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The Great Pumpkin Shortage of '09


monavano
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Anyone else finding a shortage of pumpkin products, like puree? I asked DH to stop at our nearby Safeway to get pumpkin puree and they had....none. The manager said something about a shortage due to a rainy (or not rainy enough) season.

The New York Times had a blog item on this last week.

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Anyone else finding a shortage of pumpkin products, like puree? I asked DH to stop at our nearby Safeway to get pumpkin puree and they had....none. The manager said something about a shortage due to a rainy (or not rainy enough) season.

As did Serious Eats on the basis of media buzz, offering alternatives.

There have been lots of articles about major agricultural losses in light of excess rain which has been this growing season's leitmotif. First during spring when a farmer on the Eastern Shore said she had no more strawberries cuz the fruit can't swim, then with the tomato blight and other funghi and molds brought on by excess rain, then more recently, the devastating effect of October's rain on amber fields of grain.

I was hard-pressed to find many pumpkins at Dupont Circle or Silver Spring this past weekend, but seem to recall Whole Foods had quite a number of pie-pumpkins for sale in the recent past.

If you can't find cans anywhere and can't find decent pie pumpkins, give in to Zora who maintains that discerning cooks and chefs use butternut squash because it makes a better pie. :(

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As did Serious Eats on the basis of media buzz, offering alternatives.

There have been lots of articles about major agricultural losses in light of excess rain which has been this growing season's leitmotif. First during spring when a farmer on the Eastern Shore said she had no more strawberries cuz the fruit can't swim, then with the tomato blight and other funghi and molds brought on by excess rain, then more recently, the devastating effect of October's rain on amber fields of grain.

I was hard-pressed to find many pumpkins at Dupont Circle or Silver Spring this past weekend, but seem to recall Whole Foods had quite a number of pie-pumpkins for sale in the recent past.

If you can't find cans anywhere and can't find decent pie pumpkins, give in to Zora who maintains that discerning cooks and chefs use butternut squash because it makes a better pie. :(

Thanks for the insight. It seems many crops were affected throughout the year.

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If you can't find cans anywhere and can't find decent pie pumpkins, give in to Zora who maintains that discerning cooks and chefs use butternut squash because it makes a better pie. :(

It does. Field pumpkins tend to bake up stringy ("regular" pumpkins), too pale (those dense, fleshy "baking" pumpkins) and/or vegetal-tasting, but butternut bakes up just right. No wonder that Libby's canned contains a butternut cultivar. Mash very thoroughly.

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Anyone else finding a shortage of pumpkin products, like puree? I asked DH to stop at our nearby Safeway to get pumpkin puree and they had....none. The manager said something about a shortage due to a rainy (or not rainy enough) season.

I've been reading about the shortage this year, so I was surprised to see a big display of canned pumpkin at Whole Foods (Old Town) on Friday. I wasn't planning any pumpkin for Thanksgiving (I prefer sweet potato), so I haven't really been looking out for it.
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Another thing you can use is "calabaza" from the Latino section of your grocery store. The name is usually translated as "pumpkin," however, these big squashes are the same species as butternut squash and have the same flavor and texture. Just roast cut-side up and puree. I saw some yesterday at Grand Mart on LRT (although everything else looked pretty bad).

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I'd read about the shortage on line, so I was surprised to see a large display of canned pumpkin at the Springfield Whole Foods on Sunday afternoon. (I have a few cans of organic pumpkin pie filling in my pantry that I bought by mistake a few months ago, if anyone wants them.)

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If you can't find cans anywhere and can't find decent pie pumpkins, give in to Zora who maintains that discerning cooks and chefs use butternut squash because it makes a better pie.

Dave is right-- canned pumpkin is, actually, butternut squash. I like kabocha and buttercup even better. I roasted a kabocha until it was well caramelized, then pureed it-- that'll be the basis of my pie. What's great about roasting instead of steaming, is that a lot of the water is driven out in the dry heat of the oven, so that it isn't necessary to "dry" the puree on top of the stove.
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lperry-I have a Bestway nearby and will keep that in mind. Acutally, I just wanted to make pumpkin biscotti for Mr. MV to share with his office before Thanksgiving. I wound up making cornmeal biscotti with anise, dried cranberry and pecans.

