When the Colonists first landed in North America they found the Indians growing and using pumpkins. The new Americans were quick to enthusiastically embrace the large round and sometimes ungainly fruit, which is actually a member of the gourd family, and subsequently pumpkin pie became an American tradition.
Today most of us do not hesitate to go out and choose a real pumpkin for our Halloween Jack-o-Lantern, but when it comes to actually cooking this seasonal squash, we tend to forgot that “Eat Local” mantra and all the possibilities of using fresh versus canned. This year, I suggest you shop from local farmers, rather than the canned veggie aisle of your local grocer and make some puree you can freeze and use for months to come.
Okay, I’ll admit it, while it is comforting to have a can or two or organic pumpkin puree on the shelf for back up; it’s easy to put up your own pumpkin puree this season and I am happy to use this post to show you how its done. Fresh pumpkin, like all other varieties of winter squash is abundant in this area and makes for some very fine eating not only in pie, but in custards, ice creams, breads, cookies and muffins as well as savory recipes like soups, salads, pastas, tempura and pureed or baked as a side with grilled or roasted meats and its great for juicing, too.
Whew! Pumpkin is also quite nice served raw, either grated into salads or thin sliced and served with raw veggies and your favorite dip.
These seasonal squash are low in calories, yet abundant in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pumpkin is a great source for vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E all are rich in anti-oxidants and anti-aging properties. Health benefits aside, legend and folk lore has it that this grandest of gourd’s is also an aphrodisiac…so all of a sudden, pumpkin season could take on a whole new meaning … just sayin’
In this post I’ve included a recipe originally given to me by my friend Linda Singerlie, for one of the best pumpkin cheesecakes I have ever tasted. I tweaked it a bit to make it more local with the inclusion of local Una Alla Volta ricotta, local eggs and homemade brown sugar made from organic sugar and local molasses – instructions all to come.
But, before you cook, you must carve…
If you are looking for some inspiration before you carve, why not join me and 25 plus other Charlotte chefs, all members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild on Sunday October 19 at 4 pm for the Guild’s annual fall fundraiser at 7th Street Market in Uptown Charlotte: a family event appropriately dubbed, CARVED. In attendance, skillfully wielding their knives and sharing their pumpkin carving skills will be the likes of Larry Schreiber from the Moffett Restaurant Group; Marc Jacksina from Earl’s Grocery; Chris Coleman from The Asbury; David Feimster from Fahrenheit; Ben Philpott from Block & Grinder; Gregory Collier from The Yolk; Michael Rayfield from Ballantyne Resort; Miles Payne from Little Spoon Eatery; Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine; and Paul Verica from Heritage – just to name a few! For more info about these chefs and their restaurants – check out the links in the “shopping” portion of this post.
In addition to the two hour pumpkin carving competition all of the shops at the Market will be open for business and the Guild will have a tasty apple cider press demonstration complete with samples presented by Coldwater Creek Farms; and a beekeeping demonstration by Art Duckworth of Apple Orchard Farm.
Lenny Boy Brewery will be on hand with a special sweet potato beer. As a ticket goer, adults will receive a souvenir CARVED 2014 cup good for two (8 oz) pours and one ticket to vote for your favorite pumpkin. The guild will be also be selling more tickets on site if people want to vote more than once.
Advance tickets are still on sale – links to purchase are at the end of this post. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. Kids 18 & under: $5 (unless they bring their own already carved jack-o-lantern and then it’s free!) Proceeds go to Piedmont Culinary Guild and Slow Food Charlotte’s Farmer Fund.
From carving to culinaria
Pumpkins grow in a wide variety of sizes, some weighing in at well over 100 pounds. Save the big brusiers for winning awards at county fares and for carving contests. Nothing like a large Jack-o-lantern set out and lit up on the porch designed to welcome treat or treating seasonal guests. Keep in mind that once “Jack” has been carved and spent several nights out of doors, all sorts of ants and other creepy crawly things may take up residence, to say nothing of the melted wax. That’s all fine, if the plan is to keep the carved pumpkin outside, but if you were planning to cook and eat the pulp after the 31st, then best to buy another pumpkin or two or three for all your upcoming culinary endeavors this season.
For eating purposes, look for medium to slightly smaller pumpkins, those with more tender and succulent flesh. Like any other winter squash – butternut, acorn, golden and Hubbard – the skin should be free from blemishes and the pumpkin or squash heavy for its size. Store whole any winter squash, pumpkins et al, at room temperature for as long as a month or keep in a cooler place for as long as three months.
