Canned Pumpkin a Godsend

Once upon a time as a happy newlywed, I was getting ready to
host my new Dutch family to Thanksgiving dinner for the first time.
I had moved to Amsterdam the previous March and, after a whirlwind
romance, had married a Dutch fellow that previous September.
Once upon a time as a happy newlywed, I was getting ready to host my new Dutch family to Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. I had moved to Amsterdam the previous March and, after a whirlwind romance, had married a Dutch fellow that previous September.

Now it was November, and I was eager to share my home country’s beloved tradition with him and his family: his father and his father’s wife, his sister, and his sister’s family, which included two little girls.

This was in the early ’80s and American foods were mainly available at markets catering to service personnel or diplomatic families. I found a fresh turkey, rather small but fine for my purposes.

Stuffing ingredients were no problem because I always made that from scratch. I also found fresh cranberries, and of course potatoes and Brussels sprouts were everywhere.

But canned pumpkin, the key ingredient for pumpkin pie, proved impossible to find. After phoning all of the likely sources with no success, I discovered a market that carried pumpkins. How hard could it be, I reasoned, to cook and puree my own pumpkin?

Let the surprises begin.

First of all, the pumpkins I found were not the round, bright orange types we are used to. They were flatter and not as bright orange; I have since seen them referred to as “Cinderella” pumpkins, as they look like the kind that magically became Cinderella’s carriage. I’ve also seen them referred to as “rouge vif d’estampes.”

I had no idea how big of a pumpkin I would need for my pies, so I bought a fairly large one – say maybe 10 pounds – to be safe. When I got it home, I discovered it wouldn’t fit in my small oven, so I cut it in half and set it to baking. Eventually it got soft.

My husband, in the meantime, after seeing this imposing vegetable and its stringy interior and seeds up close, had begun to be very skeptical about it as a pie ingredient. He was sure his family would be polite and taste a bite or two, but more than that? No way.

When I began to scoop the cooked pumpkin from the shells, it looked nothing like the canned pumpkin I remembered. Canned pumpkin is firm and thick, and this was goopy, kind of watery, stringy in parts and actually rather revolting.

I determined that I needed to strain it to remove the excess water and fiber, so I set about pressing gobs of cooked pumpkin through a strainer into a bowl.

Hours passed.

Luckily, the strained pumpkin seemed a lot more like the canned version. All four quarts of it, if I remember right.

Be thankful that there is no reason you will ever have to do this.

In the face of my husband’s skepticism, I measured enough pumpkin for only one pie, and rather sadly threw the rest away. With a turkey, several bottles of Beaujolais nouveau and other party ingredients, the small apartment fridge just couldn’t accommodate the extra 3 1/2 quarts of pumpkin.

I used my puree in the traditional recipe. It was a little less solid than with canned pumpkin, but it came out fine. A dollop of whipped cream on each serving made it festive and I, at least, couldn’t wait for the first bite.

Of course, my husband’s family – even the little girls, even my husband – thought it was delicious. Best new thing they’d tried in years. My one tiny pie was gone in a flash. And the key ingredient for more, so hard won and so recklessly discarded, was long gone.

Here is the recipe I used, based on my mom’s recipe. It makes two pies, so you might have enough for midnight snacks or breakfast.

Pumpkin Pie

Makes two shallow 9-inch pies

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

2 large eggs

1 15-ounce can of pumpkin

2 cups cream or half milk and half cream

2 unbaked 9-inch shallow (2-cup volume) pie shell

sweetened whipped cream

Step 1: Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Step 2: Mix sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in cream.

Step 3: Pour into pie shells.

Step 4: Bake in preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees, and bake for 30 to 50 minutes more or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours.

Step 5: Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream before serving.

Canned pumpkin is inexpensive in season and can be used in a lot of other dishes, including desserts, soups and quick breads. Here is a recipe for Pumpkin Apple Bread that would be perfect to wrap as a host’s gift or to keep on hand to serve when people drop in.

Pumpkin Apple Bread

(adapted from the Gourmet Cook Book; original recipe from Rebecca’s Gourmet Bakery in Cary North Carolina)

Makes two 9 by-5 inch loaves

FOR TOPPING:

1 Tbs. flour

5 Tbs. sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened

Blend all ingredients in a small bowl with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal.

FOR BREAD:

3 cups flour

3/4 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. ground allspice

1 15-ounce can of pumpkin

3/4 c. vegetable oil

2 1/4 cup sugar

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and put the rack in the middle. Butter two 9-by 5-inch loaf pans.

Step 2: Sift together flour, salt and spices into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, oil, sugar and eggs. Add flour mixture to this and stir until well combined. Stir in apples.

Step 3: Divide batter between pans and sprinkle half of topping on each loaf. Bake until a skewer inserted in center of bread comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes.

Step 4: Cool loaves in pan on rack about 45 minutes, then turn out of pans and cool completely. May be kept in refrigerator up to one week or frozen for up to a month.

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