Pat and ScotteeM-sounds like WholeFoods is keeping ahead of the shortage in the NoVa area. I just was astounded to find no cans of pumpkin puree, which I now know is butternut squash. Thanks Zora! I'm going to take a close look at the label-never woulda thunk it. :(

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I make a damn fine pumpkin pie w real for truly honestly genuine, authentic pumpkin. Been baking so nigh two decades on and off and probably more. Always done did bake/roast the squash that ends up a smooth purée because I know what I am doing. Damn fine, flaky pie crust, too.

You all go eat your pseudo-pumpkin kabocha-butternut hybrid wannabees (sweet potato is fine by me, Pat, cuz it also is what it is) dressed in pumpkin's clothing if thus inclined but well but

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I make a damn fine pumpkin pie w real for truly honestly genuine, authentic pumpkin. Been baking so nigh two decades on and off and probably more. Always done did bake/roast the squash that ends up a smooth purée because I know what I am doing. Damn fine, flaky pie crust, too.

You all go eat your pseudo-pumpkin kabocha-butternut hybrid wannabees (sweet potato is fine by me, Pat, cuz it also is what it is) dressed in pumpkin's clothing if thus inclined but well but

There are other cultures that eat a lot of different calabash/gourd/curcubit family varietals that they call pumpkin. So when they make pie, is it truly pumpkin pie? Does it make any difference? You can continue to perambulate on your pumpkin purist path, my dear. I will seek out the members of the family that have the most intense flavor and the most pleasing texture to make my annual pie.

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Next question: pie filling baked in the pie shell or cooked on the stove top until thick and then poured into a blind-baked crust? Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages.

I only bake the pie shell, though I formerly switched from an all-raw, cold mixture poured into blind-baked shell to a partially cooked filling.

Ever since I replaced canned pumpkin with sustainable-ag local squash, I found mixing the filling ingredients w cream cheese and Jell-O (substitute for eggs) superior. A little ketchup enhances the color.

Some of best advice I've appreciated:

  • bake until still a wee bit jiggly in center (Mark Bittman)
    Not always easy to judge, but since custard continues to cook while cooling, you avoid textural issues (unless you have a watery, stringy squash, of course)
  • Pyrex pie plate starting on floor of oven (Rose Levy Berenbaum)

I recommend reading what the latter says about pies on her blog. She's switched pastry on her recipe for pumpkin pie, but you can find the one I use at epicurious. I swear by using apple cider vinegar and a touch of baking powder, though I sub 2 T lard for 2 T of her butter.

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Now that this has become an issue that may involve ethnobotanical semantics, I'm interested. Butternut squash is Cucurbita moschata. What people in the US call pumpkin is Cucurbita pepo. There are, however, an entire group of these types of plants called calabaza or West Indian pumpkin, and they are, like butternut squash, Cucurbita moschata. Some have long necks, but many look just like pumpkins. The cultivars I grew this year look like the cinderella pumpkins from France and taste just like the Waltham butternut squash I also grew. Could be Libby's is taking advantage of both a common name and a better tasting plant in one fell swoop. Somewhere there's an anthropology student itching to write a thesis. I just know it.

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The cultivars I grew this year look like the cinderella pumpkins from France and taste just like the Waltham butternut squash I also grew.

My Rouge Vif d'Etampes is Cucurbita maxima just like Red Kuri, Jarrahdale, Buttercup, some Kabocha--the category is rather broad.

Funny, I distinctly remember Elizabeth Schneider poo-pooing the cheese pumpkins so many others were snatching up and recall praise for cinderellas such as mine.

Mine, in her estimate? Seems 19th-century chefs in Paris liked it because it was so mild it didn't overpower other ingredients in soups. She said of the 4 bought from 3 different growers over 2-year period, only 1 sweet, but without much flavor. Stringy, soggy and bland, otherwise.

Hmmm. I've always relied on the smaller sugar pumpkins in the past and always had luck. Let's hope a whole lot of draining, fresh eggs, rich local milk, etc. do the trick, though I am almost tempted to rush out in the morning for some gingersnaps and pecans to line the bottom of the crust just in case.

