After a column about pumpkins a few weeks ago, I found a message on my answering machine from a reader who wondered whether I could find him a recipe for pumpkin butter, which had been a childhood favorite.
While I won't claim that any of the recipes I found will produce pumpkin butter just like Mom used to make, there's enough consistency in the lists of ingredients to make me think I'm probably in the ballpark.
Pumpkin butter, which is an American classic, is similar to apple butter, both in its consistency and in its uses. Spread it on toast or biscuits, and you'll be eating a treat that many of our grandparents savored.
While I have no proof of this, it seems likely that pumpkin butter evolved from a waste-not-want-not approach to food preparation. Back in the day when cooks didn't throw away anything edible, leftover pumpkin pulp could be transformed, using ingredients on hand, into something tasty. While few people cut into a pumpkin expressly to make pumpkin butter, pumpkin butter was a prize nonetheless.
Exhibit A is the reader who still remembers the special taste of his mother's pumpkin butter, decades after the fact.
I was impressed to see that the Internet was full of pumpkin butter recipes.
Those that call for cooking pumpkin pulp in a microwave may not seem authentic to older readers, but the general theme is still there. Virtually every recipe I found called for the usual assortment of pumpkin pie spices. Where they differed to some degree was on the sweetener, either white or brown sugar.
So I'm offering two versions here. Obviously, what's called for here is experimentation. By tinkering with the ingredients, perhaps my caller and others can locate the taste that resonates in their memories. The first recipe is from the site ichef.com, while the second is from the Frugal Living Newsletter, at www.frugalliving.about.com.
My Internet search also turned up a warning that the USDA no longer recommends trying to can pumpkin butter. It should be stored in the refrigerator.
Microwavable Pumpkin Butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cup pumpkin (canned or pureed)
Combine the two sugars, water, allspice, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon in a 4-cup glass measure. Microwave on high 3 minutes; stir. Add pumpkin and microwave on high for another 5 minutes. Let cool and refrigerate. Keeps several weeks in refrigerator or can be frozen.
Makes 2 cups
Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Butter
2 1/2 cups fresh pumpkin; cooked and mashed or pureed
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup of apple cider or orange juice
2 1/2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice or:
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a heavy pan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes OR cook in a slow oven for several hours until the mixture thickens. Cool and refrigerate.
Makes 2 cups