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The Perfect Pie Pumpkin

The Perfect Pie Pumpkin

Somewhere along the line, pumpkins swept me off my feet. A good pumpkin gives me butterflies in my stomach, a quiver in my knees, a deep cozy sense of contentment–all feelings that a squash should and would not generally elicit in a person of saner mind.

I’ve long been smitten with pumpkin sweets. As a very young baker I used to relish the smell of a freshly opened can of pumpkin puree. I am not sure I really realized that “pumpkin” came from pumpkins, but such are the hazards of growing up in the convenience-cooking era of the 1970s. Not to mention that Los Angeles just doesn’t understand fall the same way the Northeast does–LA’s not a very pumpkiny place. Nonetheless, I eventually realized that, yes, canned pumpkin does actually come from pumpkins. I found a pie recipe using fresh pumpkin and tried it with the only pumpkin I knew, a supermarket jack-o-lantern-making pumpkin. The pie was really just disgusting–watery, bland, somehow stringy–a bad experience.

Then I moved to New York and started shopping at the greenmarket. It was then and only then that I begin to understand pumpkins in all of their splendor. I was introduced to a whole world of pumpkins heretofore unimagined. These new-to-me pumpkins were stunning. Beyond pumpkin in a can and banal carving pumpkins, these new pumpkins were loaded with character. Mottled with fabulous color, in crazy shapes and sizes, ribbed and ridged in arresting contortions. I was thrilled. Each trip to the greenmarket found me juggling different types of pumpkins home on the subway. I roasted, broiled, steamed, sauteed. I made pies, pasta, cakes, cookies. I went pumpkin berserk. Some kids leave home and experiment with any number of adult preoccupations–I obsessed over squash.

So here I am, a few decades of wisdom, experience, and pumpkin pies under my belt . It’s late October and hardcore pumpkin season. I am happy. The over-the-top nutso pumpkin lust of my youth has been replaced by a more mature style of understated swooning.

And after trying them all, I have found my pumpkin. After the successive crushes on many of the vibrant and flashy varieties, the one that finally captured my heart was the flat, beige “cheese pumpkin.” Fairly easy to find, somewhat humble. But I think it is the most handsome pumpkin of all. It’s drop-dead elegant in its subtlety–a creamy hued tan that seems like a hand-burnished ceramic glaze, a flat relaxed shape whose proportion is as perfect as if Michelangelo had his hand in designing it, and most of all: Its texture and taste. Silky but toothsome, sweet and floral but earthy. It is the perfect pumpkin. And while I can still remember with fondness the taste and smell of the canned pumpkin of my youth, nothing in the world beats the smell of a fresh cheese pumpkin roasting in the oven, waiting to meet its pie. I heartily recommend trying one–you might even detect a little weakness in your knees.

How to Roast a Pumpkin
Halve the pumpkin crosswise and scoop out the seeds (roast them!) and strings. Place halves, hollow side down, in a large baking pan covered with aluminum foil and add a little water. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 1 to 2 hours or until fork-tender. Remove. When cool, scrape pulp from shells and puree, a little at time, in food processor or blender.

To use pumpkin puree for recipes, it must be drained first: Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth, paper towels or a dish towel and let the pumpkin sit to drain the extra moisture.

How to use a pumpkin
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Maple Pumpkin Seeds
Best Pumpkin Pie
Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Read more: All recipes, Desserts, Food, , , ,

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

16 comments

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12:55AM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

I love all these fabulous recipes. Thanks for sharing.

6:52PM PDT on Oct 17, 2010

I've never been able to find the right kind of pumpkin for pies (unless it's in a can!) I will try once again at the farmers market this coming weekend. Now that I have the names of 3 recommended varieties from the writer and the commentor, I figure my odds have increased for success! Thanks!

3:24PM PDT on Oct 17, 2010

Today I bought one beautiful "Long Island" cheese pumpkin for pies, and also a stunning "Cinderella" pumpkin, for whatever recipe. Equally delicious for pie puree, or any culinary use. No matter the reason, pumpkins and squash are gorgeous! Each slightly different.

2:24PM PDT on Oct 17, 2010

Hmmmm.. ditto on the: Ontario, and never heard of them! Maybe I ought to find seeds online and grow them up here next summer. Thanks for all the great pumpkin articles Melissa.

6:39AM PDT on Oct 17, 2010

Has anyone outside the South heard of the "candy roaster" winter squash? It has little or no strings, is sweet, and has a full pumpkin flavor and lovely orange color. But it is oblong, usually asymmetric, and fairly ugly. But it is the best I have ever used for pies and puddings. It will usually be in farmer's markets. If you can find it, you really should try it. It is simply great!

11:05AM PDT on Oct 17, 2009

I live in Ontario, Canada and until today reading your great articles about pumpkin have never heard of flat, beige “cheese pumpkin.”. Is there another name for this pumpkin or might you know where I could purchase seeds so that I can grow it? (or maybe you could send me some seeds from your pumpkins) hehe!! Love your articles - keep up the good work.

4:39AM PST on Nov 5, 2008

Hi Marie: I'd give your big pumpkin a try--you never know! Once you roast it see how the texture and taste are; if it's sweet and creamy, make a pie--otherwise use it for a pumpkin soup where you can spice it up and texture won't be an issue. As for seeds, I've found that the seeds of any pumpkin are great for roasting. I even roast butternut squash seeds. Yum.

4:18PM PST on Nov 4, 2008

Any idea how to tell if a pumpkin will be good for eating or only carving? I picked one up, no idea what type. It was at a neighbor garage sale - they guy had a truck load of home grown pumpkins. It's big. Quite big. So I'm thinking it won't make for good eatin'? What about the seeds? Do they vary much?

11:15AM PST on Nov 4, 2008

I have made pumpkin pies from sugar pumpkins for 30 years. I use molasses and bourbon in them. I wish I could find the cheese pumpkin or the rouge d'etampes here is western MA. Considered growing the latter but our season is iffy.

10:49AM PST on Nov 4, 2008

Years ago I too, learned the hard way that one can't make a pie with the bred-for-endurance Jack 'o Lantern pumpkins!
Cheese pumpkins are great and also 'Rouge d' Etampes' aka 'Cinderella'. Another is the easy to grow, and very cute Sugar pumpkin.
Recommended book--- Pumpkin, a Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year, DeeDee Stovel.

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