It's always a big question this time of year, about pumpkins, that is
September 23, 2010
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It's been cooler and I've been outside doing outside things, but a bit impatient because there aren't leaves to rake as the trees have just begun to turn and everything else is in its place. The wind has picked up and the skies are darkening, and my attention has turned to pumpkins and squash.
I wandered on over to the market on Saturday to see what I could find. It's always a big question this time of year, about pumpkins, that is. When to buy. If you buy too early, and there's a freeze, you run the risk of rotten pumpkins by Halloween. And if you wait too long, the pickings are slim and you're in a rush for the carving. I usually get pumpkins a week or two before Halloween and there's not a problem, but squash I get when they show up.
I won't pretend I'm a squash expert. I don't know much at all about squash in general, and even less about cooking them. I do know that acorn squash is best sliced in half and baked with butter and a good amount of brown sugar, and that a ripe butternut squash is hard to beat. I can assure you you won't find a spaghetti squash in my kitchen; I made one once baked up with a whole lot of butter and dripping with brown sugar and nutmeg but the kids about tipped over. It just didn't fly, and I'm not one to force an issue. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, big whoop. It's not the end of the world. Between you and me, I don't much like spaghetti squash myself, or squash in general. But the things are so dang colorful, and interesting in both shape and texture, how can a person resist? You pick one up and think, There are possibilities here. You think, Hmm. Smoked mozzarella, perhaps? A bit of Gouda? How about some caramelized onions strewn over this one, or some dried fruits simmered in raw sugar? Never give up, I say. There's always more squash for the cooking if this one doesn't cut it. Go ahead. Give it a whirl.
Really Fine Apple Pie
Apples abound at the grocery store, and I've been holding back these past few weeks. If you simply can't contain yourself, here's a basic pie recipe to get it going for the fall season.
3/4 cup cake flour
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 T sugar
1 T lard
4 T Crisco shortening
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 T lemon juice added to 5-7 T ice water
one stick plus 1/3 stick cold butter
10 apples (Granny Smiths and Cortlands), peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 T butter
2 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
Flour or cornstarch for thickening
Preheat oven to 400°F, then reduce to 375°F after pie is in the oven.
Combine dry ingredients. Mix together Crisco and lard in metal bowl. Sprinkle with flour mixture. Chill in refrigerator for 15 minutes. Slice butter into 1/2 inch chunks and add to bowl. Work butter and shortenings together into flour with fingers or a pastry blender, leaving large chunks, the size of walnuts. The purpose is to coat the butter particles with flour, but not to allow the butter or shortenings to melt. Do not overwork the mixture.
Add the lemon juice to ice water and stir quickly into dry ingredients. Mix briefly, less than 45 seconds, leave large pockets of butter and shortening. If mixture is beginning to melt, refrigerate briefly. Gather mixture together into a flat disc, approximately one inch thick, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour or up to 2 days. Freeze if you want to reserve longer than 2 days.
For the filling, use a combination of different types of apples. The best combination consists of mostly Granny Smith apples and a few Cortlands. The Granny Smiths retain their shape when cooked and provide tartness and flavor while the Cortland apples cook down into applesauce.
Mix the nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon with the sugar. Sprinkle the sugar with a few drops of pure vanilla extract. Work the butter and 2 T flour or other thickener into the sugar. Slice the apples into thin wedges and place apples into pre-rolled out and fitted pie crust, packing apples in tightly, since they will cook down significantly. Mound apples higher in center. Sprinkle over the apples the juice of 1/2 lemon, then sprinkle the sugar-spice mixture evenly over the apples.
Roll out and place top crust, fluting edges to seal tightly, creating several vent holes to allow steam to escape. Brush top of crust with a mixture of one egg white and 1 T of water or with a little cream. Sprinkle with 1 tsp sugar. Bake about 45 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.