Searching for the Great Pumpkin

[Previous Suburban Farmgirl, October 2009 – October 2010]
I know it’s a bad week to admit I hate Halloween. But I do: I’m too shy for dressing up, too easily spooked by ghouls and goblins. Even the candy part I can do without. All that said, I *love* this time of year…it’s the season of Orange!
Pumpkins! Sweet potatoes! Chrysanthemums! Persimmons! (I just ate my first one, yum!) Falling orange leaves! And did I mention pumpkins?!
Orange has been “my” color as long as anyone who knows me can remember. Family photos going back to my third birthday feature an annual cake finished in orange icing. My bedroom walls were bright orange; I even had an orange-haired doll. I still gravitate to the color as a grown-up, whether in my favorite Patagonia fleece or the aforementioned mums. And nothing cheers me like seeing pumpkins on front porches, especially when they’re left uncarved.
Because I’ve seen so many, I’ve been a little slow to discover the black truth about this orange season…

Paula as a pumpkin

We’re in a pumpkin shortage, Ladies!

It’s the canned variety that’s in grievously low supply. As much as I like looking at pumpkins, I like to eat them. But canned pumpkin has been AWOL from grocery store shelves all around me for weeks now — since the air first felt fallish and it occurred to me to start looking for it.

I’ve since read that last year’s crop of canning pumpkins was small and has been used up, and this year’s crop is late to mature and get to market. (Any pumpkin farmgirls who can verify, please do!)

I’m losing patience and know I ought to take matters – er, pumpkins – into my own hands. Why not cook and puree my own? After all, I routinely roast sweet potatoes (if I’m not mashing them, I’ll top a baked half with cottage cheese and sunflower seeds — accompanied by a salad, it’s my all-time favorite fall lunch). And I had so much fun a week ago serving roasted spaghetti squash with spaghetti sauce to three daughters who happily gobbled it and didn’t say “Euuwww!” until *after* I confessed that the “new kind of noodle” was not technically a new kind of pasta.

But roasting pumpkin, for some reason, has me flummoxed. Maybe it’s the visions of stringy innards from past jack-o-lanterns that’s holding me back. Or the time-intensiveness of the roasting, cooling, mashing, et. al. And then there’s plum ignorance: What does a “canning pumpkin” look like and where do I buy one? Does make-your-own mash substitute equally in a recipe for the canned stuff? Is there a particular variety that’s best for pies and muffins and scones?

See, it’s the pumpkin scones I’m really missing. Three or four autumns ago on a day as crisp as a bite of McIntosh apple, the idea of pumpkin scones popped into my head. Never mind that I had never actually eaten (or seen!) a pumpkin scone. They just sounded so right. I Googled a promising recipe. Like any good scone, it was labor intensive, all that cutting butter into flour, on top of a zillion spices. But the finished products were as perfect as a warm breakfast bread with hot tea on a chilly day can be. My daughters and I are now known to wake up, sniff the air, and declare it’s “pumpkin scone weather.”

Twelve-year-old Margaret is so fond of the scones that we have a deal: Any time she wants to bother measuring and mixing all those ingredients, I’m game to finish cutting in the butter for her and knead and shape the whole barely-held-together mix. (Because you don’t want to handle scones any more than you do a good piecrust.)

Except this year, of course, we’re still waiting on the pumpkin. I tried to talk her into experimenting with sweet potato scones, having found canned yam puree and also knowing how to make it myself, but she wasn’t  having it. Nor could I tempt her with almond scones (my former favorite) or chocolate chip scones (what’s not to like?!).

But I do know one thing: I’m gonna have to figure out a solution before we get to Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie. Anybody have a good completely-from-scratch pumpkin pie recipe? Meanwhile I’ll share my (canned) pumpkin scone recipe, the one I pulled off the web and improvised over time:

Paula’s and Margaret’s Worth-the-Effort Pumpkin Scones

Mix together and set aside:
4 1/4 cups flour
cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ginger
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Cut up 1 cup cold butter in small pieces and use pastry cutter or fingers to cut into flour mixture until mix resembles coarse crumbs.

