In spring it is the dawn that is most
Beautiful, in autumn the evenings…
From The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
Like the look a woman gives
The man she loves,
The air this evening
Has a secret glow.
The moon is a perfect circle now,
And has a life of her own.
Light spills out of her
And radiates like a Zuni cross,
Pale gold and filled with history.
The insects keep their chant alive;
Their petition penetrates
The last luscious oleander blooms,
The new pink petals of the azalea.
The scent of star-colored roses
Speaks to us about the past
As shadows fall over all the earth,
Like time, disappearing into mystery.
But lingering in the half-light,
Still alive in the cricket songs
And the sweet perfume of autumn’s garden,
Is the breath of the millions
Who have paused in evening moon watch,
Pulled by the passion
Of a moment as fragrant as this.
One of the glories of an autumn evening is watching the Harvest Moon fill a pumpkin patch with golden light, turning the round pumpkins into mirrors of the moon. For me, nothing says “autumn” like pumpkins. The deep, earthy orange color, the plump abundant roundness, the preview of feasting and celebrating the harvest, are all embedded in the pumpkin’s very essence. And our website is bursting with pumpkins.
“An Autumn Afternoon Tea” in the Afternoon Tea and the Four Seasons section of this website offers charming little Pumpkin Cream Tartlets along with other seasonal sweets. In the Calendar of Tea Parties section, our October tea party menu, dedicated to the Mexican festival, Dia de Los Muertos, features Pumpkin Empanadas, little half-moon shaped pastries with recipes for both sweet and savory versions. And our September menu, An Ozark Farm Harvest Tea, includes my favorite Pumpkin Bread. The recipe for this moist, spicy quick bread can be found in my October 2018 blog, “Glorious October,” available on this website. I make this totally autumnal Pumpkin Bread every year. It is great for Halloween or Thanksgiving and perfect for fall tea parties, as it can be cut into little tea sandwiches filled with whipped cream cheese.
Pumpkin and cream cheese seem to be natural partners, as evidenced in my October 2019 bog, “Pumpkin Time—Savory and Sweet.” This blog includes the recipe for Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Icing, a splendid and festive cake that will be the star of any autumn gathering.
For those of you who like to plan ahead, in my November 2016 blog I share the recipe for an extra-special Pumpkin Praline Pie that will turn your family’s familiar Thanksgiving menu into something both traditional and excitingly new. The word “traditional” is an understatement when applied to pumpkin. As we know, pumpkin, or more likely some related form of native squash, was included in the first Thanksgiving feast of 1621, but pumpkins and other forms of gourds have been around far longer than that.
Pumpkins belong to the Gourd family of flowering plants, with the scientific name of Cucurbitaceae. This includes hard-shelled gourds such as pumpkin, butternut squash and kabocha squash, and soft-shelled vegetables such as zucchini, cucumbers and summer squash. Evidence of Bottle Gourds, which may have been native to southern Africa, were found in an archeological site in Peru and dated to 13,000 B.C. Pumpkins and other forms of squash native to Central America and Mexico, were present before the arrival of human beings. And scientists believe that vegetables in the Gourd family were the first domesticated plant species, grown for food in the Americas even before maize and beans.
In fact, gourds have been part of the culture of almost all native people of the Americas. A major food source, gourds and squash have also been used as tools, musical instruments and objects of art. In more recent history, I think we all remember playing with maracas as children and carving Jack o’ Lanterns out of pumpkins. Pumpkins are truly fascinating vegetables which are being used more and more these days for artistic purposes, as porch, table and textile decorations to mark the autumn holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Pumpkins can also grow to an astounding size, winning prizes for the growers at Pumpkin Patches and Harvest Festivals throughout the country. One winner in 2009 grew a pumpkin that weighed 1,636 pounds!
Edible pumpkins and other squashes are also appearing more frequently in recipes and restaurant menus as savory vegetables, not just as “traditional” pumpkin pies. Eaten in Africa for generations, Squash and Peanut Stew, made with Butternut Squash, is delicious, healthy and easy to make. Recipes for this fabulous vegetarian dish are easy to find online. You are also invited to use the recipe for Ifisashi with Nshima (Zambian Peanut and Vegetable Stew with Corn Meal Mush,) from my June 2017 blog, “A Zest for Zambia.” I learned about this fabulous dish, featuring Butternut Squash, on my adventures in Zambia.
Asian recipes are also filled with pumpkin and squash. In fact, Kabocha, a Japanese variety of winter squash, is often referred to in Japanese menus as “pumpkin.” I love kabocha as part of a selection of Vegetable Tempura, and it is also wonderful in Vietnamese and Thai vegetable curries. And let’s not forget that zucchini and other squashes are everywhere to be found in Italian and French cuisine. However, I must admit, that when autumn rolls around, no matter how much I love savory squash dishes, my heart returns to baking, and sweet pumpkin desserts fill my heart again.
