Well the pumpkin season has begun and there are piles of beautiful squashes, in all sizes, outside every market and produce stand. It means Halloween is just around the corner. Pumpkin is a seasonal delight, but due to the canning industry, it is available all year round. But fall is pumpkin time.
With the myriad of pumpkin recipes that get circulated this time of year, one thing is consistent–recipes call for canned pumpkin puree. Of course with the back to the local and sustainable movement, using a canned product might be passed over as too 1950s. But there is a reason canned pumpkin is so popular–its fantastic in flavor, texture, color, aroma, reliability and consistency. With all the hype about using fresh winter squash for antioxidants, you can use canned pumpkin for the same nutrition value.
While Libby’s is the name in canned pumpkin, I notice there are a few organic brands popping up and I have no doubt they are just as delicious as Libby’s. After the great canned pumpkin crisis a few years back, bakers and cooks took a second look at canned pumpkin and realized they took this great ingredient for granted. When buying pumpkin puree, just be sure the label says it is 100 percent pure — no additives, no preservatives, no pumpkin pie spices, or you will get a shock. There is a rumor that the early winter has the Illinois pumpkin crop ruined again, so I recommend you pick up a few cans when you see them for some good old stockpiling.
The best chefs use canned pumpkin, so no need to think you are in the minority loving this convenient excellent food
product. Pumpkin pairs as well with savory spices such as sage and rosemary, crushed red pepper, cumin, and cayenne as it does with sweet accompaniments such as cinnamon, brown sugar, molasses, and rum or brandy. It is used for not only baking but it pops up in savories like soups (I will post my favorite, from James Beard, one of these days), curries, tagines, and chili. Of course pumpkin goes like gangbusters in smoothies, pancake and waffle batter, milkshakes, tapioca pudding, flavored butters for muffins and waffles, a fantastic roulade, bundt cakes, cheesecake, and of course, classic pumpkin pie. It keeps its color, helps keep dishes moist and is an additive to cut fat instead of butter or oil.
So why is Libby’s still so good?
Libby’s has been canning pumpkins since 1929. Oh yes. And every pumpkin is canned the same day it is picked. Incredible! That kind of consistency and convenience are primary reasons to reach for the can. Libby’s grows its pumpkins on 4,000 acres of farm ground in Morton, Ill., the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World. The fields are dedicated to growing the Select Dickinson pumpkin, a special variety the company developed exclusively for its “delicious taste, creamy texture and pleasing orange color,” says Libby’s marketing department. Yep. That’s right. A cousin to your Halloween pumpkin.
So why a special strain of winter squash? For starters, the water content of pumpkins varies; some are thick and creamy when baked and pureed while others are thin and watery. Sometimes the pulp purees into a silky pudding-like consistency, but sometimes the pulp remains fibrous. If you have tried to make winter squash puree from scratch from a decorator pumpkin, I guarantee you have had this enlightenment on pumpkin flesh.
This is one of my all time favorite pumpkin quick breads–a sweet pumpkin bread dense, moist, flecked with spices and tart chunks of apples. The pumpkin-apple combination is pure Americana. I use light olive oil exclusively now as my flavorless oil for baking. This recipe makes a half dozen small loaves, perfect for gift giving. I use the disposable aluminum pans from the supermarket. I don’t know why, but quick breads with a streusel crumb topping always taste extra-great.
Yield: Two 9-by-5-inch or six 6-by-4-inch loaves
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon each freshly grated nutmeg, cloves, and allspice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs
- One 16-ounce can solid-pack pumpkin, or 2 cups homemade pumpkin puree if you are feeling spunky
- 3/4 cup light olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups peeled, cored, and finely chopped firm apples (3 medium fruits)
- Spice Crumbs
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- Pinch each of nutmeg, cloves, and allspice
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into small pieces
1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease two 9-by-5-inch (or the six 6-by-4-inch) loaf pans. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice, and salt in a medium bowl. In another bowl, with a whisk or an electric mixer, beat together the sugar, eggs, pumpkin, and oil until fluffy and light colored, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla extract.
2. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat just until smooth. Do not over mix. With a large spatula, fold in the apples. Scrape the batter into the pans. Sprinkle each with the spice crumbs.
3. Bake in the center of the preheated oven with plenty of room between the pans for the heat to circulate properly, for 50 to 60 minutes for the 2 standard loaves (or 35 to 40 minutes for the small loaves), until the top is firm, the loaf pulls away from the sides of the pans, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the pans onto a wire rack to cool completely. When cooled, wrap in plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until serving.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.