Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

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Vegan Custard? I Have Doubts.

The cushaw pie right out of the oven.

The cushaw pie right out of the oven.

The cushaw pie set-up pretty well. But I let the pie cool completely before cutting it. I think that's crucial to avoiding a sloppy mess.

The cushaw pie set-up pretty well. But I let the pie cool completely before cutting it. I think that’s crucial to avoiding a sloppy mess.

I have been trying out vegan recipes. I am curious about how you replace stuff like eggs in baked goods. Rather than screw around with a garden variety brownie, I went straight for the dairy holy mother of desserts. Custard. I opted for pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie filling is basically custard… with pumpkin in it.

Technically, I made a cushaw pie. I happened to have pureed and drained cushaw; cushaw is also a winter squash. It doesn’t exactly taste like pumpkin, but it has a flavor that plants it clearly in the gourd family. It’s flavor is more mild than pumpkin or butternut squash. It’s most defining taste is that of creaminess.

I used this vegan recipe, except I used cushaw puree spiced with nutmeg and allspice. Basically the recipe replaces the eggs and evaporated milk or cream with cashew cream. The cashew cream was easy to make, and whipping up this pie filling was really simple. The batter was considerably thicker than pumpkin pie filling.

The pie came out of the oven looking good. My partner said it tasted better than the cushaw pie that I made with dairy. The filling set-up well. The spices and flavors were good. But something was missing.

Relevant detail. I LOVE CUSTARD. There is no greater blaspheme than putting harsh vanilla extract in vanilla custard or crème brulee. When I order crème brulee, while I am rarely disappointed, I often think I could have made better. At the root of my devotion to custard, is pumpkin pie. I didn’t understand why pumpkin pie was my favorite type of pie until I understood it as a pumpkin custard.

The context has been established; I am a custard nut. If I had ethical or dietary constraints around avoiding dairy this pie would be a fine substitute. It’s good. But as a custard nut, I found it lacking. First, the texture of the pie was considerably more dense than its eggy counterpart. In addition, it was missing the subtle richness that only egg yolk can impart. Do you love a vegan? Make them this pie. Do you have no ethical or dietary issues preventing you from consuming eggs? Use the eggs and make custard with all it’s egg and whipping cream goodness.

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The Cushaw: My Moby Dick of Gourds

I’ve heard rumors that a gourd exists that would taste better in pumpkin pie than pumpkin. I’ve heard these rumors for some years. As described in an earlier blog post, I’ve established a fledgling relationship with a few farmers at the Lunken Farmers Market. They are crusty old men who seem to grow the food they are selling, no wholesalers here. When I picked up 9 pumpkins for canning, one of the old curmudgeons pointed to a very large green and white gourd and asked if I’ve ever made a pie with one. Pretentiousness is pointless with curmudgeon, so admitted that I’d never seen one of those before. As soon as he said that it would make a better pumpkin pie than pumpkin, I knew a new cooking adventure must happen.

The gourd in question is called a cushaw; it’s a winter squash. The internets tells me they are more common in the south. I don’t know how these turned up in Cincinnati. Geographically speaking, calling Cincinnati part of The South is nonsense. If you want to read a bit more about cushaws try this blog out.

The cushaw before I started hacking away at it.

The cushaw before I started hacking away at it.

If you have ever engaged in the laborious process of getting pumpkin puree out of a fresh pumpkin, you know that only an intense love of pumpkin can drive you to such lengths. The cushaw has one obvious and one not so obvious advantage over pumpkins in terms of getting them to an edible status. The cushaw’s shape and structure matches that of a butternut squash; so gourd for gourd the cushaw is going to yield considerably more puree than a pumpkin due to the cushaw’s seed cavity taking up considerably less volume. The not so obvious advantage is that the cushaw was much easier to cut through than pumpkin. My cushaw was about 16 inches tall and 10 inches in diameter at its widest. I had visions of getting out my Dewalt reciprocating saw to hack that thing apart. I was pleasantly surprised to find it quite easy to cut through. Cushaw FTW in prep round.

The cushaw with seeds intact.

The cushaw with seeds intact.

I split the cushaw. I scraped out the seeds. I put them cut side down on cookie sheets with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking. I roasted them in the oven on 350 for a little over 1 hour. We scraped out the pulp and ran it through the food processor. Oops. I skipped the part where I ate forkfuls of the pulp out of the roasted gourd, still seaming from the oven. I also skipped the part where we spooned the puree into our mouths. This gourd is tasty. This gourd is tasty without additional embellishments, like pie crusts or cinnamon.

The scraped cushaw.

The scraped cushaw.

My writing skills are not quite up to the task of describing how cushaw is different from butternut squash or pumpkin. Cushaw is creamy but more neutral in flavor than pumpkin, acorn, or butternut squash. Whipping cream doesn’t so much have a flavor as it has a mouth-feel. Cushaw has a similar effect. It’s not as sweet as pumpkin, and it’s lacking that distinctive pumpkin flavor. This gourd is a little more like a blank canvas that will reflect the ingredients you pair it with. A creamy canvas.

The puree that didn’t make it to my belly went into three recipes. I used recipes that I have made many times with pumpkin. I felt like this would be the most direct comparison.

Libby’s standard pumpkin pie recipe

Pumpkin bread

Pumpkin roll

The pie was excellent. It turned out a delicate custard. It was rich without being overwhelming. It completely lacked that mealy quality that canned pumpkin pies typically have.

Here's what the pies looked like right out of the oven.

Here’s what the pies looked like right out of the oven.

The pumpkin bread was interesting. Because the cushaw lacks pumpkin flavor, the bread tasted more like chai spice bread than pumpkin bread only with the same dense, rich texture that squashes add to breads. This recipe was excellent, although, if you are jonesing for pumpkin bread, I don’t think this bread will satisfy your desire.

The pumpkin roll was tricky. I think the recipe should have been amended such that the cake stayed in the oven a bit longer. The cushaw seemed to make the cake stickier than it turns out with canned pumpkin. So, the pumpkin rolls turned out pretty ugly. But for what they lacked in beauty, they made up for in taste. Longer cooking time, and maybe draining the cushaw would have helped this recipe out a bit.

The verdict is that the pie was better. The roll and the bread were good, but I wouldn’t say they directly compete with pumpkin. I feel like they were more like new recipes with cushaw in them as opposed to subtly different forms of their pumpkin counterparts.