‘Tis the season for Pumpkin Everything! I’m generally not one to follow the crowd, but when it comes to pumpkins, I’m a big fan. These gems of the autumn garden bring summer’s warmth into the cooler months and give us a boost of rich vitamin A and Beta carotene, anti-oxidants, carbohydrates and fiber that keep us and our pets healthy and happy.
What is a pumpkin?
The term “pumpkin” can refer to a wide variety of winter squash, most with yellow or orange flesh, although some can be pale white or green. The shapes vary: oblong, smooth, ribbed, round, small and large, even lumpy and grotesque. The large basketball-shaped orange globes we buy during October to carve Jack-o-Lanterns out of are edible, but not really bred to be tasty. You can certainly process them to eat: scrape out the seeds to roast, peel them, chop them into chunks and steam them until you can mash them or puree them. You will find that the flesh tends to be fairly pale and watery, with not much flavor. Instead, choose a pie pumpkin or another type of winter squash for your culinary needs.
Did you know that most canned pumpkin is actually made from butternut squash and other types of winter squash?
Whether you are using fresh or canned pumpkin, it adds a pulpy density that lets you know there is squash in the house!
What is “Pumpkin Flavor”?
Using pumpkin as an ingredient adds a lot to any recipe. It has a subtle, sweet flavor, but it also brings a ton of fiber and vitamins to the party as well.
The artificial flavorings used in a lot of coffee drinks and baked goods rely heavily on the combination of sweeteners, cream or imitation dairy substitutes, and the traditional combination of pumpkin pie spice consisting of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves to get across the “pumpkin” flavor. (The usual difference between pumpkin pie spice and apple pie spice is that pumpkin spice has cloves, and apple spice has allspice.) Without the extra sweet, creamy, spicy flavor components, you would hardly know the pumpkin was there!
Traditional baked goods made with freshly processed pumpkin also rely on the much-loved flavor combination of pumpkin pie spice. Even a savory dish such as my Gourds and Greens soup in Easy Gluten Free Entertaining contains a touch of cinnamon and ginger to bring out the flavors of the chunks of gourd in the rich broth.
Since I was opening a can of pumpkin puree, I wanted to be able to use it all. I wanted to come up with something to take to a friend’s housewarming. She is a fan of pumpkins in any form, and eats a semi-paleo friendly diet. I also have a house full of dogs and have fallen behind on making dog treats, so that situation had to be remedied.
Along the Silk Road during the Middle Ages, caravan treats made of ground pistachios, almonds and dates were made and carried as nutritious and durable travel food. Today’s Paleo diet utilizes many recipes that feature the combination of ground nuts and dates, served as ‘raw cookies’ or ‘energy bars’. These raw thumbprint ‘cookies’ take that same idea and combine it with pumpkin and the familiar pumpkin pie spices, while the finely chopped crystallized ginger brightens the flavors with a slight zing. (The crystallized ginger is why I call these ‘paleo-ish’, because of the sugar. You can omit it if you like, but for me it took them from “I can’t serve this” to “Wow, these are really good!”)
Paleo-ish Ginger Pumpkin Thumbprints
1 ½ cups nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.)
1 ½ cups (about 24) pitted dates
½ cup freshly ground flaxseed meal
½ cup pumpkin puree
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp. mixed pumpkin pie spices
Dash of salt
¼ cup coconut flour (optional)
1 cup crystallized ginger
Whole or sliced nuts to garnish (one per cookie)
Makes about 24 thumbprints or bars.
Grind the nuts in a food processor until they are a fine crumble. Remove from the processor and set aside. Grind the dates. (Check the dates first to make sure there are no pits left!) Grind your flax seed in a spice grinder. Add the nuts back into the processor with the dates and flax seed, pulse to blend. In a bowl, combine vanilla, pumpkin, spices, and salt. Add the nut and date mixture and stir to combine. It should form a sticky mass that holds together when you squeeze a clump in your hand. If it is too loose, use the coconut flour to stiffen it up, adding just enough until it holds together. Too dry, add a little more pumpkin.
Use a spoon to scoop out tablespoon-sized clumps of the mixture and roll them into balls with your hands. Place on a cookie sheet and place your thumb into the middle of the ball, flattening it and making a wide depression in the top.
Chop the ginger into fine bits. Spoon the bits into the depression, using at least a teaspoon per cookie. Place a whole or sliced nut across the strip of ginger, so you can see ginger on either side of the nut. You can chill them if you like until you are ready to serve them, but they are better to eat at room temperature. I keep mine in a sealed container on the counter.
Pooches Prefer Pumpkin and Peanutbutter
Canned pumpkin is often recommended by veterinarians as a dietary supplement for dogs and cats. The high fiber content can help keep the GI tract moving and can aid with digestive issues such as diarrhea, constipation and even hairballs, and helps to promote overall cardiovascular health.
For a gluten-free version of these dog treats, I like to use a combination of sorghum and buckwheat. Oatmeal ground up into a flour is also a good option. Oats are a great source of soluble fiber, which can be especially beneficial to older dogs. It is also a great alternate grain for dogs allergic to wheat. Make sure to cook oatmeal before serving it to your dog, and do not add any sugar or flavor additives.
Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dog Treats
2 ½ cups flour (whole grain wheat or gluten free)
¾ cup pumpkin puree
2 TBSP peanut butter
¼ tsp. salt
Mix the eggs, pumpkin and peanut butter together, then add the flour mixture and knead until you have a semi-stiff dough. Spread the dough out onto a non-stick baking pan, or use a liner such as a silicon baking mat. Use the back side of a butter knife to score the dough into bite-sized sections. You can customize them to suit your canine contingent, making them whatever size is best. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. For softer treats, bake until the outside has become crunchy, but the inside is still moist. Let cool on a rack to dry them out a bit more. For crunchy treats, press your dough out to no more than ½ inch thick and bake until they are dried all the way through.
If you like these pumpkin ideas, come check out my class at Cook’s Warehouse in Decatur, Georgia on October 15th, 2014. I’ll be talking about the history of pumpkins, and we’ll be cooking a fusion Conquistador and Pueblo chicken with pumpkin seed sauce, a pumpkin pie from the very first American cookbook, and even some candied pumpkin sweetmeats!