To easily get inside the tough outer shell, place your pumpkin in a large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag, take it outside and drop it on some hard concrete – this might be one fun and good way for the kids to help with the process.. The pumpkin will split open into several pieces. Remove the pumpkin pieces from the bag, scoop out the stringy pulp that surrounds the seeds and then cut the firmer pulp from the outside pumpkin shell. Boil, steam, bake or fry the chunks of pumpkin as you would potatoes, or oven roast by placing the pumpkin chunks, skin and all, cut side down in a large baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about an hour, or an hour and a half or so, or until the pumpkin pieces are fork tender – about the same consistency as a baked potato. When the squash has cooled slightly, scoop is of the cooked shell.
For pumpkin puree, mash or process the roasted, boiled or steamed chunks in a processor, blender or by hand. Season to be sweet or savory, as you choose and then use as directed in your favorite recipe. Cooked pumpkin pulp will keep in your freezer for six to eight months.
In addition to being used as a base for many sweet and savory recipes, pumpkin or winter squash puree may also be served on it’s own as you would mashed or creamed potatoes. Simply add a little butter to the puree and season to taste with salt and pepper.
From little seeds, big pumpkins grow
The pumpkin seeds, sometimes called pepitas, may be rinsed from the stringy pulp, which holds then in place inside the pumpkin and then baked. Because you will remove them before setting your Jack-o-lantern outside, you can bake and eat the seed from pumpkins you carve as well as those you cut up and cook.
First, rinse the seeds well, removing all of the pumpkin pulp. Then, pat the seeds dry between several layers of paper toweling. Spread the dry pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a lightly oiled or buttered baking sheet. Season them generously before baking with your favorite spice or spice combination. Use something as simple as a mix of salt and pepper or go for a zestier blend of garlic salt, chili powder and a dash of cumin. Toast the seeds in a preheated 200 degree oven for 45 minutes to one hour, turning them over halfway during the baking time. When the seeds are dry and toasted with a crunchy consistency, remove them for the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container and enjoy over the course of the next several weeks and months.
Recipe adapted by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto
For the Crust:
2-1/2 cups crushed graham crackers
3 Tbsp. your favorite cinnamon from the Savory Spice Shop
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
For the Filling:
2 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 (8oz) container Una Volla Alta locally made ricotta cheese (available at Pasta & Provisions)
1 cup organic sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
2 tsp. your favorite Savory Spice Shop cinnamon
1 Tbsp. fresh minced Windcrest farms local organic baby ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. fresh grated nutmeg
1-1/2 cups of your own fresh made roasted pumpkin puree ( or use an equal amount of organic canned pumpkin)
4 whole local eggs
For the Streusel Topping:
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar ( i like to make my own by combining about a cup of organic sugar and about 1/4 cup of local Molasses ( I love Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses) – it makes the most delicious brown sugar you will ever eat!)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cold butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Combine crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times to mix well. Press in bottom and up sides of ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven 10 minutes and set aside.
Meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the first seven ingredients together; add pumpkin and eggs, mix until well blended. Pour into prepared crust; bake 55 minutes on middle rack. Place a shallow cake pan partially full of water on the bottom rack of the oven to provide moist heat in the oven and keep the cheesecake from drying out.
Carefully remove cheesecake and gently sprinkle streusel over the top before returning to oven for another 10 minutes. To help avoid cracking, turn oven off but leave cheesecake in oven with door cracked for a slow cooling process – about 30 minutes or until cheesecake center is set.
Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate cheesecake at least four hours or preferably overnight in the pan then removed sides and gently slide the cake off the bottom of the pan and onto a cake stand. Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and enjoy!
Shopping and Contact info for tickets, products and chefs mentioned in this post:
Visit the events page of the Piedmont Culinary Guild website, to purchase advance tickets for the Oct 19 CARVED event online and remember tickets will also be available at the door
For all of the spices mentioned in the Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe above, visit my friends Amy and Scott McCabe at the Savory Spice Shop in SouthEnd at Atherton Mill. 2000 South Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203 980.225.5419
Uno Alla Volta cheeses are available at the Matthews Community Farmers Market and at the regional Yorkmont Road Market on Saturdays and at cheese shops around town. For more info visit and “Like” them at https://www.facebook.com/unoallvoltacheese
Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses is available by contacting the farm in Bakersville, NC – contact information is on the farm’s website at http://harrellhillfarms.com/molasses.htm
Lots of great area chefs are members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild – for more info or, of you are an interested chef, to become a member yourself, check out the Guild’s website at http://piedmontculinaryguild.com/what-is-the-piedmont-culinary-guild/
For more info on the chefs and restaurants mentioned in this post, just click on the Urbanspoon or website links here:
Larry Schreiber from Good Food on Montford –
Marc Jacksina from Earl’s Grocery
David Feimster from Fahrenheit
Ben Philpott from Block & Grinder
Michael Rayfield from Ballantyne Resort
Miles Payne from Little Spoon http://www.littlespooneatery.com/
Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine