It’s hard to miss all the pumpkin-flavored madness that happens in restaurants and food stores come the first of fall. Since the leaves started to change, it seems every food establishment you go to, there’s at least one pumpkin offering.
Coffee shops feature pumpkin muffins, doughnuts, scones and lattes. Restaurants are serving pumpkin pancakes for breakfast and pumpkin custard for dessert. The grocery aisles have pumpkin bread, pumpkin tarts, pumpkin cookies and shelves and shelves of puree to make your own. Even the liquor stores are selling pumpkin brews and liquors.
Has this always been the case? Didn’t pumpkin used to be used solely for pie? It’s hard to say, but some swear the pumpkin index has reached mass capacity.
“There’s even a Dairy Queen pumpkin pie blizzard,” says Amber Recker, the Fort Wayne writer of the food blog The Ginger Kitchen (thegingerkitchen.com). “I have noticed in very recent years – maybe because I didn’t pay attention before – it seems everybody’s got some sort of pumpkin something.”
One of the favorite “pumpkin somethings” might be Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte. In early fall, feeds on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, exploded with excited latte lovers looking for their next pumpkin spice fix – so much so that, earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Starbucks was running out of pumpkin spice lattes.
(No worries locally – Nici Nestel, manager at the Starbucks on West Jefferson Boulevard, says her store has had plenty of it, and she hasn’t heard of any area Starbucks running out, either.)
Higher Grounds on St. Joe Center Road offers multiple pumpkin drinks – a pumpkin spice latte, pumpkin-flavored coffee and a variety of seasonal drinks made with pumpkin pie syrup, like its pecan pie latte, owner Brian Kieffer says.
“It’s always been popular, but I feel like it grows year to year as people start realizing what’s out there and people start trying them,” he says.
Among their seasonal drinks, one of the most popular, Kieffer says, is the pumpkin spice latte.
While it may not be a favorite drink for Recker, who does not name pumpkin among her favorite flavors, her husband’s a huge fan of pumpkin pie. To satiate his palate, Recker looks for creative ways to use pumpkin in her cooking that she might enjoy, too, including oatmeal pumpkin bars and pumpkin pie ice cream.
“I make cake truffles, and I’m working on developing a recipe that would be a pumpkin cake truffle, so it would be kind of like pumpkin bread but a fluffier consistency in the middle, coated in white chocolate and sprinkled with walnuts,” she says. “Pumpkin to me is such a bland (flavor). It’s like potato or yams. It’s a filler for me.”
The flavor – which despite its popularity, just doesn’t sound right in dishes like pumpkin lasagna or pumpkin-seed guacamole – is a staple in Brazil. Fort Wayne cook Cynthia Presser is from Brazil, and she grew up eating pumpkin in a variety of dishes. The first time she had pumpkin pie, in fact, was 12 years ago, when she moved to the United States.
“I was disappointed,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh.’ This is not sweet, is not savory, and I knew it was a traditional thing and am very respectful of traditions.”
So she came up with a way to jazz up the dish. Pumpkin and coconut are a traditional combination of flavors in Brazil, Presser says, so she gave a classic American recipe a bit of a Brazilian twist. The result: pumpkin-coconut pie.
Presser, a self-taught cook who chronicles her gourmet trysts on her blog at cynthiapresser.com, says her favorite pumpkin recipe is another Brazilian tradition: shrimp in a pumpkin. The pumpkin is baked, and she spreads cream cheese on the inside and fills it with a shrimp stew. The result, she says, is delicious and perfect for this time of year.
Presser and Recker shared some of their favorite pumpkin recipes for your dinner (or dessert) table.
For the crust:
4 cups graham crackers, roughly crushed
8 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
For the filling:
3 cups pumpkin pulp purée from a sugar pumpkin or canned pumpkin purée
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk, divided
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup grated coconut, preferably fresh
For the crust, add graham crackers, butter and sugar to a food processor. Process 2 minutes until blended. Press mixture into a 9 or 10-inch pie dish. Set aside. Preheat oven at 350 degrees.
For the filling, combine pumpkin purée, ½ can (7 ounces) sweetened condensed milk, ginger and cinnamon in a food processor. Process until smooth, 40 seconds. Pour mixture on the bottom of pie crust.
Rinse food processor and add remaining sweetened condensed milk and grated coconut. Process until blended, 40 seconds. Pour coconut mixture over pumpkin mixture.
Transfer to oven and bake until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely. Refrigerate 2 hours before serving or serve at room temperature.
– Cynthia Presser
Pumpkin with Shrimp
1 medium pumpkin
2 pounds large shrimp, cleaned and deveined, shells saved
3 cups half-and-half
1 medium onion, divided
3 large garlic cloves, peeled, divided
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 sprigs rosemary, chopped
10 large Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
8 oz. cream cheese (or Catupiry if available)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the top of the pumpkin and remove all seeds. Wrap it in aluminum foil and place on a large, shallow, oven-proof pan, cut-off side down. Bake it until soft, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven and carefully remove foil. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, add the removed shells of shrimp, half-and-half, ½ the onion, 2 garlic cloves and bay leaves. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat until the liquid is reduced to half, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and strain. Whisk in the flour and set aside.
Finely chop the remaining onion and garlic. In a large pan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat and cook the onion until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook until fragrant, 40 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, close the lid and cook for 5 minutes. Remove lid, and smash the tomatoes with the help of a potato masher; close lid, reduce heat to medium low and cook for another 25 minutes.
Constantly stirring, add the white sauce and cook until it thickens. Add the shrimp, and cook for another 5 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink and start to curl. Remove from heat and fold in cilantro. Set aside.
With the help of a spoon, spread the cream cheese into the pumpkin inside wall. Add the shrimp sauce inside the pumpkin and place it back into the oven. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or until cheese starts to melt.
Carefully place the whole pumpkin on a serving dish on the table. To serve, scoop the shrimp mixture out, making sure to bring some chunks of melted pumpkin and cream cheese with it. Serve over a bed of jasmine rice.
– Cynthia Presser
Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream
1 cup skim milk, divided
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup pumpkin purée
1/4 cup honey
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup coconut milk
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon pumpkin spice
Mix about 2 tablespoons of milk with cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Add the pumpkin puree and the honey, and whisk until smooth.
Combine the remaining milk, half-and-half, cream, coconut milk, sugar, corn syrup and pumpkin pie spice in a saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil on medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a heat-proof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the pumpkin mixture until smooth. Cover and place in the coldest part of the freezer until cold.
Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy.
– Amber Recker