Un-Canny Pumpkin Desserts

Luxury Pie Pumpkins

Luxury Pie Pumpkins

Is Fresh Pumpkin Worth the Work? 

Only if you can get your hands on the right variety of pumpkin. “Luxury” pumpkin is an heirloom kind that is perfect for pies, cookies whatever. Do not try to use the big, old jack-o-lantern types. They were bred to have thin sturdy walls for easy carving, not for flavor. The most available cooking pumpkin is the sugar pie pumpkin. It’s OK, but the texture and flavor don’t compare to the Luxury.

One year I couldn’t find Luxury pumpkins and used regular pie pumpkins instead. Next year I went back to canned. (And did you know that canned pumpkin is not exactly pumpkin? It’s usually made from a variety of different squashes chosen for flavor and texture rather than our orange friend?)pumpkinInside

Luxury pumpkins aren’t beauties, but they have nice thick walls and are easy to hack up and bake and the flavor is fresh and slightly sweet. It takes 30 to 40 minutes in a 350°F oven. Then scoop out and purée the flesh. I freeze the purée in containers that have enough to make one pie.  Then it’s just as easy to thaw as it is to open a can and I’m set for Thanksgiving baking.

Now about the flavor. Tasted side-by-side, the difference between a spoonful of fresh pumpkin puree and one from a can is jaw-dropping. Fresh is soft and fluffy and tastes like a sunny fall afternoon. Canned tastes, well, canned, with a sad metallic twang.

Admittedly if you are going to add tons of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg (be sure to grind it fresh, but that’s another post) to a pumpkin dessert, it may not be worth the extra time to use the real thing. I did a taste test with a few friends of pumpkin bars I made with fresh vs. canned and about half the testers preferred the ones made with canned pumpkin. (Although they could all tell the difference and they all liked both kinds.)

Pumpkin Bars Side-by-Side Comparison

Pumpkin Bars
Side-by-Side Comparison

I won’t bother to give you recipes for pumpkin bars or pumpkin pie since they are everywhere on the internet and you probably have your own traditional ones, too.


Stuck on Molasses

Molasses Recipes and Ruminations

Anadama Bread

Anadama Bread



Maybe I’ve always loved molasses because my mom dosed me with milk mixed with molasses when I was an iron-deficient child. I was supposed to take iron pills, but they were big, hard to swallow and had a nasty, slightly bloody aftertaste. Molasses milk on the other hand is yummy.

I guess it’s just out of fashion now. In the supermarket molasses has been relegated to the pancake syrup section almost hidden behind all the Aunt Jemimas and corn syrups. You’ll have to go to a natural foods store for what used to be called blackstrap molasses, which is the darkest, most flavorful and healthiest kind (and my favorite). Blackstrap actually provides a big dose of many nutrients. It’s an excellent source of maganese, copper, calcium and potassium. A tablespoon gives you 20% of your daily iron requirement. (See, mom was right.) It’s even a decent source of B6 and selenium. No wonder it’s touted as a cure for fibroids, hemorrhoids, joint pain and acne among other things. Molasses is also reputed to turn grey hair back to its original color. That one I’m trying right now and I’ll let you know the results. To be clear, you are supposed to swallow 2 tablespoons a day, not rub it on anywhere (Ewwww!).

Molasses is nothing more than a byproduct of sugar refining. In fact, the different kinds of molasses depend on which stage of he refining process they come from. Light molasses is the syrup remaining after the first processing of sugar cane. It is the lightest and sweetest. Dark molasses is what’s left after the second boiling and blackstrap is from the third and last boiling of the sugar syrup.

As a part of the Caribbean sugar cane trade, which involved slaves, rum and munitions, molasses has some very dark history. There was even an event called the Boston Molasses Disaster or the Great Molasses Flood. On January 15, 1919 an enormous storage tank burst sending a wave of molasses several stories high through the North End traveling at an estimated 35 miles an hour. It killed 21 people, injured many more and swept buildings off their foundations. I’m not making this up. Check out this amazing photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BostonMolassesDisaster.jpg  I’m planning to remember the anniversary of this event by making a special molasses dish every
January 15. How about joining me?

My two favorite molasses recipes (other than molasses milk) are for Sisty Buzzy Cookies and Anadama Bread. Both names have a lot of history attached just like molasses. My mom’s mom made Sisty Buzzy cookies from a recipe attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. Anadama Bread was supposedly invented in the 1800s by a Massachusetts fisherman who was fed up with getting cornmeal mush and molasses served for dinner every night by his lazy wife named Anna. He added flour and yeast and turned it into bread, muttering “Anna damn her”. The neighbors asked for his recipe for anadama bread.

Anadama Bread

2 cups water
½ cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup molasses, preferably blackstrap
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 tablespoon yeast

Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan, while gradually stirring in the cornmeal. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently and adding the butter and salt. Add the molasses and allow the mixture to cool to just warm (more than 110°F can kill yeast). Stir occasionally.

Combine whole wheat flour, 2 cups of all-purpose flour and the yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the cornmeal mixture using the dough hook. Gradually add the 2 cups remaining flour mixing on low. Depending on the kind of cornmeal, the humidity, etc., you may need to add another tablespoon or two of water. After the dough comes together and clears the side of the bowl, knead about 3 minutes until the dough ball is smooth and not terribly sticky. Transfer to an oiled bowl, turning to oil the top. Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour.

Anadama dough is thick, smooth and dense.

Divide the dough in two, knead briefly and place into two 8-inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise 30 to 45 minutes or until close to the tops of the pans. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped.

Sisty Buzzy Molasses Cookies

This recipe is from my mom who got it from her mother who got it from Eleanor Roosevelt (in the newspaper, not in person). Sisty Buzzy were the nicknames for Eleanor’s grandkids who loved these cookies.The original recipe makes a carload of cookies (maybe 8 dozen? I lost count). The quantities in parentheses are for a more modest yield (3 or 4 dozen).

1-1/2 cups sugar (3/4 cup)
1 cup shortening (1/2 cup)
1-1/2 cups dark molasses (3/4 cup)
2 eggs (1 egg)
5-1/2 Cups flour (2-3/4 cups)
1-1/2 teaspoon salt (3/4 teaspoon)
½ teaspoon baking powder (1/4 teaspoon)
1-1/2 teaspoons ginger (3/4 teaspoon)
3 teaspoons vinegar (1-1/2 teaspoons)
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda (3/4 teaspoon)

Cream sugar and shortening in large bowl. Beat in molasses and eggs.  Combine flour, salt, baking powder and ginger in large bowl. Beat into wet mixture gradually. Before last of the flour, combine vinegar and baking soda and beat into dough.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment. Roll dough into walnut sized balls. Arrange on cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Flatten with the bottom of a glass wrapped in a kitchen towel. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until firm. Cool briefly on cookie sheets, then transfer to a wire rack.

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Orange You Glad There’s Citrus?

Surviving a Midwestern winter is a little like being on one of those sailing
ships of old. We all have cabin fever and need our vitamin C. But blimey,
when it comes to citrus, we have a lot more ways to avoid scurvy than
those limeys did in the Royal Navy.
Even limes have become more interesting. Suddenly key limes are
available (and cheap—20 for $1.69!) in many supermarkets, especially
Latin American ones. These smaller fruits are also called Mexican limes.
They have more flavor and juice than Persian limes (the regulation
gin-and-tonic kind). Of course, to even things out they also have a lot
more seeds, but don’t think “pie” and pass them by. Key limes work just
fine anyplace you’d use ordinary limes and add a bigger, fuller acidic
The Mutt and Jeff of eccentric citrus fruits are the pomelo and the
kumquat. The giant pomelo looks like a grapefruit on steroids—in fact, it
is the grapefruit’s ancestor. It immediately brings to mind the old
admonition not to eat anything bigger than your head. The thick spongy
peel hides a mild, sweet pulp that is a bit dryer than a grapefruit’s.
Pomelo (also spelled pummelo and sometimes also called Chinese
grapefruit or Shaddock) makes a delightful marmalade and a big one will
fill 6 half-pints with a tangy, pleasantly bitter spread. It’s usually easier to
peel and section than grapefruit and more fragrant, too. Definitely a citrus
to befriend.
Kumquats are the pomelo’s diminutive cousins and among the prettiest of
fruits. Like pomegranates, they are often relegated to the role of
decoration when they can actually play some tasty supporting parts. The
shiny bright orange skin is what’s sweet. The pulp inside is dry and bitter.