am not one of those people who goes bonkers over anything "pumpkin" flavored. Pumpkin cake, bread, cookies, butter, coffee - none of these really call me. I love squash just cooked with butter, I love squash in soup, in a casserole, and about any savory way to make it. But aside from pumpkin pie, none of the other sweet applications really call to me. Still, I thought, I might be in a minority here. Most of my family, but particularly my sister Barb just loves Pumpkin Butter. So I got thinking. Maybe I should give this a try?

Pumpkin Butter on my morning toast
I set aside 6 cups of the pureed Jarrahdale squash to make pumpkin butter. The name is a misnomer in that it has no butter in it. The silky smooth texture is all that the name "butter" implies. It came together easily. It can also be made with some of that canned pumpkin, if desired. I think anything made from scratch tastes better! 

One thing to keep in mind when making pumpkin butter: It cannot be safely "canned". Something about not being able to really know what the density of the finished product will be, but a boiling water canner or even a pressure canner supposedly will not make this safe. It can be kept in the fridge for a few weeks, or it can be frozen. Here is what i did:
pureed squash in crock pot      |      added sugar and syrup    |      spices and lime juice added      |      mix and set to cook

Pumpkin Butter

makes about 6 1/2 cups
My Pumpkin Butter

6 cups well-drained, pureed squash or pumpkin, OR 3 (15 ounce) cans pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice

Place all the ingredients into a slow cooker, mix well. Cover and set to lowest temperature for one hour to bring up the heat. Not all slow cookers are equal, and many are certainly not too "slow". I read many warnings of splattering, hot lava-like eruptions. This never happened with my slow cooker. After the first hour, set the lid askew and continue to cook, stirring every 1 - 2 hours. My slow-cooker took 8 hours until I deemed the mixture to be done. This will depend on your preferences also. Once a dab set on a plate to cool has the desired consistency, it is done. 

Place the mixture into small, sterile jars to keep in the fridge, or into freezer containers to freeze.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.