Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pumpkin Head

When I was younger, I remember the mathematical theorems discussed regarding when to put our dear pumpkins on display. Too early and rot would attack before Halloween. Too late, and few could enjoy the artistic alterations. Then, neighborhood bullies and animals had to be added to the equation-- who would eat and who would squash my squash? Now, I'm more likely to leave my "pompon" whole, stick it in a window, and subject it to the knife when I'm good and ready to get slimy up to my elbows.

Pumpkins can be prepared in countless variations. From ravioli to soup to cakes to bread and even toasting the seeds for a good pick-me-up (although I think I prefer butternut squash seeds which are a little smaller and nuttier). My pumpkin this year is magnificent. It is, I think, the perfect pumpkin. It is the classic depressed oval with crescent dips running vertical and a knotty tuff at the top. It is a true specimen and though I dare consider embalming and preserving for children to learn and future generations to be amazed, one day, when I'm a little down, the knife will be drawn.

But now, Halloween has passed, and I still don't have the heart to put knife to beauty. Until then, my pumpkin recipes offered will consist of canned pumpkin. A poor, but easy substitute for the real thing. As per a recent request, a pumpkin bread recipe followed by pumpkin cheesecake-- pure Fall decadence. Make either of the two for your loved ones. It is appropriate with Thanksgiving and other assorted holidays up and coming. The bread makes a great breakfast with a cup of coffee, a mid-afternoon snack with some tea or milk, or a wholesome, comforting dessert. It also makes a great gift in place of those brick-like fruit cakes (I really hope no one actually still gifts those) and it keeps good and moist for days. The cheesecake on the other hand, is succulent. It is creamy, rich but fluffy and melts in the mouth.

PUMPKIN BREAD (c/o the Turner family w/ slight author alterations):
Makes 3 loaves (all the better for giving)
3- 8.5 x 4.5 x 3 loaf tins
1) Preheat oven to 350 F, grease loaf tins.
2) In large mixing bowl, sift 3 cups flour, 3 cups sugar, 2 tsp baking soda, 1.5 tsp salt (or less), 3 tsp cinnamon, 3 tsp nutmeg
3) In a medium mixing bowl, beat together 4 eggs (at room temp), 1 can (15 oz/ 2 cups) pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling just plain pumpkin), 2/3 cup water, 1 tsp. vanilla.
4) Add wet to dry, stir until well blended.
5) Add 2 cups walnuts or pecans, chopped
6) Add 1 cup Crisco (or veggie oil)
7) Bake 50 min on middle rack. Check with toothpick to see if done. If not, check every 5 min or so until toothpick comes out clean.
8) Pop from tin onto cooling rack and let cool 10 min.

PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE (c/o my dear friend Liana. Eaten before pictures could be taken)
1 cup pecans
1 cup graham crackers
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

4- 8oz packages cream cheese (low fat is fine) at room temperature
1- 15oz can pure pumpkin (again, NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
3 eggs
1 Tbl vanilla
Prepare Crust
1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Wrap outside of springform pan with 2 layers aluminum foil. Process pecans and graham crackers until nuts are finely chopped. Add butter, pulse until crumbs hold lightly. Firmly press crumbs on bottom of pan. Bake 10 min, until lightly golden. Set aside and allow to cool.

Prepare Filling
1) Beat cream cheese and sugar in mixing bowl until smooth.
2) Add eggs, 1 at a time. Add remaining ingredients and beat until just blended.
3) Pour filling onto crust. Place springform pan in large roasting pan, add enough water to come halfway up sides of springform.
4) Bake about 1.5 hours, until cheesecake is slightly puffed and top is golden. Transfer to rack and cool. Cover, refrigerate overnight.

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