The greater pumpkin

Unhand the can and roast your own sweet, creamy squash

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Susan France

Canned pumpkin is a lot like canned music.

Both require old-fashioned devices to use, and both products are highly over-processed. You need tinny loudspeakers and an elevator to properly appreciate canned music. You need a can opener — a device no longer found in every home — to use a can of pumpkin, which really is winter squash puree, not pumpkin.

The problem with the canned pumpkin that is used to make most of the pumpkin pies Americans consume is that it is overcooked, predictably bland and slightly watery. That’s one reason we love pumpkin spice, but not pumpkin. Most of us consume pumpkin only one day a year in too-sweet, over-spiced pies with mediocre crusts smothered in whipped topping.

That would change if we got real, in terms of pumpkin and other fine winter squash.

“Why would you can pumpkin in the first place? Canned pumpkin has no flavor,” says Bob Baxley, a recovering chef, writer of the highly opinionated food blog Radical Gastronomy, and a farmer with acreage near Fort Lupton.

Cooking from scratch isn’t fundamental enough for Baxley, who tries to grow or produce the butter, eggs, cream, cheese, fruit, vegetables and meat his family eats.

“A pumpkin you get from a farmer now will last six or eight months. I store them in a cool, dry, dark cabinet all winter. They usually last until the beginning of April,” he says.

Baxley cooked in Denver, at the The Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, and at his Greenhouse eatery in Pagosa Springs for 12 years.

“This year I have sugar pie pumpkins, which are not to be confused with jack-o’-lanterns,” he says. These pumpkins are smaller but heavy for their size, with dense, string-free orange meat. The richer flavor is distinct but not overbearing, and the texture is smooth and silky.   

When Baxley says that he looks for “beyond scratch recipes,” he’s serious. “A lot of pumpkin pie recipes call for sweetened condensed milk. I didn’t like the canned stuff because it has an overcooked flavor and a Band-Aid-y aftertaste. I heat three cups of whole milk with one cup of organic cane sugar that didn’t have Roundup used on it. You just reduce the volume by half,” he says. He’s currently trying to make gluten-free licorice candy from scratch. Nobody does that.

Baxley recommends roasting pumpkins covered with foil with a minimal amount of water so it doesn’t get watery. The roasted pumpkin puree can go in pies, curries and ravioli. You can find other recipes using pumpkin, and essays about food and farming at Baxley’s blog, radicalgastronomy.com, including this one.

Roast Pumpkin

1 sugar pie pumpkin

1 cup water

Split the pumpkin by snapping off the stem, plunging a knife into the center and rocking it toward you. Turn it, and repeat on the other side. Scoop out the seeds and goop with a spoon. Seeds can be saved to roast, if you wish. Lay the pumpkin halves, cut side down, in a baking dish, add the water, cover with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 60 minutes, or until the meat is soft, and gives when pressed. Let cool, cut side up, until it can be handled. Carefully scrape the flesh from the skin.

(I opened a can of pumpkin for research purposes, so I added eggs, ricotta cheese, olive oil, cinnamon, nutmeg and corn bread mix — with chopped Honeycrisp apple on top, and baked myself a dense, moist loaf.)

Local food news

The Saturday Boulder and Longmont Farmers Markets are open through Nov. 17. Stock up on locally grown “keepers” — produce that will last months in cool dry storage — including apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, garlic, potatoes, onions, turnips and pumpkins. … Ruthie’s Boardwalk Social is open in the former Salvaggio’s Deli kiosk at 14th and Pearl offering grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries and breakfast options. … Japanese-born Koji Tamura is opening Osaka’s on Oct. 30 at 2460 Canyon Blvd. focused on new-to-Boulder okonomiyaki-style burgers and yakimono teppan grill dishes. … After being publicly shamed for shutting down the Lafayette event celebrating Quaker Oats, the Quaker Oats Company wisely decided to fund the 23rd annual Oatmeal Fest after all on January 12. The oatmeal breakfast buffet lives! … Coming soon: Tip Top Savory Pies Pie Shack. 105 N. Public Road, Lafayette. … We bid adieu to a longtime Boulder restaurateur, the gentlemanly Rick Stein, who passed away recently. He owned Alba Restaurant, the Full Moon Grill and operated the Chautauqua Dining Hall. … During Slow Food’s international Week of Change campaign, now through Oct. 22, participants commit themselves for seven days to three concrete actions against climate change: cook using only local ingredients, not eating meat and reducing food waste to zero.

School lunch, revisited

I’m looking forward to Boulder’s Real School Food Challenge Oct. 25 when culinary teams compete to craft the best, nutritional meal for $1.25 a portion — the budget for the average American school lunch. Unlike in the cafeteria, this school lunch tasting comes with wine and beer. Proceeds benefit the Chef Ann Foundation. Natural foods industry folks and chefs are paired including Justin Gold (Justin’s Nut Butters) and Hosea Rosenberg of Blackbelly/Santo, Robbie Vitrano (Good Spread) with Kelly Whitaker (Basta) and Miche Bacher (Zhuzh Cookies) with Daniel Asher (River & Woods, Acreage). Tickets: rsfcboulder.eventbrite.com

Taste of the week

I generally loathe the plague of pumpkin-spiced seasonal products because a) there’s no pumpkin involved, and b) they taste crappy. Locally made Noosa Pumpkin Yogurt is the exception that proves the rule with a layer of not-too-sweet, lightly spiced pumpkin puree beneath a layer of that silky, rich Aussie-style yogurt. It’s pumpkin cheesecake in a cup.

Words to chew on

“A Frenchman in the train had given him a great sandwich that so stank of garlic that he had been inclined to throw it at the fellow’s head.” — From Provence (1935) by Ford Madox Ford.

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5FM, 1390 AM, streaming at kgnu.org). Comments:  nibbles@boulderweekly.com