In early October I wrote a light-hearted story about the supposed pumpkin shortage on Long Island. It was hard to believe national news reports that a fungal blight was destroying local crops. At the time, I could drive down Route 27 in the Hamptons and see pumpkins for miles. Now it’s no joke. Late blight has taken its toll, resulting in a small harvest of pumpkins that often began to go bad within days of picking. Although our farm stands are flush with Brussels sprouts and cauliflower this November, pumpkins are scarce. Since I didn’t stock up before Halloween when they were plentiful, I’m out of luck now.
Good thing that fresh pumpkins are best enjoyed as holiday décor. I agree with experts like Dorie Greenspan and Nick Malgieri, who say that canned pumpkin (100 percent pure pumpkin, not “pumpkin pie filling,” which contains sugar and spices) is just as tasty and easier to use than fresh for use in seasonal baked goods. A bonus: According to doctors at the University of California at Berkeley, canned pumpkin is actually more nutritious than fresh, with more carotenoids and nutrients, ounce for ounce, than fresh because it is more concentrated (processing eliminates a lot of the water).
To me, opening a can of pumpkin feels like taking a step back in time. When my mother was growing up in the 1940s, canned vegetables were a convenient and economical kitchen mainstay. According to Mom, their altered texture and flavor were part of their appeal. I never tire of hearing how she and my aunt used to argue over whose turn it was to drink the “juice” from a freshly opened can of sauerkraut! I wonder if part of pumpkin pie’s retro allure is the fact that it all starts with a can.
One thing is certain: Strict Long Island locavores won’t be satisfied with the pumpkin purée on the shelves at the Bridgehampton King Kullen supermarket. Although it seemed in October that every field on the East End of Long Island was covered with the orange orbs, our local crop makes up a minuscule slice of the national pumpkin pie. According to the University of Illinois, 90 percent of the pumpkins grown in the U.S. are raised within a 90-mile radius of Peoria. Nearby Morton, the “Pumpkin Capital of the World,” is home to a Libby’s processing plant that produces 85 percent of the country’s canned pumpkin.
So I don’t put pumpkin recipes to the 100 mile test. I just enjoy them. Pumpkin’s moisture, along with its great color and sweet vegetal flavor, make it a valuable addition to baked goods beyond pie. Pumpkin quick breads, muffins and waffles are welcome at breakfast, brunch and tea time during the holiday season. After baking all of these, I thought I’d try something new last weekend: Churros made with canned pumpkin instead of water. The pumpkin added some nutritional value to this fried dough recipe, although I’d still place it firmly in the category of “treat,” especially when served with a cup of thick Mexican hot chocolate.
Makes about 20 (4-inch) churros.
Although I’d love to own a home churro maker someday, for now I squeeze my dough through a pastry bag fitted with my largest star tip (an Ateco 827) to get a similar result. Or if I’m being lazy, I’ll simply spoon the dough into the hot oil, to make pumpkin beignets.
- Combine the granulated sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Line another rimmed baking sheet with paper towels.
- Combine the pumpkin purée, butter, brown sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add the flour all at once and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture forms a ball, no more than 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and let cool for 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, with an electric mixer, until smooth.
- Heat 2 inches of oil in a large Dutch oven. Scrape the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.
- When the oil is hot (between 350 and 375 F — a small piece of dough placed in the pot will cause the oil to bubble up), pipe 4-inch strips of dough into the pot. Use a scissors to cut the strips as they are extruded from the bag. Take care not to overcrowd the churros (you should be able to fry 4 or 5 at a time). Fry until golden brown, turning once, about 3 minutes total. Remove to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain briefly and repeat with remaining dough.
- Roll hot churros in cinnamon sugar and serve warm.
Zester Daily contributor Lauren Chattman is a cookbook author, freelance writer and former professional pastry chef. Her recipes have appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Cook’s Illustrated and The New York Times. She is the author of 14 books, most recently “Cake Keeper Cakes” (Taunton, 2009) and “Cookie Swap!” (Workman, 2010).
Photo: Pumpkin churros. Credit: Lauren Chattman