“Pumpkin is a gourd-like squash of the genus Curcurbita… though considered a vegetable in cooking, botanically speaking, squash is a fruit (being the receptacle for the seeds).”
In the Great Lakes State where I grew up, fall starts around this time. The days are getting a little shorter. The nights are getting a little cooler. It’s the time for perfect “sleeping weather” where you can still leave your windows open at night but you might need an extra blanket or flannel PJs and area weathermen forecast something called “snuggle alert”. College football is in full swing, and Halloween is just around the corner.
However, I don’t live in Great Lakes State anymore.
Two years ago, the significant other and I moved to Southern Great Plains State (SGPS). It has springtime tornadoes, ridiculously hot summers, autumns that hover around 65 degrees on Thanksgiving, and winters where the grass dies but they don’t get any snow… Instead, they get a horrible weather occurrence known as an ice storm which usually results in six to eight inches of sleet and an inordinate amount of solid ice. All businesses and government buildings shut down for approximately a week while we anxiously await warmer weather that will melt the ice. But I digress. This entry is about pumpkin, not my complaints about the weather situation in SGPS… that I will leave for a future entry.
Recently, I needed it to feel like autumn. My local frozen yogurt place has released a pumpkin flavor, and Starbuck’s has released its perennial favorite, the pumpkin spice latte. Despite this, it’s very difficult for me to feel like it’s autumn when the weather in SGPS is still decidedly summer: 90 degrees and humid. We still have our air conditioning on at night. I haven’t used my oven to cook anything because it will heat up the house; I cooked a Mexican lasagna on the grill last night, for gosh sakes. This is the third week of college football, people, I need autumn!
Last week, we decided that friends of ours would come over to watch the Football Game. I use capital letters here because as far as I’m concerned, there is no other Football Game than a University of Great Lakes State on Saturdays regardless of where I live. We’d have burgers, chips, beer, the whole nine yards. I wanted to make a dessert that would act as an official introduction into my favorite season. I’m fairly handy with the oven, so I decided to make pumpkin muffins.
How do I decide which muffin recipe to use? My experience with anything pumpkin-flavored is the before-mentioned pumpkin spice latte, Panera’s pumpkin muffies, and from-the-box pumpkin bread mix. I like to cook, but pumpkin is not on my list of frequently-used ingredients and I had never made muffins from scratch before. Would I even be able to find pumpkin puree in SGPS this early in the season? The answer is almost no. At my local SuperMart, they have the autumn-themed snack cakes out on an endcap, but no Libby’s pumpkin puree. I asked a friendly associate who told me they only had organic pumpkin puree squirreled away on the bottom shelf of the next aisle. Thankfully, it wasn’t expensive (as organic ingredients are wont to be in SGPS) and I only needed a cup, so the 12-ounce can I found fit the bill.
After some googling, I settled down on a recipe I found on Food Network by Ellie Krieger and altered it only slightly: instead of using pumpkin seeds as a topping, I whipped up a brown sugar-cinnamon streusel topping in my tiny food processor. The streusel really turned out to be more difficult to make than the actual muffin mix; do you know how hard it is to make a streusel topping in a one-cup food processor? I was concerned about over mixing the muffin batter because I knew it was supposed to be lumpy, but I used a whisk. I was also concerned about the muffins sticking to the pan, not having enough batter/having too much batter, not having enough streusel, the muffins turning out dry… I am a fairly neurotic cook.
How did they turn out?
Just beautifully. The streusel was crunchy but not burnt, the muffins were wonderfully spicy and moist, and they came out of the pan like it was teflon-coated. After one bite, my SO eyeballed me and devoured his muffin in big bites like I had just made him a filet mignon. For someone who has never made muffins from scratch and only has one pumpkin pie under her belt, I think I did pretty good. I almost want to hoard them from my friends, say I didn’t cook any dessert, and head back to SuperMart for some break-and-bake cookies. Fall is here in my house, even if it’s still summer outside.
My next plan for pumpkin include making pumpkin ravioli with sage and brown butter, and exploring the process of making my own pumpkin puree.