Pumpkin is more than an ingredient. It’s a color, a shape, a memory of holidays and crisp leaves and cool air laced with wood smoke. Few vegetables have the power to evoke in our minds a whole season, an experience of time and history, of feasts and family and warmth. It’s just not the same with, say, celery.
There are obvious reasons for pumpkin’s unique stature, not the least of which is that it makes a darn fine pie. The flavor—a luscious bite of the very essence of fall—is so connected to that season, in fact, that most of us don’t even consider it the other nine months of the year. But I love pumpkin all though the year, and at any time of day, from breakfast to dessert.
The recipes that follow are four of my favorite ways to cook with pumpkin: bread pudding, cake, cheesecake, and pie. And while I’m all for seasonal eating, pumpkin is so good that you might just find yourself sneaking it into desserts and baked goods all through the year.
What’s in the can?
The recipes here call for canned pumpkin as opposed to fresh. Why? Because pumpkin is one of the few foods that’s actually better from a can. It’s virtually impossible to get a purée from a sugar pumpkin at home that’s as smooth, as consistently flavorful, and as dry as it is from that can in the supermarket. Look for labels that say “pure solid-pack pumpkin.” Don’t buy canned pumpkin pie filling, which is sweetened, seasoned, and often contains additives.