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Oh my pumpkin pie

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Various recipes give life to annual holiday indulgence

Toss the cheesecake or Black Forest any day, it’s pumpkin pie I hanker for during the pre-Thanksgiving time.

"Pumpkin (products) are the biggest seller at this time of year, even more so than at Christmas," says Ken Quon, manager of IGA in Marketplace, who orders around 350 cans of pumpkin filling each October.

He says most pie makers have gone from baking "from scratch" to another level of convenience.

"Very few people want to make the pies from scratch from a real pumpkin, and dig out all the seeds," says Quon.

That’s what they did in the old days.

The very first pumpkin pie was made in the Colonial era, when a crude form of the pie was made by slicing off the top of a pumpkin, then filling the inside with a warm mixture of milk, spices, and honey.

Cans of pie filling, like that from topseller E.D.Smith, fly off the shelves during the first week of October, while pies from the bakery are sold for around $3 each, or two for $5.

Surprisingly, pumpkins themselves are top sellers closer to Halloween, as opposed to the pre- and post-Thanksgiving weeks, says Quon. Prices range between 12 and 19 cents per pound, the upper end coming in the heat of the day Oct. 31.

With its more elegant pinched-edges crust and cinnamon brown filling, the modern day pumpkin pie is difficult to master. The major baking question which befuddles even the best Anthony Bourdains, is how do you keep pie crust from going soggy?

According to Net advice from Chef Hannah, "blind baking" is key – especially with the use of heavy fillings like pumpkin ooze into the pastry.

To avoid your crust getting soggier than a wool sweater in a rainstorm, prick the pie crust with a fork each side and bottom.

The crust can also be lined with foil or parchment paper.

What also makes a good pumpkin pie, is a good recipe.

From tofu pumpkin pie to Wolfgang Puck’s best bet, there’s a wide range of options for your culinary delights.

For a veggie potluck, prepare this quick and easy tofu pumpkin pie.

1 can (16 ounces) pureed pumpkin

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 package (10-12 ounces) soft tofu, processed in blender until smooth

1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 425 F, and cream the pumpkin and sugar together. Add salt, spices, and tofu, and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into pie shell and bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 F and bake for another 40 minutes. Chill before serving.

As a variation on whipped cream, top with non-dairy topping.

For the fitness lover, this piece has just six grams fat, two grams saturated fat, and just 195 calories.

For those needing sweetener replacements, the following recipe from Krista Kriegel, Nutritional Services Director at the Central Ohio Diabetes Association, makes an acceptable option and weighs in at 95 calories per serving.

Pumpkin Pie with sweetener

2 eggs, beaten (or 1/2 cup egg substitute)

1 16-oz. can pumpkin

1 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 can (13 oz.) evaporated skim milk

24 packets artificial sweetener (Equal or other substitute)

Mix together all ingredients, then pour into glass pie pan or pie shell.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce to 350 degrees and bake for 45 minutes.

Spago’s own Wolfgang Puck, the German-born celebrity chef, offers his version of the pie a la Grand Marnier.

Wolfgang Puck’s Pumpkin Pie

Using an unbaked 10-inch single-crust pie shell, combine the following ingredients.

4 tablespoons sugar syrup

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

1 tablespoon vanilla bean, split and scraped

1 Cinnamon stick

6 ounces fresh cranberries

2 cups Pumpkin puree

1 cups Dark brown sugar, packed

1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon

1 teaspoon Ginger

1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon Cloves

 Salt

4 Eggs

1 cup Whipping cream

1/2 cup Half and half

3 tablespoons Bourbon (optional)

1 tablespoon Minced orange peel

 Fresh grated nutmeg

 Fresh ground white pepper

 Cinnamon ice cream

Line a buttered 10-inch pie dish or flan ring with pastry. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or uncooked beans. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes, or until crust is golden. Let cool. Remove paper and beans.

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine sugar syrup, orange peel, Grand Marnier, vanilla bean with scrapings, cinnamon stick and nutmeg. Bring to boil.

Stir in cranberries then reduce heat and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until berries are softened. Remove vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Spread mixture in thin layer on bottom of tart shell. (Leftover marmalade is good served on side with smoked meat, fowl or curry.)

In a bowl, combine pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and pepper. Beat in eggs, cream, half and half and bourbon. Pour into pastry shell. Bake at 375F for 30 to 40 minutes or until set.

Serve warm with cinnamon ice cream.

Pumpkin seeds are a bonus product when baking a pie from scratch. When toasted with a touch of salt they provide a good on-the-run, jawbreaker kind of snack.

Pumpkin growing contests offer financial rewards for the keen gardener.

With just the right weather conditions, your pumpkin might break Keith Chappell’s Canadian pumpkin record of 633 pounds. Chappell grew his pumpkin in Upperville, N.S. in 1998. Paula Zehr grew a 968-pound wonder in Lawville, N.Y.

If you want to grow a huge pumpkin, follow these steps as per Don Langevin, at www.backyardgardener.com .

Soil topped with organic matter will assist any seed, as pumpkins consume not only the usual plant nutrients, but also trace elements including calcium and magnesium.

Langevin recommends cow manure as fertilizer, to obtain a soil pH level between 6.5 and 6.8. He also suggests a prepared area approximately 30 feet in diameter on which to grow the pumpkin.

When seeding pumpkins indoors, ensure the seeds are planted with the pointed end facing down. Then transplant them once leaves sprout, usually within seven to 10 days.

As with most plants, a mini greenhouse will protect your emerging Jack-O-Lantern.

Lastly, pumpkin butter is a sumptuous offshoot of the most popular Thanksgiving dessert. Made from cinnamon, spice and pumpkin pulp, its secret ingredient is apple juice.