BAKED WHOLE PUMPKIN (or, In-The-Pumpkin Pie)
Some nineteen years ago, Shay and I came across a very interesting historical American recipe in a cookbook. We served it that Thanksgiving to our family, just a couple of months after we were married. Or, maybe it was one year later. But anyway, it was the talk of the table that day. Since that Thanksgiving, I have made this every year. Over the years, I have adjusted and refined it to suit our tastes, and have learned by trial and error. This recipe is the result. Enjoy!
1 pumpkin, 6-7 pounds, with a stem if at all possible
6 whole eggs
2 Cups heavy whipping cream or heavy cream
1 Cup packed brown sugar
2 Tablespoons molasses or Steen’s cane syrup (it’s very dark)
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 teaspoons cinnamon
2 Tablespoons butter
A note about selecting a pumpkin: try to select the most stable pumpkin you can. Wider is better than taller. Straight is much better than tilted. You don’t want the pumpkin to fall over. Also, though you can use a few toothpicks to open the lid, you really don’t want to have to. It’s not easy or foolproof, since the pumpkin will be cooked, and therefore easy to pull through. A stem handle is much better. Also, pie pumpkins will give you a smoother, sweeter meat than others, but it can be difficult to find them in the 6-7 pound range. I have found them, though.
Cut the lid off the pumpkin, being careful to cut at a nearly flat angle all the way around AND to end up with a hole that is at least 5-6 inches wide. Remove the seeds and strings, saving the seeds for toasting. Place the pumpkin in a baking pan or even a pie or cake pan. If your lid has very little stem, you will need to stick a few toothpicks into the lid for later handling (but, like I said, you don’t want to do this unless that’s the only suitable pumpkin you could find).
Mix (don’t beat or whip) the remaining ingredients together except the butter. Pour it into the pumpkin; then cut the butter into small pieces and drop it on top of the mixture. The pumpkin will be about half full or a little more at this point, depending on the size of the pumpkin. Put the lid back on the pumpkin.
Bake the whole thing at 350 degrees for 1 – 1 ½ hours or more, until the mixture has set like a custard. I’m afraid I have never been able to come up with an exact formula. I have had pumpkins done in that 1 ½ hour time, and I’ve had them take up to three hours. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the thickness of the meat of the pumpkin.
When checking the pumpkin while it is cooking, and the first time after it’s done, it is best to use a butter knife to go around the lid again to make sure it isn’t stuck. If you don’t, the stem might separate from the lid.
How do you know when a custard is done? Remove the lid of the pumpkin and thump the side of the pan, watching the surface of the custard. If the whole thing (or most of it) ripples like water, it isn’t done. It’s done when all but the center 1 inch or so ripples like jelly (in other words, not very much), and the center inch still ripples like water. Or, an inch or so away from the center, slowly sink the blade of a butter knife through one of the pools of butter and into the custard a couple of inches, then slowly bring it back out. If it comes out almost clean, the custard is done. Put the lid back on and let the custard finish setting as it cools.
By the way, I have had the custard overflow the pumpkin before. Don’t panic. It looks strange, but still tastes great. It is, however, a good reason to put the pumpkin in a pie pan and then also on a baking sheet to catch any accidents.
The pumpkin will look wilted and wrinkled and will be a dark orange color. It makes a great conversation piece. Serve straight from the pumpkin right at the table, scraping some pumpkin from the sides to go with the custard. If you wish, top with whipped cream.
This is said to have been a favorite of George Washington. The original recipe comes from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American by Jeff Smith. Finding it bland (sugar and spices were much more expensive way back), I’ve played with the amounts of sugar, molasses, and spices to arrive at this recipe. Jeff Smith’s recipe lives on all over the internet. Some people have come up with different ideas for cooking it and getting the custard to set (sometimes it does seem like it will take forever). Don’t try the idea of leaving off the lid. Your pumpkin may collapse inward without it supporting the walls. Another idea is to microwave it part or all of the time. I read that this can tend to come out lumpy unless you slowly stir it now and then (I didn’t think you were supposed to stir them after they started cooking!). I was in a time crunch recently, though, and, in a fit of desperation, I took the partially-baked pumpkin out of the cake pan and put it into a bowl (bad idea – put it onto a plate or something… or at least a low bowl… something low and microwaveable) and microwaved it the rest of the way, checking every five minutes or so. I did not stir it. It finished just in time, and there were rave reviews.
I have never found anyone else who has actually changed the recipe. Should you want the original recipe, it called for a 5-7 pound pumpkin (too many overflows), ½ Cup packed brown sugar, 1 Tablespoon molasses, ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon ginger. The other ingredients were the same, as were the directions.
I also noticed over the years that the pumpkin was most attractive when a little butter spilled over from inside. It made the pumpkin browner (like a sienna color) and glossy where the butter had run down. I have started giving the entire skin of the pumpkin a very light coat of butter right before I fill it. It comes out beautifully! Just don’t lose your grip…
One more thing — this thing has a short life span. It is best eaten the day you make it. You can refrigerate the leftovers and polish it off the next day, but it really doesn’t last longer than that. Well, it still tastes good, but it starts separating.
Here’s the result for me this Thanksgiving: http://rabbittalk.com/blogs/24carrot/2010/12/02/in-the-pumpkin-pie-pictures/