It’s pumpkin season in the Carolinas ( and everywhere else as well) !
Time to celebrate the seasonal squash of October. Let’s get right to the cooking and start with one of my favorite recipes for Pumpkin Cheesecake. I promise, its a keeper. Then read on for tips on how to cook fresh pumpkin and how to make your own pumpkin puree.
First, a word on a few local ingredients
You’ll find the cheesecake recipe includes the way I make my own brown sugar in the recipe notes. Start with organic white sugar and North Carolina Sorghum Syrup Molasses. It’s super simple. Make just the amount you need. That way, you won’t ever have to worry about brown sugar “going hard.”
One note on the cinnamon called for in the recipe. There are many varieties of ground cinnamon aside from the generic type you’ll find in most grocery store spice sections. My go to is always Saigon Cinnamon. Not just for the bright spicy flavor; but for the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits as well. I love it so much, I even made a season cocktail with Saigon cinnamon on the rim and in the mix.
Finally ingredient note is on the local pecans. In South Carolina, visit Yon’s Pecan’s online or in person. As you will read in my post, Yon’s sells all sorts of pecan products, cookies and candies. They are also the featured pecan in Clemson Ice Cream’s delicious Butter Pecan flavor. Nothing like the real thing.
In North Carolina, order fresh picked pecans ( as well as fresh picked chestnuts and chestnut flour) from High Rock Farm in Gibsonville, just outside of Greensboro, NC. High Rock is the largest chestnut farm on the east coast. Their chestnut flour is wonderful for baking and its Gluten Free. Place an online order on the High Rock website and they’ll ship nuts or flour directly to your door.
Pumpkin Streusel Cheesecake
For the Crust:
- 2 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers gluten free graham crackers also work well
- 3 Tbsp. ground cinnamon from the Savory Spice Shop
- 4 Tbsp. melted butter
For the Filling:
- 2 (8oz) packages cream cheese, softened
- 1 (8oz) container Uno Alla Volta Ricotta Cheese, available at cheese shops around Charlotte or directly from Zack and Victoria Gadberry on Saturday mornings at the Matthews Community Farmers Market, the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market and the Davidson Farmers Market.
- 1 cup organic sugar
- 3 Tbsp. all purpose flour feel free to use a Gluten Free substitute
- 2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon from the Savory Spice Shop
- 2 Tbsp. fresh minced local organic baby ginger
- 1 tsp. ground cloves, or instead, try substituting 1 drop of clove essential oil – I love cooking with the DoTerra line of oils
- 1 Tbsp. fresh grated nutmeg
- 1 1/2 cups homemade roasted pumpkin puree, or use an equal amount of organic canned pumpkin; or baked, mashed, local sweet potatoes
- 4 whole local eggs chicken or duck eggs both work well
For the Streusel Topping:
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (See the recipe notes on how to make your own)
- 1/2 cup all purpose Flour standard or gluten free
- 1/4 cup cold butter cut into small pieces
- 1/2 cup chopped local North or South Carolina pecans
Combine crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times to mix well. Press the mix across the bottom and up sides of ungreased , parchment paper lined, 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
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 the middle rack of your oven. 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 while the cake is still hot, gently sprinkle streusel over the top before returning to oven for another 10 minutes.
Then, too 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 the cheesecake from the oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate cheesecake at least four hours or preferably overnight in the pan.
To Serve: carefully remove the 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!
How to make your own brown sugar: Combine about a cup of organic sugar and about 1/4 cup of local NC Sorghum Syrup Molasses. Stir until the sugar melts into the molasses to yield a thick homemade brown sugar. You’ll never go back to buying store bought.
Seasonally Speaking October is the time for Pumpkin
According to the folks at Foodimentary, the food holiday website, October first is officially National Pumpkin Spice Day. And so it begins. But local produce, grows in its own time. To everything there is a season, and we can’t rush it even if we wanted to.
As the weather cools, apple season comes right after our local figs make a quick and delicious appearance. Then comes fresh baby ginger and we start to see leafy greens, sweet potatoes, root veggies and then and only then, do we start to see the harvest of local squash and pumpkins.
Now with just a week sto go before Halloween, the holiday that put plump pumpkins on the map, its time to think about how to cook with the real thing; not the artificially spiced powdered wanna be.
Pumpkins, and other winter squash, are delicious veggies, available locally in dozens of varieties, shapes and sizes is as delicious to cook and bake as it is fun to carve.
Cooking with Seasonal Squash
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 is great for juicing, too. It is is also quite nice served raw, either grated into salads or thin sliced and served alongside other 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.
Picking the Perfect Pumpkin
Pumpkins grow in a wide variety of sizes, some weighing in at well over 100 pounds. Save the big bruisers for winning awards at county fares and for carving contests.
You can go and see this gi-normous Cinderella Carriage pumpkin at The Berry Patch, better known for being home of the World’s Largest Strawberry in Ellerbe NC. They do things in a big way there but you can purchase slightly smaller pumpkins there. too. They are glad for you to gather round for a fun photo op, if you and the family would like.
For home use and display, big pumpkins ( as long as you can lift them) make for great Jack-o-lanterns to light up on the front or back porch welcoming treat or treating seasonal guests.
