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Libby’s canned the pumpkin in 1929, but one might wonder what for. Locked inside its protective hard rind, the pumpkin’s firm, flavorful flesh is sort of canned already--whole pumpkins can stay good for months in a cool, dry place. And there’s no match for the fabulous flavor of pie made from a freshly cooked, ripe pumpkin.
For a mellow day trip, tool down Route 14 to Heck’s Market Place in Arena, between Mazomanie and Spring Green. Heck’s, with its prominent spinning jack-o’-lantern, is a familiar sight on this most picturesque thoroughfare (Hear that, Wisconsin DOT?). As well as stocking up on autumn produce, enjoy grilled brats and a free corn maze. Don’t miss the flea market Saturdays and Sundays--Beanies, anyone?
Gary Heck, who runs the business with his wife, Cheryl, says they grow and sell 15,000 pumpkins each year. Most go for lawn ornaments or jack-o’-lanterns, but at least one Heck’s wagon is piled high with pie pumpkins.
Measuring about six inches in diameter, pie pumpkins are easier to manage on the cutting board. Aside from that, says Rich Salzman of Salzman’s Produce in Hooperville, “all pumpkins are good for pie as long as they’re deep orange and ripe.” Look for a healthy, stout, stem, because “if the vine dies before the pumpkin ripens, it won’t have flavor.” If your pumpkin is too big to cut? “Drop it on the ground, like a hubbard squash, and bake the pieces,” says Salzman. You can find Salzman’s Saturdays at the Farmers’ Market on the Square, and by the Sherman Avenue entrance to Warner Park weekdays.
Halve your pumpkin with a sturdy knife. The pulp is loaded with flavor, so scrape out only the seeds. (Dry roast them later in a skillet for a nutty treat.) Place halves cut side up in an inch of water. Bake at 350E 1-1/2 hours, or until tender. Let cool, then remove skin.
This recipe for filling, which I developed, is creamier and more pumpkiny than most. The frosting comes from the carrot cake recipe in the 1892-1952 60th Anniversary Slovak-American Cookbook, courtesy of my husband’s Grandma Kovacs in New Jersey. Tastes even better the second day.
Pumpkin pie with cream cheese frosting
3 cups pumpkin, cooked (one six-inch pumpkin)
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1½ teaspoon ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup milk, scalded
Combine all. Blend smooth. Pour into unbaked 10" pie shell. Bake at 450E 15 minutes, then cover loosely with foil. Bake at 350E 1-1½ hours, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out dry, and the filling just begins pulling away from the crust.
- 4 ounces (½ brick) cream cheese
- 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
- few drops milk, as needed
Beat till smooth. Spread over cooled pie.
--Vesna Vuynovich Kovach
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