Starting mid-September you’ll begin to smell it — pumpkin spice everything. From cereal to coffee to cookies, pumpkin spice is the seminal scent of fall. But real pumpkin aficionados know that the best part of fall is anything but just plain pumpkin.
When most people think of pumpkin they think of jack o’ lanterns or pies. But pumpkin can be used in any number of ways, and is one of the healthiest vegetables out there. Loaded with beta carotene and antioxidants, pumpkins help with vision, as well as warding off diseases, and because they are full of fiber and other nutrients — may be a good food for weight loss.
In 2017, America produced more than 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins.
In Frankfort, at Happy Jack’s Farm, pumpkins are one of the biggest sellers in fall. The farm plants between 15 and 20 acres of pumpkins in 40 different varieties. While many are decorative, some are made specifically for pies and other goodies during the fall season.
Adam Jones, one of the farmers at Happy Jack’s, said the farm provides the pumpkins for all of Ouita Michel’s restaurants in central Kentucky.
When you’re looking for pie pumpkins, he said, bigger isn’t necessarily better.
“With pie pumpkins, you’re going to want one of the smaller ones,” he said. “They’re more dense with more meat and edible flesh in them… You want them to be firm and you want them to have, if possible, a hard or dried stem. When the stem is dried out like that, you know that the skin has had time to mature.”
And, the pumpkins will last quite a while, he said. If they’re stored between 55 and 60 degrees, and don’t have any scars or bug damage, they’ll last a long time — all the way through until Thanksgiving, in fact.
Amanda Dunn, manager for Ouita Michel’s Midway Bakery in Midway, said pumpkin dishes have been on the menu for a while. The bakery makes desserts for all seven of the restaurants, as well as the breads — like the pumpkin biscuits the bakery sometimes makes for bread baskets.
This year, she also anticipated the bakery would make some savory elements like pumpkin quiches and pumpkin scones.
“We make pumpkin cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting, pumpkin praline cake, a pumpkin cinnamon roll cake and, of course pumpkin pies,” she said.
Dunn said the bakery would make more than 200 pumpkin pies between mid-October and Thanksgiving, not including all the pies for the restaurants.
Drew Caring, one of the pastry chefs at Ouita Michael’s Midway Bakery in Midway, said the secret to a good pumpkin pie is to start with good ingredients.
“You want to start off by roasting them and pureeing them,” he said. “That’s really important for your texture later on. When you’re roasting them, you can go darker on them and go ahead and hit them with some seasonings — like some ginger or whatnot — that will really bring out the flavor of the pumpkin.”
Caring said to cut the pumpkin in half and remove the seeds, then place the halves on a baking sheet before roasting the pumpkins in a medium hot oven. Once they’ve cooked, and cooled, you can scoop the pumpkin out of its shell and puree it in a blender.
From there, he said, making a great pumpkin pie is up to the cook. Each cook has their own preferences, he said.
“Really the secret to making a great pumpkin pie is the ingredients that are going into it. You can taste that. We do everything from scratch, we try to do everything as local as possible…,” he said. “But for pumpkin pie, you want your batter to be very, very smooth. If you are using flour, you don’t want to mix it too much, so it doesn’t turn into a brick. And, you want to be careful about how you cook it. If you cook it until it stops moving, it’s not going to be good when you serve it.”
Pumpkin pies need the main spices in order to taste right, he said. Cinnamon, clove, ginger and allspice all deserve a place in your recipe. But, it’s up to you whether or not to add nutmeg, he said.
“I’m a fan of nutmeg, some people aren’t, but that’s a personal preference,” he said.
And of course, the pie has to be topped with homemade whipped cream.
“If it’s homemade whipped cream, it’s so much better,” he said. “And it’s so easy to do. Your kids can make it and learn a basic skill while they’re doing it.”
But more than anything, he said, it’s important to try out different elements of your recipe and see what makes it good to, and, for you.
“Life is a learning experience. That’s what makes cooking great. Go play. We all make mistakes, but that’s how we learn to be better,” he said.
Dunn said she anticipates that starting in mid-October; pumpkin items will be out in full swing. From pumpkin quiche to pumpkin muffins to pumpkin scones, there will be plenty of options to choose from.
If you decide to grab a pumpkin from Happy Jack’s and make your own, Jones said to get them while you can. Pumpkins stop producing in late summer and once the pumpkins are gone, they’re gone, he said.
But, if you’d rather have Midway Bakery make your pumpkin pie than trying your own hand at it, make sure you give them plenty of time to pull it together. Phone orders need at least 24 hours in advance and online orders need 48.
Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple Browned Butter Frosting
Recipe makes two, two layer cakes.
• 1 pound, 5 ounces all-purpose flour
• 3/8 ounce pumpkin pie spice
• 1/8 ounce salt
• 6 ounces melted unsalted butter
• 6 ounces vegetable oil
• 14 ounces sugar
• 11 ounces light brown sugar
• 1 pound, 11 ounces pumpkin puree
• 6 eggs
Combine all of the dry ingredients and set aside. Whisk together remaining ingredients. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and mix. Scale 1 pound and 10 ounces in each dish. Bake at 300 degrees for 23-25 minutes.
Maple Browned Butter Frosting
• 1 pound, 8 ounces butter, at room temp
• 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temp
• 2 pounds powdered sugar
• 1/2 cup real maple syrup
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
Brown the butter in a pan until light golden brown. Transfer to mixer and add cream cheese and whip until smooth. Add sugar, slowly, and then the syrup and vanilla.