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Mine, in her estimate? Seems 19th-century chefs in Paris liked it because it was so mild it didn't overpower other ingredients in soups. She said of the 4 bought from 3 different growers over 2-year period, only 1 sweet, but without much flavor. Stringy, soggy and bland, otherwise.

I have no doubt that you bake a completely delightful pie from properly pumpkin-looking pumpkins! They're just not the varieties I've found at the market...maybe I need to look harder.

After reading about the effects of post-harvest ripening on kabocha, I wonder if it doesn't affect other C. maxima as well. Kabocha is said to need anywhere from 1 to 3 months even after vine ripe, to develop its full sweetness and an orange interior. Better yet, it's also said to be ultra-sweet, sweeter than butternut. My mom's been growing these for soup for years (on her front porch...it really is a hilarious sight to see them overrunning the shrubs and patio furniture); I'm going to see if I can abscond with one to make a pie from, even if I have to wait until late January to report the results.

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Hmmm. I've always relied on the smaller sugar pumpkins in the past and always had luck. Let's hope a whole lot of draining, fresh eggs, rich local milk, etc. do the trick, though I am almost tempted to rush out in the morning for some gingersnaps and pecans to line the bottom of the crust just in case.

I've used them as well with good results. I think it really does depend on the cultivar and whether or not you roast cut-side-up or boil. But it is Thanksgiving, which means you have to argue about these things.

After reading about the effects of post-harvest ripening on kabocha, I wonder if it doesn't affect other C. maxima as well. Kabocha is said to need anywhere from 1 to 3 months even after vine ripe, to develop its full sweetness and an orange interior. Better yet, it's also said to be ultra-sweet, sweeter than butternut. My mom's been growing these for soup for years (on her front porch...it really is a hilarious sight to see them overrunning the shrubs and patio furniture); I'm going to see if I can abscond with one to make a pie from, even if I have to wait until late January to report the results.

This year the calabazas climbed up the side of the house. I provide unending amusement for the neighbors. And I've never heard this aging tidbit about kabocha squash. The one time I tried it, I was underwhelmed, and now I wonder if it was just too young. Maybe it's time to give maxima another chance.

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Nay sayers: 1

Purist: 0

This round, at least. Next year I'm going back to an organic sugar pumpkin from WFM if the only other choices are exquisite heirloom varieties at farmers markets, other types of winter squash or cans of purée.

Great crust. Great texture, too. But the Vif d'Etampes was, in fact, watery, stringy, bland, more yellow than orange despite the vivid reddish orange of the shell and not at all sweet.

Solved the first problem by straining it as if it were yogurt, reducing volume by more than a third. Blender took care of stringy, but nothing could have compensated for bland except, perhaps, blending in a different vegetable which wasn't on hand. Consequently, it tastes like spice-cake flan in a blanket.

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But the Vif d'Etampes was, in fact, watery, stringy, bland, more yellow than orange despite the vivid reddish orange of the shell and not at all sweet.

A few Thanksgivings back, my MIL brought me one all the way from California (they'd grown it on their farm) and I had the same exact experience. I always figured it was just that particular pumpkin. Guess not.

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The ill-effects of the shortage apparently continue.

Vets recommend canned pumpkin when your dog has the runs. Giant Food in Reston has organic canned pumpkin at $2.99 a can on the shelves, but nothing cheaper. My parents' exploding dog (currently visiting us) had better like the stuff, because I don't really need another early morning awakening like this morning's.

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Vets recommend canned pumpkin when your dog has the runs. Giant Food in Reston has organic canned pumpkin at $2.99 a can on the shelves, but nothing cheaper. My parents' exploding dog (currently visiting us) had better like the stuff, because I don't really need another early morning awakening like this morning's.

Actually, I feed it to my cat to fight constipation, and he loves it. I get the organic pumpkin from Harris Teeter for $2.99 a can.

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What can explain this paradox?

Pumpkin is incredibly high in fiber, and fiber helps regulate and normalize digestion. You can do a web search to read more about soluble and insoluble fibers, but the gist of it is that fiber does indeed help both conditions.

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