Photo by Sequatchie Cove Farm
Cool weather has finally arrived in Chattanooga and I can get excited about pumpkin goodies. Now, this does not make sense, really, for seasonal eating in the South. Winter squashes that are planted in the spring become available as early as July. But I’m pretty well culturally conditioned to think of pumpkins going together with fall and I’ll just go with it.
You may have noticed an article about pumpkin that went viral recently. A food writer recently made the personal discovery that canned pumpkin is not actually pumpkin, it’s a blend of squashes. I found this amusing since pumpkins and squashes are both in the family Cucurbitaceae, as are cucumbers and melons. Going down to the genus Cucurbita you have what we call the squashes, pumpkins, and gourds. That’s where the distinctions get fuzzier and the names are often fairly cultural, even down to the local level in some cases.
Don’t misunderstand me, though, there are different species in Cucurbita, and an even wider variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. Even the leaves are distinctive, though a big field of a variety of squash is going to visually blend together at a distance into similar green leaves. Cucurbita pepo has been proposed to be the variety we think of in the United States as our bright orange pumpkin (and I assume has to do with the seeds’ name pepito) but it is a controversial topic and it’s a species that potentially includes any orange squash or gourd, crookneck squash, scalloped squash (such as pattypan), acorn squash, and most ornamental gourds. You can see why I am amused that someone would worry about squash versus pumpkin.
As a cook and market shopper I’d much rather be flexible in my squash and pumpkin thinking. I’m not worried about what a can of pumpkin says because I’m not using the can! Also, I can choose a squash that is a lovely shade of blue gray if I want, or ask around for the variety with the most orange, sweetest flesh - or both.
Once you have your squmpkin home and have finished using it as decoration, how do you cook it? There are possibly as many ways to cook it as there are varieties of pumpkin. Try one and see how you like it and move on to another way next time if it sounds more appealing. I prefer cutting mine into manageable pieces (really, this depends on the shape and size of the squash), scooping out the seeds and strings, and putting it cut side down on a baking pan. Roast for 1-2 hours at 375 degrees (again, depends on the size). You can flip it all over halfway through baking if you’d like some of the flesh to caramelize. Once it’s done and cool enough to handle, peel the skin and puree the flesh in a food processor or with an immersion blender.
Catie had a previous post on a different method that I have not braved yet. It certainly looks easy!
Once you have your puree it’s time to turn it into some yummy goodness. In my recipe for lemon poppyseed squash bars I mentioned that it was adapted from a winter squash bar recipe. As I often do I tweaked the recipe and increased the spices in variety and total. An excellent variation would be to replace the ground ginger with 1 tablespoon fresh grated (to taste). Fresh ground nutmeg is a nice touch, too, and really doesn’t take very long for the small amount called for. I changed the sugar to brown for a touch of molasses. I also use melted butter instead of oil for both the flavor and improved texture. Feel free to use your favorite oil - I recommend coconut or palm if you like those.
Note that this recipe was developed for homemade winter squash puree. If you substitute canned pumpkin or find that the squash you cooked is fairly dry you will need to add some liquid to keep the batter from being too stiff. I’ve used applesauce but even water would do. Substituting maple syrup for some or all of the brown sugar will work, too, and will add another yummy flavor to the mix. Also, if you are using market eggs (I hope you are!), be sure to weigh them. The recipe was also developed with large eggs, which weigh 2 to 2.25 oz each. It’s good to have the correct amount of eggs in this recipe.
These bars have a texture between a cake and a muffin, rather than a dense, gooey bar. I’ve seen bars with frosting but I think these are plenty sweet and moist enough as-is. Enjoy for breakfast or dessert, according to your personal sweet tooth.
Adapted from Winter Squash Bars from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert
1 cup flour (white, whole wheat or half and half)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger
⅛ tsp nutmeg
Pinch of cloves
Beat together in a mixing bowl
1 cup winter squash puree
¾ cup sugar
⅜ cup (6 Tbs) butter, melted
Mix in dry ingredients to wet. Pour into greased 9” x 13” pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes and cut into bars when cool (or cool-ish!).
Go here for a printable recipe in two different quantities
Photo by Zachary Cross
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