In a separate bowl, mix together 1 1/4 cups plain canned pumpkin, 2/3 cup buttermilk, 1 Tbsp. vanilla. Add liquid mix to flour-butter mixture until moistened dough barely comes together; don’t overmix. Optional: Fold 1 cup chocolate chips or 1 cup chopped pecans.

Empty dough from bowl onto lightly floured surface (it will be messy and barely blended) and knead gently 3-4 times to bring together. Divide dough in half and pat each half into a round about 1 ½ inches thick. Cut each round in half, and each half into three wedges (so you have 12 scones). Place two inches apart on baking sheet.

In small cup, beat together one egg and a little milk. Brush atop each scone and dust liberally with large-crystal “sparkling” sugar. (Regular sugar melts and doesn’t produce the same satisfying crunch. Margaret doesn’t agree, but finely chopped pecans could make a happy substitute.) Bake 20 minutes at 375 degrees or until golden brown.

It’s funny that loving orange is supposed to be the sign of an outgoing personality, because I’m naturally an introvert. (I’m a reserved Halloweenie, remember?) But orange is also associated with happiness, which makes more sense. Take that happy girl in the orange pumpkin get-up, above: She’s me. It’s my favorite among the legions of costumes my mom made. Notice my grandmother’s babushka peeking out under the stem cap – all the better to keep me warm during the freezing Michigan trick-or-treating – and the genuine lucky penny loafers on my feet!

Maybe I’ll get lucky with this pumpkin problem soon. At least I scored plenty to look at for my porch.
Pumpkins on the front porch

  1. margaret says:

    theyre rly good scones

  2. Patty D. says:

    OOOhhhh! That’s why there was only an empty space at the grocery today when I looked for pumpkin!! Just cut, cook, scrape and mash any good pumpkin or even squash and have at your recipes! My walls were orange when growing up, too btw! Look forward to trying the scones – a favorite treat with tea at our home. Thanks for the fun ‘notes’!

  3. Tammie Haley says:

    We use the Cinderella pumpkins for our cooking needs. I clean the pumpkin, poke it a few times and put it into a pan to collect the juices. Depending on the amount of time I have I either roast it or microwave until the pumpkin is nicely cooked. I usually end up using the pumpkin meat for curried pumpkin soup, but I might just have to try your recipe for the scones.

  4. Linda says:

    There’s no shortage of canned pumpkin here. Does that mean it’s last years?
    I made pumpkin cinnamon rolls a couple weeks ago. New recipe, and they are wonderful. The recipe is on the King Arthur website, give it a try.
    A family tradition here is a pumkin cookie that’s soft, with chocolate chips and maraschino cherries. I’d be in big trouble if I didn’t make these.
    For Halloween, I usually make some sort of donut, or whoopie pies. Do you love those? My neighbors think I’m Martha Stewart. Believe me, I’m not that focused, but a farm girl at heart who loves to bake!
    Today, I’m sewing, and could be helping my DH paint a friend’s house. Sort of hope not, since it hasn’t cooled off down here yet!!

  5. JoEllen says:

    Sure enjoyed reading your seasonal news! I have never made pumpkin puree either — and now that our kids are grown and there’s just the two of us, I’m not sure I will! I found several cans of pumpkin yesterday so am anxious to try out your recipe. My son & his wife live in Charlotte NC and we just visited them a few weeks ago. Such a beautiful state! Have a cozy fall day!

  6. Shirley says:

    For years now, I have been making my own "canned pumpkin". Find a couple of nice size bright orange pumpkins, remove the "innards", peel away that hard shell, cut into medium size chunks and boil or steam. When they are nicely cooked, remove, allow to cool, and run the cooked chunks through your food processor. Then, put into a strainer that has been lined with either an old piece of t-shirt, or two layers of cheese cloth and let the excess juice drip away. You can either leave it draining in the kitchen sink all day, or all night. By then you will have a smooth pulp that is the same consistancy as the stuff in that can on the grocery store shelf. You will also know there is "no additive" in your finished product. Just measure out the amount needed for your recipe and you are good to go. This puree also freezes quite nicely. Enjoy!

