However, I will refrain from passing on disastrous experimental formulas in this post. (Those formulas have long been heaved into Dimension 76.) Instead, I will offer up a recipe inspired by an old tried & true autumn favorite: pumpkin pie. No fancy lavender infusions in this recipe! (Yes, you can finally breathe a sigh of relief. My lavender addiction is on the down-slope. As tempted as I was to add lavender extract to this custard, memories of my failed coconut-pumpkin smoothie reminded me to keep things simple and traditional this time around.) And, boy...this butternut squash recipe reminded me that traditional can be damn good.
I love how pumpkin pie inspired desserts have the power to totally take over American towns this time of year. Just the other day, I strolled down to The Scoop, a quirky little ice cream parlor in Wilmington's historic Cotton Exchange, to sample their signature pumpkin milkshake during my lunch break. Yes, milkshake was my lunch. I am not ashamed. To my surprise, the milkshake technician, who is also The Scoop's owner, spooned freshly roasted pumpkin meat into the blender along with ice cream, milk and spices.
"Wow," I said, "Real pumpkin! That's exciting!"
"Yeah, we don't use any of that powdered shit. This is the real thing."
Yes, there's definitely something about "the real thing" that makes the drinking/eating/smelling experience so much more gratifying. Using real meat from real pumpkin vines us more tightly into our real environment. In other words, pumpkin treats are so common this time of year simply because they are harvested this time of year. In a world where harvesting periods no longer dictate our palate--I can buy blueberries in a supermarket in the middle of December, for example--our devotion to pumpkins in autumn speaks measures about the natural cycles to which we have long been indebted. And refuse to lose hold of. And love. This culinary tradition of consuming pumpkin in the autumn months represents a history of cultivation that is wholly North American, and I will always be amazed by people's use of "the real thing." Using home-roasted pumpkin meat in an ice cream shop reveals more than just that shop owner's dedication to taste; by using real pumpkin, he is also resisting a beaker-centered, powder-obsessed worldview that can, at times, work against nature.
(Granted, all this is coming from a girl who could make a meal out of Red Vines and Skittles, but hey--once your chemistry steps into pumpkin territory, I take offense!)
Whether it be roasted or canned, your use of real pumpkin meat in this recipe is a political act! (Or, at least a delicious act. Two birds with one stone, eh?) The only modification I made to the recipe below was in the use of ramekins instead of a pie crust. The best part of squash pie is the filling, right? (Plus, eating out of a ramekin is so much cooler.) If you choose this modification, fill a big casserole dish with an inch of water, and place your ramekins into the casserole dish before baking. This method ensures that the custard cooks through all the way.
Butternut Squash Custard
(via Pittsburgh Needs Eated, who got it via David Lebovitz's Room for Dessert; recipe copied and pasted directly from Pittsburgh's blog.)
2 pounds butternut squash (for about 2 cups pulp)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extrct
1 tbsp brandy (I did without)
one 10-inch prebaked pie crust (again, I did without. I instead poured custard into 5 2-cup ramekins.)
1. Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and rub generously with butter.
2. Slice the squash in half lengthwise. With a spoon, remove the seeds and fibers from the cavity. Place the halves cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, until tender and fully cooked.
3. While the squash is baking, mix together the cream, milk, eggs, sugar, spices, salt, vanilla, and brandy.
4. When the squash is cooked, remove it from the oven and turn the oven down to 375F. Scoop out the squash pulp and add to the other ingredients. Mix until smooth in a food processor or blender.
5. Pour the warm filling into the pre-baked pie shell and bake for 30-35 minutes, until just barely set in the center. (I poured the filling through a strainer). (Again, you can also do without the shell. Ramekins give this pie filling more of a custard/pudding feel! Yummy.)