It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.
At this time of year, the pro-pumpkin and anti-pumpkin camps have set up in the trenches. I like to think of myself as a moderate on the pumpkin issue. But if I had to choose, I'd have to say that I'm against the pumpkinization of everything, mostly because of the cloying personality pumpkin seems to take on in public. Pumpkin does not belong in my beer, thanks, and in baked goods, the "pumpkin pie spice" profile gets pretty tired (when it's not in, you know, pumpkin pie).
More: If you want to make your pumpkin pie with real pumpkin, here's how.
Mostly, though, I respect winter squash so much that I regret pumpkin's popular representation as nothing more than a syrupy novelty coffee drink. So I set out to reverse-engineer pumpkin butter. At first glance, pumpkin butter seems like it contains everything someone like me dislikes about this time of year: It's usually made out of canned pumpkin, loaded up with sweetener and the typical flavors you would see in a plastic shaker of dusty pumpkin pie spice. But after reading that canned pumpkin typically contains not just pumpkin purée, but also butternut, Hubbard, and other winter squashes, I wondered: could I make a pumpkin butter -- or, more accurately, a "winter squash butter" -- that really celebrates all that I love about winter squash?
The answer is a resounding yes, and best of all, it's not even hard. I started with one butternut and one mini-Hubbard squash, roasted them, and then puréed them with a little brown sugar and some fresh spice blends. For the butternut, I pulverized whole cloves, freshly grated nutmeg, and ground cinnamon with grated ginger for a fresh take on that traditional "pumpkin pie spice." For the Hubbard, which darkened considerably more, I ground up cardamom, cloves, and a little bit of star anise for a more exotically spiced butter.
Both of them cooked down to thick, velvety spreads that are good on everything from scones to oatmeal to saltine crackers. They make beautiful gifts funneled into small jars, and keep well in the fridge for at least two weeks. Hopefully that's long enough for you to spread the word about sweet, spicy winter squash preparations -- it can be really good, and it's not just for lattes anymore.
2 cups roasted squash
1/2 cup brown or demerara sugar
2 teaspoons spice blend of choice (see recipes for spice blends below)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons apple cider (you can substitute water)
If you haven't yet roasted your squash, preheat the oven to 450° Fahrenheit, cut your squash of choice in half, remove the seeds and stringy bits, drizzle with a bit of neutral oil, and roast until the flesh of the squash is very tender, 40 minutes to 1 hour.
Let your squash cool, then scoop the roasted squash flesh from the skin, and measuring out two full cups of flesh.
More: Don't throw away your seeds! Roast them instead.
In a food processor, combine all other ingredients and process until smooth. Using a spatula, scrape the mixture from the food processor into a medium saucepan. Bring the squash mixture to a simmer, and continue to simmer, scraping the bottom to prevent sticking and burning, for 10 to 15 minutes, until it thickens and becomes velvety.
Allow the squash butter to cool, and then funnel into small jars. The butter will keep, refrigerated, for up to two weeks. (Unfortunately, you cannot safely can the squash butter.)
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 small piece of a star anise pod
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
In a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder, pulverize the cloves, cardamom seeds, and star anise pod. Mix with ground cinnamon.
Photos by Sarah (The Yellow House).