Here’s how to turn these decorative pumpkins into delicious dessert bars

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Bins and displays of round, chunky, bumpy, and misshapen pumpkins in hues of orange as well as whites, grays, yellows, and greens are welcome harbingers of fall.

Most buyers see seasonal decorations being carved or displayed in home displays, as about 90 percent of pumpkins produced in Texas are for “seasonal ornamental use,” according to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Illinois generally produces the most pumpkins per year, followed generally – in no particular order – by California, Indiana, Texas and Virginia.

This means that pumpkins, once an important food source for indigenous peoples of North and Central America for thousands of years, are now more likely to reap oohs and aahs piled on a porch instead. to be served on a plate or bowl.

As for the pumpkin spice craze in recent years, it’s all about the flavor of the spices, not the pumpkins, which can be bland, bitter, or slightly sweet and nutty, depending on the variety.

But, where others see decorations in these pumpkin bins, I see delicious mash for desserts and soups. Fresh pumpkin puree is much more delicious than canned. Plus, the puree can be frozen, which more than justifies the time and effort it takes to roast the pumpkin flesh and pulverize it in a food processor.

Beginning to pick pumpkins

Not all pumpkins are ideal for carving or cooking.

Want to carve a pumpkin? Look for those labeled Jack-o’-lantern. They will be large and have thinner flesh walls. It’s the perfect canvas for cutting out shapes and silhouettes for backlighting with candles or battery-operated tealights.

Smaller pie pumpkins are marketed for baking because of their natural sweetness and thick walls of flesh.

But if I’m going to take the time to make fresh pumpkin puree, I want plenty of it for my efforts. So, I skip the small pie pumpkins for the chunky big ornamental pumpkins. I’ve had flavorful and naturally sweet results with marketed strains like Cinderella, Fairy Tale, and Jarrahdale. The latter is a blue-gray variety native to New Zealand.

Decorative pumpkins generally have much thicker walls, making them ideal for roasting to make puree for baking and soups.

After:Introduce Hello Dolly to Jack O’Lantern for real magic

How to make pumpkin puree

To make pumpkin puree, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut each half in half. Place the pumpkin pieces cut side up on a baking sheet and roast until fork tender, which may take 30 to 75 minutes, depending on the thickness of the pumpkin walls.

When the cooked pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh, place it in a food processor and puree it smooth. Use the puree in any pumpkin recipe or freeze it in resealable plastic bags for later use.

I like to freeze pumpkin puree in 1 and 2 cup portions. Replace two cups of homemade puree with one can in recipes.

Important note: Fresh pumpkin puree may contain more water than pumpkin puree. So, after thawing a bag, I pour the mash through a fine mesh strainer over a bowl to let the water drain out for about 30 minutes before using it in a baking recipe.

Pumpkin Almond Squares

Here is a delicious pumpkin bar recipe I made recently changing the filling on a tried and tested recipe Apricot Almond Squares. The jam between the crust and the cream cheese filling usually gives the dessert its fruity flavor.

But fresh pumpkin puree sweetened with brown sugar and seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves was an easy and perfect substitute for fall get-togethers.

Laura Gutschke is a generalist journalist and food columnist and manages the online content of the Reporter-News. If you enjoy local news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.

Pumpkin Almond Squares

Ingredients

1 yellow cake mix with pudding

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted

1/2 cup finely chopped slivered almonds

2 cups fresh pumpkin puree, strained (or 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree, unsweetened)

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1 large egg, at room temperature

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

directions

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Use the low setting of a stand mixer or hand mixer and large bowl to combine cake mix, butter and almonds until crumbly. Reserve a cup for the crumble topping. Press remaining mixture evenly into bottom of ungreased 9×13-inch baking dish.

3. In a medium bowl, add the pumpkin purée. Stir in brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves until well blended. Gently spread the pumpkin mixture over the crust.

4. In mixing bowl, whip cream cheese until creamy. Add egg, flour, sugar and almond extract. Beat on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes. Spread the creamy mixture over the pumpkin purée.

5. Scatter the preserved crust mixture on top.

6. Bake for 33 to 35 minutes, until topping is golden brown. Let cool completely before serving. It’s best if prepared a day before serving. Store in the fridge for firmer bars. Makes 20-24 bars.

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