Eats: Pum yum! It’s fall and the pumpkin is calling

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The fall season is here, bringing us the familiarity of cool air, leaves crunching underfoot and crackling fires.

For some, it even inflicts a borderline obsession with anything pumpkin. Pumpkin spiced lattes have become one of the most popular seasonal drinks, and even brew masters have gotten into the act.

But lattes and ale are just two recent examples that prove the immense versatility of the pumpkin. In fact, the options are so great, cooking with pumpkin can be a bit intimidating. Think of all the possibilities: soups, pancakes, muffins, chili, breads and cheesecake, to mention just a few. And of course pumpkin pie and its many variations.

So let’s start with some pumpkin basics, including which ones are best for baking.

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Jan Wilcox and her hubby, Carl, bought a 118-acre farm in New Gloucester 23 years ago. The previous farm owner had a very small, roadside pumpkin stand. So when Jan’s job as a geophysicist demanded too much time and travel, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom, and the idea cultivated to grow pumpkins, squash and gourds.

Fast forward to today: The Wilcox’s Intervale Farm offers customers more than 60 varieties of pumpkins, totaling close to 100 when you add in squash and gourds.

It’s pretty simple,” Jan said with a smile. “Pumpkins are a variety of squash. So all pumpkins are squashes, but not all squashes are pumpkins.”

Wilcox says pumpkins, and squash for that matter, can be broken down into categories, decorative being one of them.

“They come in all shapes, colors, textures and sizes,” she explained. “American Tondos have green stripes between deep, wide, yellow-and-orange ridges and is very rustic looking. Knuckle Heads are quite a warty specimen, but add texture to any decorating. Cotton Candy, a white pumpkin, is very decorative, but is one that people bake with.”

Intervale Farm even has exotic, table top and giant pumpkins, as well as more than 10 varieties of carving pumpkins. Meanwhile, special pumpkins, such as Lady Godiva and Snack Jack, are raised for their pumpkin seeds, which don’t have a thick hull to chew through.

While decorative pumpkins are a lot of fun, edible pumpkins are in a category all their own, offering sweeter, more tender meat . . . and endless cooking and baking possibilities.

“Baby Pam and Sweet Sugar are not as stringy as other varieties, making them great for baking, especially pies. They are conveniently smaller, generally weighing 3 to 6 pounds,” said Wilcox.

“Long Pies are a favorite as well, and I have people that travel from Massachusetts to get these. Winter Luxury is a larger pumpkin with a contest-winning flavor and luxurious cantaloupe texture,” she said.

When it comes to squash, Wilcox said acorn, butternut and hubbard are among the most popular, “but there are some varieties, such as Delicata, that are simply the sweetest with no brown sugar needed, and Carnival, which is a colorful acorn-type that has a rich, nutty flavor. Another favorite is the Japanese Tetsukabuto. It is wonderfully sweet and sticky, and keeps almost forever.”

“It’s all a matter of taste,” Wilcox added. “I can have two people taste two different pumpkins and both say the opposite is sweeter, or nuttier. That’s what makes trying various varieties so much fun — finding the flavor and texture that works for you.”

Wilcox says baking with pumpkins is simple and more rewarding than merely opening up a can of pumpkin puree.

“I’m the farthest thing from a good cook,” she said, “but it’s like that saying goes, ‘If I can do it, anyone can.’ Some use the microwave or boil them, but I prefer baking, as I feel they have better flavor and are less watery.”

All you need is a knife and aluminum foil to put a can of pumpkin to shame.

“Simply cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and wrap it up in the aluminum foil and put in the oven; cut side down. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for about an hour depending on the size. It could take much longer; just check with a fork until they are tender. Once it has cooked, cool slightly and scoop out the meat and store in a container. As it cools, there may be a bit of water; just spoon it out.”

Wilcox says that a medium-sized, 4-pound sugar pumpkin should yield around 1 1/2 cups of meat. A little mashing with a fork and you have a rich, orange pumpkin puree that can be used for any recipe calling for canned pumpkin.

Wilcox also enjoys cooking with squash.

“Bake any squash you like, and when it is done, saute a diced green and red pepper, then onion, till it’s translucent. Add the scooped-out squash and blend with the veggies, adding a few dashes of hot sauce, salt, pepper and garlic. Stir in crumbled feta cheese and a few dollops of plain yogurt or sour cream. Throw it in a casserole dish, top with walnuts and bake at 350 (degrees) for about 20 minute or until it’s good and hot,” she said.

Wilcox said pumpkins and squash are also a great, healthy additive to most any stew-type dish or even chili. “Butternut is my favorite as it holds its shape. Just dice it up and throw it in and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. No pre-cooking needed unless you are adding it to something that just needs reheating.”

Another nice thing about pumpkins is that storing is easy, said Wilcox.

“You can store pumpkins and most squashes in a single layer for months in a well-ventilated, dry, cool spot that is out of the sun; between 50 and 60 degrees is best. Be sure to periodically check for and remove ones with any sign of decay.”

Pumpkin chocolate chip cake

1 stick butter (melted and cooled)

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup milk

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together butter, sugar, eggs, puree and vanilla.

Mix baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices into half of the flour.

Add that spiced flour to pumpkin mixture and whisk.

Add milk and whisk.

Add remaining flour and whisk.

Fold in chocolate chips and nuts.

Scrape batter into a prepared pan; bake firm to the touch, about 40-45 minutes.

Farmer’s butternut squash soup

Half stick of butter

1 cup chopped onions

2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed (1 inch)

1 medium Cortland apple, peeled, seeded and cubed (1 inch)

1/3 cup pulp-free orange juice

1 3/4 cup chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

3/4 cup heavy cream

Instructions:

In a pot, saute onions in butter on low heat for 3-5 minutes or until slightly translucent.

Add squash and apple cubes and heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add juice, spices and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until squash is fork tender.

Once cooled slightly, puree in upright blender in batches (may use a handheld blender directly in the pan)

Return mixture to pan and gently stir in heavy cream. Serve once heated through.

For a nice presentation, swirl in a tablespoon of cream and/or sprinkle with sliced pecans.

Grammy’s pumpkin roll

For the roll:

3 eggs

1 cup white sugar

2/3 cup fresh prepared pumpkin meat

1 teaspoon lemon juice

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

For the filling:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 10-inch-by-15-inch jelly roll pan.////

In medium bowl stir all dry ingredients; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs until fluffy; add sugar and continue beating until fluffiness returns. Stir in pumpkin and lemon juice.

Fold dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture. Spread in prepared jelly roll pan and sprinkle with nuts.

Bake 15 minutes. Sprinkle a kitchen towel with confectioner’s sugar. Turn cake out onto towel while still hot. Carefully roll cake in towel and cool completely.

While cake cools, make filling: Cream together cream cheese, butter and confectioners’ sugar. Stir in vanilla.

Carefully unroll cake and remove towel. Spread cake with filling and re-roll. Keep refrigerated.

Intervale Farm

1047 Intervale Road, Route 231, New Gloucester

Open: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; weekends 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.;  Columbus Day 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Contact: 926-3008

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