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Monday, December 12, 2011

pumpkin (or squash) butter

Do you shop at Trader Joe's? I have heard stories that some people in our great nation don't live close enough to a Trader Joe's to make shopping there feasible. I give my deepest sympathies to any of you who don't have Joe in your neighborhood.

The greatest thing about Trader Joe's is not that they have great prices (although they do). It's not that they have a good selection of organic or gluten-free or nitrate-free or sugar-free (although they do). It's not that they have a whole bunch of convenience foods -- think frozen pizza or pre-made cheesecake -- that manage to still be made of real ingredients (although they do). The great thing about Trader Joe's is that they do all of these things, and they manage to have an absolutely astounding variety of products. Every time I am in the store, there is something I have never noticed before. And any time I talk about Trader Joe's with a friend, I learn about their favorite product, which also is quite often something I have never noticed before. I could spend hours in that place perusing the aisles, finding all manner of yummy treats I have never tried.

As a matter of fact, I would love to hear what is on your shopping list at Trader Joe's. I am always interested in hearing what else I need to look for there... leave a comment if you know of something I need to try! 

One of the favorite items that my family discovered in Trader Joe's is the pumpkin butter. It is a spread made out of pumpkin and spices, that is great on toast, English muffins, bagels, etc. My kids also love it in place on jam on their peanut butter sandwiches. I have used it to make a quick dessert (rolled into puff pastry and sliced into rounds before baking). It tastes like having a little bit of pumpkin pie with your morning coffee.

Trader Joe's only has the pumpkin butter available in the fall, and we used to stock up on about 10 jars of it when we found it on the shelves, in order to last us through to when it came back the following year.

And then I started to get the Abundant Harvest Organics box. In the AHO box, the fall brings pumpkins. And quite a few butternut squashes. And even a kabocha squash, which is something I had never heard of before. And, as it turns out, these three squashes can pretty much be substituted one for the other. They aren't exactly the same, of course, but they work the same way. The flavors are very slightly different, but I like them all. I have made "pumpkin" pie out of all three of them. I have made "pumpkin" cookies out of all three of them. And, to my great joy, I have found that I can make pumpkin butter out of all three of them as well. It is pretty easy to make, once you have pureed the squash. It just takes a few ingredients, and a little while standing at the stove, stirring and simmering.

A quick note about the kabocha squash... We got one in our box a few weeks ago, and it terrified me. It was big (the size of a medium pumpkin). It was ugly (a sort of odd green color). It was hard (hard like a gourd almost). I couldn't imagine that anything good would come of it. As a matter of fact, I added it to the fall porch decorations and left it there a couple of weeks, happily nesting amongst the pumpkins. But a friend assured me that her mother had gotten one in a CSA box in Colorado, and that she loved it. SO if a friend's out-of-state mother likes kabocha squash, who am I to turn up my nose? I brought in back inside, roasted it, pureed it, and became smitten. The kabocha squash is sweeter and more flavorful than pumpkin. It roasts into a wonderfully soft consistency, and the puree is amazingly smooth and creamy. As a matter of fact, give a choice between a pumpkin and a kabocha, I would now choose the kabocha every time. 

Anyway, I was sitting here with a pumpkin, a kabocha, and two large butternuts. That is a whole lot of squash. I roasted and pureed them all, and I made a kabocha pie and a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. However, I still had an immense amount of puree leftover. I combined it all and made "pumpkin" butter out of it. It made a whole bunch of pumpkin butter, so I was able to freeze several portions, and once again we will have enough to last us until squash season next year. 

I would say that this recipe works equally well for any one or any combination of these squashes. Use whatever you have on hand, or pick your favorite. Or, if you prefer, you can buy canned puree. About one large can of pumpkin is what is needed for this recipe.

Pumpkin Butter

         3 ½ cups pumpkin (or butternut or kabocha) puree
         3/4 cup apple juice
         1 1/2  teaspoons ground ginger
         1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
         1 1/2 cups white sugar
         2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
         1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine squash puree, apple juice, spices, and sugar in a large saucepan; stir well. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until thickened. Stir frequently. I am not sure about the acidity of this, so I can't recommend canning it. If you make a whole bunch, I suggest freezing it. It thaws quite nicely.