A Little Late for Pumpkins?

IMG_1637I’ve always found it interesting that people associate pumpkins with autumn when really, pumpkins are available all year round. People associate corn with summer, yet have less of an aversion to enjoying some canned corn in the winter than munching on some pumpkin in not-autumn.

…it’s only been a year or so and I fear I’m already starting to get repetitive.

But hear me out here. Pumpkins are native to North America. The Native Americans first introduced settlers to pumpkins and apples and corn. And we repaid them with, uh, diseases (sometimes intentionally inflicted) and forced hikes and their very own fertile, highly desirable parcels of land.

Anyways, pumpkin has become a staple in American culture – what would Thanksgiving be without some kind of pumpkin-based dessert? Or Halloween with no carved pumpkins?

Things that become staples in American culture tend to become overexposed, like Cold Stone and cupcakes. (Or as my dad just suggested most sinisterly, the American dream of a suburban house with two cars.) We burn through popular things in a never-ending, ferociously turning cycle of fads.

And yet, some things endure because they somehow become enshrined, become something that we voluntarily enjoy only infrequently. Like Thanksgiving turkey, strawberry shortcakes, and pumpkin pie. Last I checked, turkey, strawberries, and canned pumpkin are sold in supermarkets all year round (and in the case of strawberries, at surprisingly high quality even in the winter), and yet, we save them for the right moment. We imbue them with special value.

Back to pumpkin – it’s interesting, the Native Americans just ate them roasted, as a staple part of their diet. But in those early years, cold-resistant crops must have seemed like some kind of godsend to the early settlers, something to be celebrated.

Guess we’re not so ‘native’ to this land after all.

Personally, I would make this cheesecake all the time, I love it that much. It might be my favorite new recipe of 2013. But my mom, who actually is an immigrant from Hong Kong, was shocked (and maybe even a little appalled) that I’d suggest such blasphemy. Spoken like a true American, mom. Guess I’ll just have to wait (with baited breath) for the next holiday season.

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Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen) – serves 12-14

For the crust:

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from five 4 3/4- by 2 1/4-inch crackers)
1/2 cup pecans (1 3/4 ounce), finely chopped
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Line a 9-inch spring-form pan with parchment paper then generously butter pan.

Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until well-combined. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan, then chill crust, 1 hour.

(I found the crust to be too thin for my tastes – for a thick crust, double the crust recipe, then chill the crust for at least an hour, only removing it once the filling is ready to prevent the crust from becoming too hard.)

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl, then add to cream cheese. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur (if using), whisking until combined.

Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put spring-form pan in a shallow baking pan (in case spring-form leaks). Bake until center is just set, 50-60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool for 5 minutes. (Leave the oven on.)

For the topping:

2 cups sour cream (20 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)

Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake for 5 minutes. Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours, then garnish top with pecan halves.

Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

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