Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Playing with Pumpkin.


I have often wondered why pumpkin was so important for the fall and winter holidays.  Of all the squash varieties available, why this particular species?  Let’s do a bit of time travel to 7000 BCE, and a favorite winter vacation spot, Mesoamerica aka Mexico.  The Native tribes lived off the land; growing, harvesting, collecting seeds to plant for new growth and harvest.  One method used necessitated a water source, The Three Sisters of squash, beans and corn.  This method allowed each crop to help each other while growing along a river bed.  Vines of beans created a trellis upon the corn, and added nitrogen into the soil.  The trellis provided shade for the pumpkin while the pumpkin vines helped the shallow roots of corn stay stable in wind.  The corn stalks would allow the beans and pumpkins to lift off the ground slightly, so wet ground would keep them from rotting. 

Pumpkin was not so named until Europeans began exploring Mexico.  The name of this squash comes from the Greek word Pep├Án which means “Large Melon.” The French took this word for themselves as well, the English were good with it too.  American English though had to have its own pronunciation, and "Pumpkin" was formed.  Even back in the 16th and 17th centuries, settlers of North America were having fun with phonics!

Squash, including pumpkins, is normally a fall weather crop.  The large orange pumpkins are often emptied of pulp and seed, a face carved in the hard shell, and a candle placed inside.  Now do you know why?  Jack O’ Lanterns are based upon an Irish myth.  Stingy Jack drank with the devil twice, but tricked him both times, so Jack did not end up paying.  Jack’s luck ran out though; he died and heaven refused him entrance due to his track record of bad deeds.  Down to hell he fell, but the devil held a grudge and would not allow Jack admittance as well.  However, the devil gave Jack a burning ember, so his spirit could walk the earth forever, and have something to light his way.  Jack carved out a potato, placed the ember inside, and became known as Jack of the Lantern. 

While pumpkin seeds can be roasted and salted for a tasty snack, the pulp is often used to make baked goods and soups.  Americans love this squash so much, they extend its use into the next fall holiday, Thanksgiving; then into winter with Yule and Christmas.  Thankfully, due to home canning, and the aluminum can industry, pure pumpkin is available year round!  Now to my playing with pumpkin, and the goodies I enjoy baking, and most of all, eating.

Back in October 2016, my recipe for Pumpkin Bread appeared in the San Juan Record.  Since then, I have found many more uses for that recipe besides loaves of delicious cake-bread.  The same recipe can be used to make muffins!  Divide the batter into 3rds, leave one third plain; to the next 3rd, add semi-sweet chocolate chips; the last 3rd is a power punch of chopped walnuts and dried cranberries.  Want more fun?  Use enough of the batters to make 24 muffins; then put the rest into a loaf pan for an awesome mixture of pumpkin, chocolate, walnuts and cranberries.  To die for!


Here’s the basic recipe again, but need to wow the family, and guests, with a fancier treat?  Bake up Biscotti!  An Italian cookie whose name means “twice baked”, and you just have to change the basic recipe a wee bit.

Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients:

 2 cups cooked pumpkin puree or 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
 4 eggs
 1 cup canola oil
 2/3 cup water
 3 cups sugar
 3 cups flour
 2 tsp baking soda
 1 ½ tsp salt
 1 tsp each ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg and allspice
 ½ tsp ground cloves

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350; lightly butter and flour (or use baking spray) three loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together well the pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices; add 1/3 of dry mixture into pumpkin mixture and mix well; repeat until all dry ingredients have been incorporated into the wet mixture. Divide batter between prepared loaf pans; use a soup ladle to get three full cups into each loaf pan.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out cleanly. Let loaves cool before inverting and removing.

Makes 3 loaves.  Or makes 30 muffins which are baked for 30 minutes (use cupcake liners for easy removal from muffin tins).

Normally biscotti is twice baked to allow each slice to crisp up, making it perfect for dipping into coffee or hot chocolate.  Not everyone enjoys very crisp cookies, so the baking time can be adjusted to allow for a softer cookie.  Do not make them too soft though if intending to dip them into melted chocolate for that fancy touch.  Again, since the main ingredient is pumpkin, favorite additions of chocolate chips, dried fruit and nuts will be perfect enhancements for the biscotti.




Pumpkin Biscotti

Ingredients:

½ cup (4 oz.) pure pumpkin
3 tsp. flour
1 tsp each ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg and allspice
 ½ tsp ground cloves
4 large eggs
1 cup canola oil
¾ cup sugar
3 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder

Additions, if desired: ½ cup chocolate chips, ½ cup chopped walnuts or pistachios, ½ cup dried cranberries, or go wild and add ¼ cup of two or three.

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350F; line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, mix together pumpkin, 3 tsp. flour, spices; set aside.
















In a large bowl, mix together eggs, oil and sugar.  Add pumpkin mixture from small bowl, and mix well.  Slowly add in 3 cups flour and baking powder.  If dough is very sticky, add in flour, teaspoon at a time, until it no longer sticks to the hands or bowl.




Remove from bowl to floured board, lightly work in additions (chips, nuts, fruits).  












Divide into 3rds, roll into flattened logs and place on parchment paper; score logs into 8 to 10 pieces.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, bottom will be slightly browned.  















Remove logs to cutting board to cool for 5 minutes.  At score sites, cut logs into individual pieces, place back onto parchment paper, and back into oven for 10-15 minutes.  The longer in the oven, the crispier the cookies become.  



Remove cookies to cooling rack and let cool completely.









Option: After cooling, drizzle, or dip into, melted white chocolate for a lovely contrast of color.

Makes 24 to 30 cookies.  Store in glass or metal containers, in a cool area, to allow cookies to keep their crispiness.

A tin, of these pretty cookies, will make a wonderful gift.  Enjoy and happy holidays!


Mary Cokenour