These are not the squash you’re looking for

I don’t actually like pumpkin. It’s heresy to say that at this time of year, when my in-tray is full of recipes for cookies, casseroles, pies, cheesecakes, cupcakes, and, heaven help us, trifle. But I think it’s the wateriest of all the squashes, texture-free, and with an unpleasant, almost bitter aftertaste. One of the things that put me off J K Rowling was when she gave the Hogwarts students pumpkin juice to drink as a treat. Ick. For years I thought I liked it, because I had lots of American pumpkin flavoured things, and then I found out that what I liked was pumpkin pie SPICE, which is as close as they come to regular mixed spice in the States. And how could that not be yummy?

I’ve got to be careful with nomenclature here, after an Australian Masterchef episode where I was shouting “That’s not a pumpkin, it’s a butternut squash!” at the telly. To me pumpkins are one type of winter squash, the orange ones that you carve up for Halloween and put candles inside. But apparently there are parts of the world where it’s a more generic term for winter or harder-skinned squash. Butternut squash, on the other hand, is bright, firm, sweet and tasty, and lends itself to far more interesting concoctions. Pizza, risotto, curry, candied …it holds its texture so much better.

We’ve been growing them on the allotment, there’s one of the early ones in the picture, hanging out at the bottom of the apples. The small young ones were lovely just split and baked with oil or butter and some flavourings – even the skin was tender enough to eat. With cheese for a light meal, or as a side dish, or with a rich meat sauce. We tried a crisp pizza with roasted red onions, chunks of squash and baby mozzarellas earlier this week, and I shall do that again – experimenting with different cheeses, both feta and halloumi have come highly recommended.

Spaghetti squash is always fun, that’s on the list to grow next year. Acorns and Hubbards can wait their turn. Meanwhile, I’m off to find things to do with pumpkin seeds. Once you’ve carved a horrid face into it, that’s the best bit.

Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

As part of my 70s retro Thanksgiving, I decided to get most of my recipes from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. I have a copy of the 1976 edition, which I bought in the early 80s. When push came to shove on the Pumpkin Pie, though, I went with the recipe on the can of pumpkin. How traditional is that? I don't like to buy Libby's brand, because its Nestle, but it's pretty much the only one you can get in the UK. So, here it is, translated.

Start with an unbaked pastry pie-shell. Most of the standard UK pre-bought ones are shallow, if you're using those you'll need two for this quantity of filling. Otherwise make your favourite pastry in a 9" diameter deep flan tin, with a removable bottom. I then put mine on a metal tray, just to make it easier moving it about.

To each 15 oz can of pumpkin, you'll need:

3/4 cup (about 6 oz) sugar (I used a light brown)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (12 fl oz) evaporated milk (I found a light version)

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 7.

Mix the sugar and seasonings. Beat the eggs, add the pumpkin and sugar mix. Beat well, and gradually add the milk until you have a smooth custard. Pour into the pie shells. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce to Gas Mark 4. Bake for 20-30 minutes more for shallow pies, or 40-50 minutes for the deeper ones, until a skewer comes out clean.

You can eat it warm, but I like it better if you chill it until the next day, it firms up better. Cream and / or ice-cream – I have some good quality vanilla ice-cream for tomorrow. They do warn you not to freeze the pie as it will separate.

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