11.27.2008

The Local Food Report: not-so-pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie, it turns out, is a fraud. That pie on your table right now? It's probably made with Hubbard squash, if you got the mix from a can.

Hubbards are bigger, and therefore easier for canning companies to deal with. They taste better than most pumpkins, too.

In fact there's only one pumpkin, the sugar pumpkin, that will yield a pie that's any good. Jack-o-lanterns turn quickly into a stringy, dire mess, too large and tough for the project. But growing sugar pumpkins commercially is not a workable idea—they're tiny, with only enough meat for a single pie.

But unless you're terribly picky, this news shouldn't matter much. It's most important in the shopping, for knowing what type of squash to buy. A disaster with baked jack-o-lantern can be enough to kill the idea of homemade pumpkin pie for years. Luckily, there are many more suitable squashes to choose from: Hubbard and butternut and ambercup and buttercup and Lady Scarlett's and probably dozens more. Almost any winter squash that's good for eating with brown sugar and a pat of butter—well, it's probably good for pie.

I like to make my pies with butternut. It's easy to find, easy to bake, and the skin peels off nicely when the time comes to puree. It's also the right color—it's bright orange flesh deepening with the spices and finally mellowing to a rich gold with the addition of cream. This year, I made my mother's recipe

WILL PASS AS PUMPKIN PIE

Serves 6 to 8

Mix until well-blended: 2 cups butternut puree, 1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream, minus 3 tablespoons, 3 tablespoons rum, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 2 slightly beaten eggs. Bake 15 minutes at 425; reduce heat to 350 and bake 45 minutes longer or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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