All the pumpkin cake, bread and pie recipes in our website and my blogs call for canned pumpkin. The Libby company, by far the largest producer of canned pumpkin, uses a proprietary strain of the Dickinson variety for its canned pumpkin. And those fifteen-ounce cans seem to contain just the right amount of cooked and pureed pumpkin to make a perfect pie or cake. No sawing open a pumpkin, scraping out the slimy, stringy seeds, peeling off the hard shell, chopping up the vegetable and cooking and mashing the pulp. I admit to being a lazy baker, but if you want to make your special pumpkin pie or cake from scratch, you are a better person than I am. You will find plenty of recipes online for “from scratch” pumpkin pies, but most of them just tell you to use a “pie pumpkin” or a “sugar pumpkin.” What does that mean? There are a vast number of pumpkin varieties, and your best choices for baking include Baby Pam, Autumn Gold, Ghost Rider, Baby Bear, Cinderella, or Dickinson, the kind used by Libby’s. Good luck to you!
Pumpkin Sherry Cheesecake
I cut this recipe for Pumpkin Sherry Cheesecake out of the San Jose Mercury News years ago, presumably from the food section, but the column which I cut out contains no date. The unsigned introduction to this article suggested this recipe and an interesting sounding recipe for Light and Dark Holiday Pudding, a steamed dessert combining spices, cocoa and candied fruits, as substitutes for the traditional Mince and Pumpkin Pies for Thanksgiving. Every time I have made this lovely pumpkin cheesecake, which subtly melds the flavors of lemon, autumn spices and cream sherry, my family has showered me with gratitude. Don’t we all love compliments?
Read the recipe carefully before you begin to make this beautiful cheesecake. Both the Cookie Crust and the Filling require lemon zest. You will need one medium to large sized lemon to produce the two teaspoons of lemon zest required—one teaspoon each for the crust and the filling. Also, make sure that the eggs and the cream cheese are both at room temperature before you begin making the filling. This will reduce the chances of ending up with a crack in the top of your finished cheesecake, as will not overbaking. But if your lovely Pumpkin Sherry Cheesecake should end up with a cracked top anyway, just cover the crack with a luscious pile of freshly whipped cream immediately before serving.
For the Lemon Cookie Crust:
- 1 ¼ cups flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small chunks
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with a fork
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Cooking spray with flour
For the Filling:
- 2 (8 ounces each) packages of cream cheese at room temperature
- ½ cup cream sherry
- 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
For the Whipped Cream Topping:
- 1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Cinnamon for sprinkling
Special equipment: large mixing bowl, flour sifter or sieve, hand-held electric mixer, citrus zester, small bowl, 9” springform pan, parchment paper, disposable kitchen gloves, foil-lined baking sheet, wire rack, medium sized aluminum mixing bowl, rubber spatula, cake pedestal or decorative serving platter
Makes: 1 nine-inch cheesecake, 12 servings
Preheat oven to 400°F for the Lemon Cookie Crust and 325°F for the filled Cheesecake
- Make the Lemon Cookie Crust: Sift the flour, salt and sugar together into a large mixing bowl. Add the small chunks of butter and beat briefly with an electric mixer until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add the beaten egg yolk, lemon zest and vanilla and beat again just until the mixture is combined and forms a stiff dough.
- Spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray containing flour. Cut 2 rounds of parchment to fit the bottom of the pan, and spray both pieces of parchment as you place them in the bottom of the pan. Wearing disposable kitchen gloves, form the Cookie Crust dough into a ball and pat the dough evenly over the bottom and 1 ¾ inches up the sides of the springform pan, using your hands or the back of a spoon to distribute the dough evenly. Place the dough-covered pan on the foil-lined baking sheet and bake in the pre-heated 400 F oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until the crust is very lightly browned.
- Make the Filling: While the crust bakes, use the same large mixing bowl and electric mixer to prepare the filling. With the mixer at low speed, beat the cream cheese until it is soft and smooth. Gradually blend in the cream sherry, beating until blended. Add the pumpkin, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla and beat until the mixture is well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until smooth after each addition. In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger until well mixed. Blend the spice mixture into the pumpkin mixture.
- When the Lemon Cookie Crust is lightly browned, remove the pan from the oven to a wire rack and lower the oven temperature to 325F, moderately low. When the crust is slightly cooled, replace it on the foil-lined baking sheet and carefully pour the filling into the crust. Bake for 50-55 minutes until the center is set and no longer giggly, but do not overbake. Place the cheesecake on the wire rack to cool. Cool completely before serving. To serve, unlock the springform pan, remove the parchment from the bottom of the cheesecake, and place it on a cake pedestal.
- Cheesecake can be refrigerated up to 5 days, double wrapped in foil and still in the springform pan to protect it from other food aromas in the fridge, or it can even be frozen. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator then bring the cheesecake to room temperature before serving. To serve your beautiful Pumpkin Sherry Cheesecake with Whipped Cream Topping, first place the medium sized aluminum mixing bowl and the beaters for the electric mixer in the freezer for a few minutes to get them very cold. Run a kitchen knife around the cheesecake in the springform pan, lift the cheesecake, removing the parchment, and place the cheesecake on a decorative platter or cake pedestal. Then, pour 1 cup of chilled whipping cream into the chilled bowl and beat until soft peaks begin to form. Slowly add the powdered sugar and the vanilla and continue beating until the peaks begin to hold their shape and the whipped cream has some stability. Just before serving, spread the whipped cream decoratively over the cheesecake with a rubber spatula and sprinkle very lightly with cinnamon.