Butternut squash is your secret weapon for pumpkin pie

If you’re seeking an alternative for pumpkin pie, look no further than butternut squash – you’ll likely never go back.

Future anthropologists will look back at this period in history and surely wonder, what was that pumpkin insanity all about? From Pumpkin Spice Latte M&Ms and Pumpkin Spice Peeps to an endless parade of pumpkin beers and heaven forbid, Pumpkin Spice Pringles to eat with them, we are a culture of pumpkin-obsessed creatures.

It all started with pumpkin pie, the granddaddy of pumpkin products, the ne plus ultra of nutmeg, cinnamon and friends. But now, with pumpkin pie season starting in full swing, news of an impending pumpkin shortage is shaking the nation

Too much rain in parts of the Midwest and not enough in California has left a dearth of the beloved winter squash. Not only is this bad news for pumpkin carvers and those who like to use fresh pumpkin, but for canned puree makers as well. About half of the pumpkins we grow in this country go for canning, the puree of which then goes primarily toward the making of pies. Roz O'Hearn, a spokesperson for Libby's, told NPR that rainy weather in Illinois cut the crop by half compared with 2014.

"We think there's enough pumpkin to carry us through Thanksgiving," O'Hearn says. "But we generally plant enough pumpkin so we have a cushion to carry us into the next year. And it doesn't look like that cushion is going to be there this year."

So although there will likely be enough pumpkin for the immediate future – unless a mad dash of pumpkin hoarding should occur … and stranger things have happened – why not be ahead of the curve and use butternut squash instead? It’s not the next best thing, it’s the best best thing. Seriously. I’ve tried every kind of pumpkin for pie, from jack-o'-lantern pumpkins (the worst) to many brands of canned puree (BPA scares me, fresh is best) to every kind of crazy heirloom pumpkin and orphan winter squash at the farmer’s market. And truth be told, a nice organic butternut squash beats them all, especially in terms of its availability. (Some of the odd varieties from the farmer's market are sublime as well, but hard to come by.) Butternut is sweet and earthy, and has a dense flesh that is neither fibrous nor grainy nor watery. Plus, it’s easy to get and also much less harrowing to handle and prepare than pumpkin. All in all, it outpumpkins pumpkin.

The substitution couldn’t be easier; just swap butternut puree for pumpkin in your favorite recipe.

To make butternut puree

  • For roughly two cups of puree, use a 3-pound squash.
  • Peel with a vegetable peeler, cut into half and remove seeds and fiber. (Save those seeds to roast or candy, just like you would pumpkin seeds.)
  • Cut into 1 ½-inch chunks and toss in melted butter or coconut oil (or vegetable oil) and roast at 400 degrees F for 30 to 45 minutes or until tender.
  • Remove from oven, allow to cool, and then puree in a food processor.
Who knows, the pumpkin shortage may be the best thing to ever happen to your “pumpkin” pie.

(You can use butternut squash in these, too: 10 inventive pumpkin recipes.)

Tags: Agriculture | Cooking | Fruits & Vegetables | Holidays | Recipes

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