Flavoring. Nothing conjures up more fear for me as a parent than this word. The FDA says "Natural Flavoring" is the "essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant mate-" blahdy blah blah blah. Just more technical jargin for crap they allow that will kill you.
No thanks. Reading a friend's Facebook status she said, "The essence of fall; watching my kids play in leaves, grey dreary days and pumpkin everything!" I couldn't agree more. So how does one infuse this ubiquitous flavor without using some sort of enxymolysis of edible yeast? I decided to put on my thinking cap.
Pumpkin pie, the comfort food of autumn: roasty, nutty, spicy, caramelly, make your knees knock together and faint when you smell it-y. So, lame admission, I didn't have any pie pumpkins or squash on hand so I had to use canned for this. I will detail both ways (as the former is by far superior).
As I dropped the pale orange blob into a mixing bowl it became quickly apparent that this is NOT was I was looking for. Raw pumpkin is tart and not incredibly palatable. It is in the roasting that draws out it's home-in-every-bite flavor. I turned on a pan and added the spices and such. Once it had all incorporated I added the pumpkin and stirred it until bubbling. Soon the color began to darken and that classic aroma began to fill our kitchen. Bingo. Just out of curiosity I passed it through a couple of strainers to make sure it was fine enough. I wanted something that would add an intense flavor to drinks or stews without the stringy texture that some pumpkins and squash have. Upon cooling it was ready to use for a number of dishes.
We'll start with the master recipes:
Natural Pumpkin Flavoring**
1 can pumpkin
1/2 cup packed brown sugar* (light or dark, honestly who really cares?)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 whole vanilla bean (slit) or 1 tsp vanilla extract
3 whole cloves
1 cup water
1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional) this will give the final product a more Christmassy feel (just no Christmas music till after Thanksgiving!)
*If using for primarily savory dishes, reduce the sugar by half
**If you want a more roasted flavor, add the pumpkin to the spice mixture and transfer to oven safe pan. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until a slightly golden crust appears. Remove the crust before using.
Add water, sugar and spices (add vanilla bean if using, omit extract if not). Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer until all of the sugar is dissolved and mixture is reduced to half and quite dark.
Add the pumpkin (and extract if using) and bring back to a boil (do not allow to burn on bottom or sides). Mixture will begin to darken.
Continue to stir until mixture is quite thick.
Take off heat and strain to remove the steeped spices. Allow to cool and use.
Granny's Homemade Pumpkin Flavoring Variation
1 pie pumpkin or non-spaghetti type squash (Mother Hubbard squash is a family fave but they are large and will require more butter and salt, or just halve the squash quantity)
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Halve pumpkin or squash and remove seeds. Drop in 1 tbsp butter and 1/2 tsp salt into each half. [Salt draws out moisture and the butter will help caramelize the liquid which will impart a much deeper flavor]. Roast on a pan for about an hour. Remove and using a fork, gently slide it into the flesh. A properly cooked pumpkin will be smooth and soft. Pumpkins and squash vary greatly so you may need to put it back in for up to a half hour longer.
Once soft, remove from oven and let cool. Pull off any dark or crusty parts and remove the soft flesh with an ice cream scoop. Process in a food processor until smooth. Pass through a fine strainer to ensure a creamy consistency.
Follow Natural Pumpkin Flavoring recipe above using about 2 cups of puree.
Now that you have the master recipe, you can add it to a number of different dishes!
Our favorite recipe was also the reason I tried this at home. We were tired of the overly syrupy Starbucks pumpkin lattes of the season. Here you get a nice hint of pumpkin with all the homemade goodness.
Add 1 tsp Pumpkin Flavoring to each cup of coffee. Serve with cream and sugar to ensure no bitterness from the pumpkin.
Pumpkin-Spiced Whipped Cream
Whip 1 cup of cream until stiff peaks form. Briefly whip in 1 tbsp sugar. Fold in 1/4 cup Pumpkin Flavoring (make sure it's cold).
Place large dollop of Pumpkin-Spiced Whipped Cream at the bottom of a clear glass and top with hot coffee.
Sprinkle with light dusting of cinnamon sugar (find a cozy place to read and listen to the rain).
Spiced Pumpkin Butter
Allow 1 stick of butter to come to room temp and whip until light and airy. Whip in 2 tbsp packed brown sugar. Whip in 1/4 cup Natural Pumpkin Flavoring. Chill and serve on English muffins, pancakes or scones.
Add 1/2 cup to every 4 servings of oatmeal (at the end of cooking). Top with Spiced-Whip Cream or Cinnamon Sugar.
Pumpkin Egg Nog
Add 1/2 cup Natural Pumpkin Flavoring to 1/2 gallon of (preferable home made) egg nog.
Add 2 cups apple juice to puree and bring to a boil. Add 1/4 heavy cream and 1 tsp salt. Bring back up to boil and allow to thicken slightly. Dust with cinnamon and serve with hot buttered bread and something salty (like some home made sausages on the side).
Add 1 cup puree to broth or braising liquid just before serving.
There you go! Pumpkin Everything!
Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on Google+.