Keep in mind that once “Jack” has been carved and spent several nights out of doors, all sorts of creepy crawly things may take up residence. For baking and eating, best to not try to reuse “Jack”, just add him to the compost bin. Instead, buy additional pumpkins for cooking, baking and preserving as a puree.
Pumpkins to cook
For eating purposes, look for medium to slightly smaller pumpkins, those with more tender and succulent flesh. You’ll finds lots of locally grown pumpkins at local farmers’ markets in the weeks ahead. Buy several to enjoy from now till the end of the year and freeze to keep them even longer.
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 at room temperature for as long as a month or keep in a cooler place for as long as three months.
Because they are fresh and haven’t been warehoused since picking, locally harvested pumpkins and squash will be easier to cut into, despite the still thick skin, than will commercially purchased ones.
If you are wary of wielding a big chef’s knife to cut apart your seasonal squash, take this easy and, lets face it, fun way out: Place your pumpkin in a large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag, take it outside and drop it on some hard concrete.
The pumpkin will split open into several pieces. Back in your kitchen, remove the pieces from the bag, scoop out the stringy pulp that surrounds the seeds and then cut the firmer pulp from the outside shell. Boil, steam, bake or fry the pieces of pulp as you would potatoes, or oven roast by placing the broken 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 pieces are fork tender – about the same consistency as a baked potato. When the squash has cooled slightly, scoop the pulp out of the cooked shell.
OR, you could bake your pumpkin whole. You don’t have to cut or break apart the pumpkin before you cook it – you can cook it whole – you just need to provide several slits so that the steam that will build up inside as the pumpkin cooks will have a place to escape.
This approach works best when working with a small to moderately sized pumpkin.
How to Bake the Whole Enchilada
Bake the pumpkin in a preheated 400 degree over for 35-40 minutes or until it starts to brown slightly and just starts to give a bit to the touch.
Forget the big knife, instead use a small sawblade pumpkin carving tool to cut off the top. Leave the seeds inside and invert the open topped pumpkin onto a parchment or silpat covered baking sheet. Use the small saw once more to cut five or six small steam “holes” in the bottom of the pumpkin – just as you would on the top of a pie crust.
Invert the warm baked pumpkin on a wire rack and let it cool.
Once the pumpkin is cool, you may easily scoop out the seeds and the stringy stuff that holds the seeds inside. Rinse the seeds and save for toasting.
Sprinkle the inside of the now seedless pumpkin with some sea salt. Don’t use too much, you don’t want it to taste salty, you just want it to taste more pumpkin-y!
Quick and Easy Savory Stuffed Pumpkin or A Fun Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie
Once the pumpkin has cooled and you’ve salted it slightly, you can stuff it with anything savory for an in-the-shell casserole of sorts. Try your favorite chicken or seafood pot pie filling. Or, instead, take things to the sweeter side and stuff the baked pumpkin with softened vanilla or caramel ice cream.
If you are going sweet, I’d sprinkle a mix of Saigon Cinnamon and Sugar over the pumpkin before you add the add ice. Then, freeze the stuffed squash for several hours; cut into wedges, top with the warmed real maple syrup and enjoy your fresh baked pumpkin ice cream pie!!
To make your own pumpkin puree
Make your own pumpkin puree for use later on – so much better to have fresh frozen than the canned stuff. Just 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 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.
Heidi’s Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
The pumpkin seeds, sometimes called pepitas, may be rinsed from the stringy pulp, which holds then in place inside the pumpkin and then baked.
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.
My husband Tom loves Bojangles fried potato wedges – and so while I usually season pumpkin seeds with something as simple as a mix of salt and pepper or sometimes a blend of garlic salt, chili powder and a dash of cumin; this year I decided to use the Bojangles seasoning on our pumpkin seeds and I have to tell you it is delicious!
Jars of the seasoning blend are available at your local Bojangles or, if you don’t live near a Bojangles, its also available in a four-pack gift box at the company’s online store .
Toast the seasoned 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.
Heidi’s Protein Packed Pumpkin Toast
A little sweet and a little salty way to start the day or enjoy as an afternoon snack
2 slices whole grain or seeded organic or locally baked bread, toasted to your desired doneness
One-half cup of your own baked pumpkin ( unseasoned) mashed with 1 Tbsp, butter and salt to taste
1 Tbsp. bloomed Chia seeds – to bloom the seeds combine 1 Tbsp. dry seeds with 2 Tbsp. water; stir and allow to sit for a minute or two. Unused bloomed seeds will hold in the refrigerator for a day or two.
half of a firm but ripe banana sliced
A drizzle of your favorite local honey – I have several favorites, but in this case I used Dancing Bees Sourwood Honey from Monroe, NC ( available at several stores around town and directly from Jeff and Robin Knight at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market and the Charlotte Regional Market on Saturdays)
Toasted pumpkin seeds, seasoned with your favorite slightly spicy seasoning blend
While your bread is toasting, mash the unseasoned baked pumpkin with the butter and salt; if you’ve got a sweet tooth going, add in some of the sugar and cinnamon mix as well. Remove from heat and stir in the chia seeds. While it is still warm, spread half the mix on a slice of toast. Top with sliced bananas, a drizzle of honey and the toasted pumpkin seeds. Enjoy open face with your favorite pumpkin spice beverage.