  7. Amy says:

    We had a very hard freeze in early October (in the teens) followed by temps in the 50’s which promptly ruined any pumpkins on the vine near us. We also lost any chance for real fall color. As Fall is my favorite season, I refer to it as the "Autumn of our discontent"! Can’t wait to try the scones. Perhaps they’ll restore my mood!

  8. Teri says:

    Not only is pumpkin scarce the price of canned pumpkin is out of sight. Try Costco, I scored packs of three. Can hardly wait to try the scones…you are making my husband happy!

  9. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    Keep these ideas & pumpkin tips coming! Very useful, thanks!! (Want to hear more about the whoopee pies…never even heard of those. Any more Pumpkin Greatest Hit recipes, anyone?)

  10. Betsy says:

    I shop at our Publix Supermarkets and also Walmart if necessary. I have specifically asked about the pumpkins as this has happened for 2 years. I was told by these markets that there isn’t a shortage but it is now considered a seasonal product and no longer carry all year. It has just gotten to our super markets for the Thanksgiving season so I will stock up enough to last me all year. I make these pies whenever they sound good not just for these two holidays. So start looking!

  11. Jennifer says:

    I’ve fixed my pumpkin like Shirley does in the past. Canned is nice if you don’t have the time to do your own. Can’t wait to try the scones.

  12. Mary says:

    You can roast pumpkins (or any hard squash) whole in the oven for awhile, and then they’re really easy to peel. Then go ahead and cook them further, cut up.

    The scones sound marvelous and I aim to try them. I eat other types of homemade scones daily — they’re my favorite breakfast in all seasons. When you’re not looking for a really rich treat, you can substitute some or all of the butter with canola oil, and in most recipes it tastes great and is a whole lot easier.

    Enjoy your season….

  13. Toni says:

    As a city/suburban girl, never on a farm, I’m surprised that all you farmgirls haven’t mentioned the most delicious part of Halloween-time pumpkins: the seeds. My mother was a terrible cook (don’t get me started on her version of Thanksgiving turkey–she cooked it in a covered roaster, which produced a pot of liquid with boiled turkey pieces settling at the bottom!),but someone, somehow had taught her that baking the pumpkin seeds produced a delicious fun-to-crack-the-shells-with-your-teeth snack. A fond memory.
    True to the tradition of my Mom’s bad cooking, I also produced a pumpkin recipe disaster long ago. My husband (then, my fiance) asked if I could find him some pumpkin ice cream. I decided to make it myself. What I didn’t count on was the antiquated refrigerator at his apartment. After the mixture I prepared with canned pumpkin spent a full day in the so-called freezer compartment (remember the old-style frig with a square freezer door in the middle of the top shelf?), all I had produced was orange mush. It should still taste good, I thought. Wrong! Even a loving future husband had to admit that the grainy fast-melting glop in his bowl was inedible. As advertising warnings say, don’t try this one at home–unless you have a better recipe and good freezer.

  14. KimberlyD says:

    Pumpkin Oooey Goey Cake by Paula Dean is so yummmy! So is pumpkin cookies with pumpkin spice glaze. You can freeze pumpkin pulp, like you can freeze squash. You know those small pumpkins that are a little smaller than a basketball you fine in the produce section, they are the pumpkin pie pumpkins. I enjoy looking out at the golden oak leaves on my yard…

  15. Tonya H says:

    After trying my hand at raising pumpkins and getting a small crop I wanted to learn how to make pumpkin pie from scratch (using fresh pumpkins). I found that the easiest way to cook your pumpkin with out having to do all the mashing and stuff that sounds so time consuming just use a pressure cooker. Cut your small pumpkin in half (do not use your large jack-O-Lanterns for they are stringy and watery) and take out the seeds and place on the rack inside your pressure cooker with a little water in the bottom. Cook for 8 minutes on high pressure comes out perfect every-time. All you need to make two eight inch pies is three cups of cooked pumpkin.
    I use this websites pumpkin pie recipe changing it a little to suit my families taste.
    I use two teaspoons of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon of ginger. It is so good.

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