This festive autumn dessert was a perennial favorite among the people of the southwestern United States long before pies and leavened breads were introduced to the New World.
The small pumpkins with a slightly sweet filling can be served as a Thanksgiving side dish or for dessert, with a scoop of ice cream. Choose sugar pumpkins no more than 5 inches in diameter, with decent-size stems.
Make Ahead: The pumpkins can be prepped and refrigerated (in resealable plastic food storage bags)a day in advance. The filling can be prepared and refrigerated in an airtight container a day in advance.
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 1/2 cups pine nuts
- Eight small sugar pumpkins (4 or 5 inches in diameter; see headnote)
- 6 tart green apples, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup apple cider or apple juice
- 1 cup milk
- 2 cups mixed dried fruits, such as apricots, peaches, plums, cherries and cranberries
- 1 cup pure maple syrup or honey
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spread the cornmeal on a baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes to dry it out and toast it slightly. Remove from the oven; reduce the heat to 350 degrees.
Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until toasted. Keep the oven temperature at 350 degrees.
Use a large, sharp knife to cut off the top of each small pumpkin, creating a kind of lid (at least 2 inches down from the stem). Reserve the tops.
Scrape out the seeds and reserve for another use, if desired. Set the pumpkins in 1 or 2 baking dishes.
Combine the apples, cider and milk in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the apples are quite tender. Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and return the liquid to the saucepan. Transfer the apples (the solids in the strainer) to a blender and process until smooth.
Return the apple puree to the saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the toasted cornmeal, dried fruit, syrup or honey, mace, allspice, cinnamon and three-quarters of the pine nuts; mix well. Once the mixture starts to bubble at the edges, cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring often, to form a thickened pudding.
Distribute the pudding evenly among the pumpkins. Scatter the remaining pine nuts on top. If desired, place the pumpkin tops on each pumpkin. Add about an inch of water to the baking dish(es). Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until the pumpkins are fork-tender. The puddings may tremble when removed from the oven, but they should set when cooled slightly before serving.
Adapted from "Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions," by Fernando and Marlene Divina (Smithsonian Institution, 2004).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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