THE MEDIA’S WHIPPING UP panicky headlines this week, faster than you can turn cream to pie topping. One outlet after another is warning that Libby’s, the leading canner of “pumpkin” pie filling found on the supermarket shelves, lost as much as a third of its crop to heavy rains, after the Associated Press reported it on October 6.
Since then, it’s all about: Stock up or be left pumpkin-less! (Haven’t I heard this before? It’s nearly the same story as this one from the “Los Angeles Times” in 2009, even quoting the same Libby’s spokesman.)
How about this D.I.Y. remedy: Go buy a couple of ‘Butternut’ squash at the farmers’ market (or the supermarket, even) and make filling, putting extra batches of cooked, pureed “pumpkin” in the freezer while you’re at it to satisfy subsequent craving–or for use in soup or bread or gnocchi.
A Hubbard type (warts and all) will work, too, or a ‘Buttercup,’ a ‘Kabocha,’ or even an ‘Acorn,’ in a pinch. I’ve made pies from many an oddball homegrown heirloom over the years, after inspecting the innards for suitability. Basically what you want is a sweet, dry, fine-grained squash—not some insipid, stringy old sloppy thing.
Meaning: Don’t try it with a pumpkin, as in Jack-o-lantern-shaped squash (unless perhaps you grow it yourself, and it’s the 1893 favorite ‘Winter Luxury,’ which squash expert Amy Goldman gives her top rating for pie-making). The word pumpkin has culinary significance, but is basically meaningless botanically speaking. They’re all squash.
Halve your chosen variety, scoop out the seeds and bake it, face-down, until it softens. Placing parchment paper between the flesh and the pan surface will make cleanup easier. I like to use big Pyrex pans, and add a little water at the start. Once cooked, cool the squash enough to be handled, and scoop the cooked flesh from the skin. Puree it. I use an immersion blender because I do large volumes at one time, but a food processor is probably more thorough, and ample for a pie or two’s worth.
Again: Make enough to freeze. A can of store-bought pumpkin contains 15 ounces of puree, and most pie recipes call for about 2 cups; choose the appropriate container for ease of use later. I use straight-sided, wide-mouth pint canning jars, leaving enough headroom for the puree to expand when freezing.
No freezer space? Just adopt a few hefty ‘Butternut’ with their stems still on (they keep better than stemless) to stash for later use. Ideal storage conditions for winter squash, once cured, are moderately warm and dry: 50-60 degrees F and 60-70 percent relative humidity. The bottom shelf of my pantry closet is currently cheek-to-jowl with the precious darlings. No shortage of pie filling here.