Pump it Up

Think outside the pie box with these goodies made with in-season pumpkin.






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Publication: Syracuse New Times
Author: Corbett, Kevin
Date published: November 17, 2010

It's been a great year for local pumpkin growers, with a hot, sunny summer, supplemented with adequate rainfall, producing a bumper crop of orange giants, perfect for carving and decorating. Now, with Halloween behind us, the focus turns to the edible varieties of the spherical squash, fresh or packed into cans, that makes uniquely delicious desserts. Sure, pumpkin pie is a classic, but local culinary artists are finding more creative and tasty ways to satisfy that autumn craving.

Erin Gridley of Liverpool, owner of Yum Yum's Gluten Free Bakery, setting up every weekend at Paradise Market, 3179 Erie Blvd. E., DeWitt, has developed plenty of pumpkin recipes for her customers, who have a clear favorite. "I do pumpkin bread, I do pumpkin muffins, I do pumpkin bars," Gridley says. "I do them all year round. They seem to be more popular right now, definitely. The pumpkin roll is very popular. Everybody really likes that. A lot of the vendors here come over regularly. They really like it."

Goodies baked by Yum Yum's since the business opened in February are catching on for their great taste despite the absence of the gluten-producing wheat, rye or barley flour generally used in baking. While it's a medical necessity for some people, like those with celiac disease, to avoid such proteins, customers are finding plenty of reasons to eat Gridley's creations, especially slices of her cylindrical pumpkin cake with cream cheese filling.

"There are people, like there are tons of vendors who come over every week to get a slice of pumpkin roll," Gridley says. "They love it. They don't need to eat gluten free. They don't have celiac, they just really like it. To be perfectly honest, I'm not a big pumpkin fan myself. I don't eat a lot of it, but I love my pumpkin roll. I think it's really good." Slices of the roll are priced at $3.

While Gridley prefers to bake with fresh ingredients, the labor involved in dissecting a pumpkin is more than she wants to tackle in the quantity necessary for her business. "I have tried fresh pumpkin, but honestly, I do all the baking by myself and I do such mass quantities that it's a lot more work," she explains. "Typically, with all my other products, I do all fresh fruit in my pies and all my own pie fillings fresh. With pumpkin, I would like to, I just don't have the time."

A shortage of canned pumpkin has been a challenge for local bakers, but Gridley has had some help. "My dad was interviewed on Channel 9," she says with a laugh. "He was at Wegmans and he pretty much bought all the canned pumpkin they had because they said there was going to be another shortage."

Jim Lowry of Raindrop Farm Emporium, 2700 Route 20, Cazenvoia, has no problem obtaining plenty of pumpkin for the pumpkin butter he sells at his store and at Paradise Market. "We grow 'em," he declares. "We've got 250 acres right on the edge of Georgetown. Our store is in Cazenovia."

The butter, which comes in sugar-sweetened or a fruit-juice version, is a puree of simple, natural ingredients, ready to spread on muffins or biscuits. "It's popular in fall," Lowry explains. "A lot of people use it all the time, but especially now." The label claims it's "just like Mom's."

For Raindrop Farm, that homemade touch requires fresh-from-the-farm pumpkin. "The canned pumpkin is 90 percent squash," Lowry says. "It's a lot of Hubbard squash and butternut. It's not bad. It tastes like pumpkin. The spices make it taste like pumpkin."

A 19-ounce jar of pumpkin butter with sugar sells for $4, while the juice-sweetened recipe is $5. Both are sold alongside jars of a wide variety of old-fashioned products from eight different kinds of honey to every imaginable flavor of preserves, jams and jellies, barbecue sauce, chili sauce and various pickled vegetables, all produced in a plant near Binghamton. "We have a small processor company that makes it for us," Lowry reports. "We got too big, which is nice. It's a good problem."

Chances are nobody at your Thanksgiving table will miss the pumpkin pie if they get a generous chunk of pumpkin cheesecake, available from Mimi's Bakery and Café, 260 W. Genesee St. Customers request the seasonal favorite, according to bakery manager Maria Congelo. "We started doing them last year and we brought them in again this year," she says. "We'll be doing them every year from September right up to Thanksgiving."

The pastries deliver real pumpkin pie flavor with a cheesecake twist. "It's similar," Congelo says. "There are some spices you use like in a pumpkin pie, like ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. They've been popular with customers."

Mimi's has an impressive variety of baked treats, changed seasonally to sweeten every holiday. "Another thing we bring up for Thanksgiving are tea breads," Congelo points out. "We do them in cranberry and orange. We do them in pumpkin. We do a date-nut one that we bring out in the fall. You could bring one home to the family, cut it up and put in on your Thanksgiving table."

The cheesecake comes in individual portions in cupcake wraps ($2.50) or full-sized pies, 8-inch ($21.95) or 10-inch ($29.95), all dressed up for the holidays. "We put graham cracker crust on that one," Congelo explains. "We put whipped cream on it and then just sprinkle it with a little bit of cinnamon, just dust it."

For a creamier pumpkin dessert, you can't beat the frigid and savory pumpkin ice cream at Gannon's Isle, 1525 Valley Drive. "If you like the taste of pumpkin pie, you'll love this," says business owner Eileen Gannon. "It tastes just like pumpkin pie. We use spices, like nutmeg and cinnamon, to give it that flavor."

Just like the holidays, the homemade, seasonal favorite brings customers back every year. "I don't think we would be open in the fall without it," Gannon says. "We sell so much of it. We make it from the end of August through December." Small cones sell for $3.15, while pints are $4.50 and quarts $7.50.

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