Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Yen is Mightier Than the Gourd

When insatiable desire presents itself, sometimes need
trumps the importance of breed.
Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about dessert.

The pumpkin patch is a happy place. It is for this reason that brooding teens are best left in the rear seats of mini-vans, to sulk in their zippered hoodies, ears corked by foam buds
blaring the timeless messages that
(1) they are misunderstood, and
(2) parents are stupid people.
I offer no further explanation for why my front porch is devoid of my favorite, edible representation of fall’s abundant harvest.
We are pumpkin-less.

More than a decade ago, when I first ascended my
culinary-high-horse, I adopted a strict set of policies and procedures by which I intended to create my self-proclaimed masterpieces of gastronomic perfection (and as a side note, I was just as ambitious during the first week of my South Beach Diet days). Some of these self-imposed standards included the following:
(1) The use of only pure vanilla extract and never the imitation variety (I still stand firmly by this rule).
(2) The use of real butter (unsalted) and never margarine or shortening (I waver on this rule). And,
(3) Never substituting fresh fruit or produce with the likes of frozen, dehydrated or dare I say, canned variety (this rule flew out the same proverbial pie that those notorious blackbirds inhabited).

Longer than two decades ago, I was introduced to my first pumpkin pie by the grandmother of a dear friend.
I had never tasted pumpkin pie in my own home because my mother never fed her children anything she personally disliked. Her distaste for all things pumpkin led five children to believe that it was food
fit only for backyard squirrels.
I credit her with sparing me a childhood full of lima beans and I blame her for the missed opportunities to delight in the sweet, iconic symbol of Thanksgiving deliciousness (after all, I have to blame her for something).

I remember that first forkful of pumpkin pie as if it were yesterday. The silky creaminess of spicy pumpkin filling combined with dollops of fresh, whipped cream (sans sugar), nestled upon a flaky, buttery crust was nothing short of a religious experience. It was pure heaven (and truth be told, if I found out that Heaven was in fact, a pumpkin patch, I would be totally okay with that).
In the years that followed, my mother would add a commercially baked pumpkin pie to her Thanksgiving table as a kind gesture to those who were, in her opinion, crazy enough to eat squirrel food.
Not one of those pies however, offered the same taste experience as that very first pie.
My need to recreate that pie haunted me until I surrendered.
After some rotary-dialed, sugar-coated dialogue, I was the proud recipient of Grandma Teresa’s original recipe for Pumpkin Pie.
A short time later, on a not-so-busy Saturday, I set out for the
farm stand (Teresa’s recipe specifically noted that fresh pumpkin be used to make the pie) and then the market, believing I was only a few hours away from pure pumpkin perfection.

I will not burden you with all of the unpleasant details of what transpired in the hours that followed. I will however, share the worst of those details, because misery does in fact, love company.

The experience of hacking my own pumpkin for the purpose of pie and not to illuminate the face of a squash named Jack, was not as rewarding as I had hoped. The task of removing every last morsel of pulpy, orange flesh from a once happy, yet now humpty-dumptied gourd, was daunting if not disturbing.
But the next step of pumpkin-pulp-preparation necessary to recreate Teresa’s award winning pie, forced me to rethink my aforementioned policies and procedures.
Following the instructions which appeared in my own
chicken-scratch on a leafy-patterned dessert napkin, I set out to separate the pumpkin seeds from the pumpkin flesh. The first cluster of seeds was easily dislodged and required little effort. When I reached the slimier, stringier pulp however, I was immediately reminded of an awful day in my long ago past that I thought I had blocked from my challenged, middle-aged memory.
It was a day that that involved one third-grader with an ear ache (me), in an elementary school nurses office, during a mandatory
lice-inspection of two, extremely unhappy, long-haired twin sisters.
I wanted no more to wrestle seeds from pulp with my kitchen-fork, than I would have wanted to take hold of that metal comb and offer assistance to the school nurse.
It was at this moment that I was knocked from my high-horse and sent running with open arms to a pantry shelf full of Libby’s.

I am no quitter however, and I made that pie from
labor-intensive start to somewhat-disappointing finish. It was a success in both appearance and taste but it paled in comparison to that first pie of my formerly pumpkin-pieless youth.
Perhaps that pie is best left to the grandmothers who don’t flinch at the sight of sacrificial squash. I would imagine these might be the same folk who, back in the day, not-so-innocently named their fowl friends before hacking their heads off. Their resilience and bravery in the kitchen rewards them tenfold in the flavor and quality of the meals they prepare.

But I belong to a different generation of culinary
un-professionals. It is with my head held high that I have decided to accept a pie of slightly compromised texture, for the sake of instant gratification and fear-less preparation.
These days, when I have a yen for pumpkin pie (or anything pumpkiny and sweet), I turn to my reliable resource—canned pumpkin. It offers consistent quality and flavor
and requires no power tools or remorse.

And in these chaotic times, when porches are without pumpkins, pantries are without pies, and when misunderstood teens need new opportunities to connect with stupid parents, it seems obvious that the yen is indeed mightier than the gourd.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


It is my pleasure to share with you a favorite family recipe for Pumpkin Cheesecake. This was my mother-in-law, Joan’s Thanksgiving specialty and it never fails to please. I’ve even known the occasional pumpkin-hater to enjoy it (long after she has fed her own pumpkin to the squirrels).

Joan’s Pumpkin Cheesecake

1 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
1Cup + 2 TBS Sugar divided
2 8oz. Pkgs. Philly Cream Cheese
6 TBS Unsalted Butter melted
1 16 oz Can Pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 tsp. Cinnamon
¼ tsp. Ginger
¼ tsp. Nutmeg
½ tsp. salt
2 Large Eggs
1 Pint Sour Cream
1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract

Mix cracker crumbs with 2 TBS sugar and melted butter, place in buttered spring form pan making sure to cover bottom of pan and slightly up the sides of the pan. Pack down slightly with your fingers. Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Beat cream cheese and ¾ cup sugar until smooth. Add canned pumpkin, spices and salt. Add eggs one at a time and beat until well incorporated. Pour mixture into spring form pan over crust and place pan on sturdy baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes (don’t worry if top is cracked). Remove from oven and raise oven temperature to 400 degrees. Mix sour cream with vanilla and ¼ cup sugar. Spread sour cream mixture on top of cake. Place back in to oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes more. Let cool completely on wire rack. When cool, run a knife around spring form and remove from sides of pan (leaving spring form base intact). Chill cake completely before serving.
**For serving—I recommend whipping a pint of cold, heavy cream until soft peaks form and dolloping onto cake just before serving. If you prefer a sweet cream, you may place cool whip or sweetened whipped cream (stiff peaks are necessary for this) into a piping bag and decorate cake accordingly.
Sprinkle cake with chopped or slivered nuts (we like chopped, candied pecans).

**For a delightful, easy pumpkin pie recipe—find your can of Libby’s and have at it (the recipe is on the label).

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