Pumpkins are big business. Large, bright orange, heavy pumpkins are a sure-sale with a gallon of fresh-pressed apple cider at various farmers markets and stores.
Long-believed to be a true American plant that spread eastward in the mid-1800s, pumpkins sustained many an American colonist. They are among the winter squash family of plants that include gourds and acorn squash. Pumpkins are rich in flavor, high in nutrient content, and long in storage capability if kept in a cool, dry place. High in vitamin A and potassium, pumpkins are a fairly good source of niacin, iron and protein. Best of all, they make great jack-o-lanterns and roasted pumpkin seeds.
For all of the recipes below, we use canned, solid-pack pure pumpkin, not the canned "pie-seasoned" pumpkin.
If you prefer to use a fresh pumpkin, simply cut out the stringy insides, and cut the solid walls into big strips and place them (skin also) in a covered roaster with about 2 inches of water and roast for 40 to 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Drain the water off and let cool.
The pumpkin will fall away from the skin and can be spooned out in thick chunks. Then it will need to be processed in a food processor until smooth, then cooked "down" in a non-stick pot for several hours at low heat, stirring frequently, to remove as much of the moisture as possible, leaving a very thick soup of pure pumpkin.
This "thick soup" can be substituted for the canned pumpkin below. This "cooking down" process can also be accomplished using a slow cooker set on medium-high with the lid off, stirring occasionally. As with most vegetables, fresh-processed pumpkin is the best. I also freeze the pumpkin puree in Ziploc bags laying flat in the freezer for pumpkin pies, cake and muffins.
If using fresh pumpkin, I have found that the small, "kiddie" sugar pumpkins have the best flavor. Just make sure the kids don't object to your carving up their prized possessions!
Darlene's Best-Ever Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
2 cups cooked pumpkin
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup oil
2 cups flour
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
8 oz. cream cheese
1 stick margarine
1 box powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
Mix all cake ingredients, pour into a greased and floured 9 x 13-inch pan, bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Cream all icing ingredients together with an electric mixer. After cake is done and cooled completely, ice cake. Store covered in the refrigerator. This is a very, very moist cake.
Pumpkin Crunch Torte
1 1/2 cups walnuts, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (about 36 cookies)
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup margarine, melted
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup margarine
1 cup solid-pack canned pumpkin
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
2 cups whipping cream
Vanilla wafer cookie crumbs for garnish
Combine walnuts, vanilla wafer crumbs, 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar and 3/4 cup melted margarine in a large bowl until well-mixed. In four 9-inch cake pans, measure 1/4 of the crunch topping in each pan and pat evenly to cover the bottom of the pans. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, beat sugar and margarine until well-blended using an electric mixer, then increase speed and beat at least 10 minutes at medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed and add next eight ingredients, then increase speed to high and beat for 2 minutes (batter will be thick). Divide into fourths and spoon into pans, and bake for 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Rotate pans mid-way through the baking time so that they will bake evenly in oven. Remove and cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan. Loosen each cake around the edges with a knife and invert onto four separate plates covered with waxed paper.
While cakes continue to cool, beat whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Assemble cake when the layers are completely cooled. To assemble, place one cake layer, crunch-side up, top with 1/4 whipped cream. Repeat with two more cake layers and move whipped cream. Place remaining cake layer on top, crunch-side top down. Spoon remaining cream over top of cake, and dust with vanilla wafer cookie crumbs. Refrigerate for one hour before serving, serve cold and store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
Pumpkin Spice Muffins
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup raisins or chopped nuts or mix
Line 15 muffin tin cups with paper liners or grease well a muffin pan. In a large bowl, stir flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside. In a medium bowl, beat egg with a whisk. Add sugar, pumpkin, milk and oil and stir until well blended. Stir in raisins. Stir into flour mixture just until blended. Fill muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in a 400 degree oven, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove muffins from pan and cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.