In her whimsical, seasonal new cookbook, “Pumpkin It Up!,” Centennial-based author Eliza Cross celebrates fall’s favorite squash in all its blazing orange, greensplotched, white, blue-gray and blushing red glory. “I thought there was a need for a book of recipes utilizing pumpkin in a variety of dishes both sweet and savory, with some fresh, new ways to enjoy pumpkin’s distinctive, complex flavor,” says Cross, author of 12 books (starting with “The Food Lover’s Guide to Colorado,” published in 2003) and the voice behind happysimple living.com, which chronicles her family’s “ongoing quest to live more simply.”
In “Pumpkin It Up!”—released in August and available at several online retailers and Tattered Cover Book Store—Cross shares 70-plus recipes featuring pumpkin in everything from pancakes, muffins, pies and cakes to soups and casseroles. We recently talked to Cross about some of her favorite recipes, her mother’s influence and the mysteries of growing pumpkins in your own backyard.
This pumpkin book took about a year to develop and write. It features recipes for updated classics, plus sweet treats and fresh ways to use pumpkin that some readers may not have tried—cutting pumpkin in strips and making oven-baked fries, or topping a pizza with lightly sautéed cubes of fresh pumpkin. You’ll also find recipes for pumpkin purée, pumpkin butter, pumpkin pie spice and roasted pumpkin seeds. In the end, I have to love how a dish looks and tastes and it has to be something I’ll prepare again and again; that’s the determining factor about whether or not a recipe makes the cut.
It’s tough to decide which recipe from the book is my favorite, but the pumpkin-caramel cinnamon rolls are definitely in my top five; they’re sweet and crispy and sticky and divine. They combine three of my favorite flavors, and they smell so good when they’re baking. In general, the recipe collection in this book is weighted more heavily toward desserts, cakes, pies, muffins and cookies—a reflection of my own sweet tooth.
If you’re hungry, you should immediately turn to the “Dinners” chapter and prepare the creamy pumpkin mac and cheese; it takes about 35 minutes to make and is rich and satisfying. There—don’t you feel better? If you’re cooking pumpkin for the first time, I recommend the pumpkin tortilla soup, a good savory recipe that has a nice, complex flavor. If you like vegetables, try the mapleroasted pumpkin and Brussels sprouts. And while there are vegetarian recipes in the book, pumpkin has a mild flavor, so it also goes well with many types of meat, including bacon, a component in my pumpkin hash.
With Halloween quickly approaching, kids can easily help make my pumpkin Snickerdoodles, which are rolled in a pumpkin pie spice-sugar mixture before baking. Pumpkin pancakes are also fun for a hearty Halloween breakfast, drizzled with maple syrup.
Most large pumpkins in markets and parking lots are grown for jack-o’-lanterns. They’re long-lasting and sturdy, but they’re tough and not usually great for eating. For cooking, look for smaller, sweeter baking varieties.
Like many families, we have our traditional holiday recipes, including a classic pumpkin pie with whipped cream. My great-uncle Edward Weeks was the editor of The Atlantic Monthly for 28 years, and in one of his columns he described our family’s Thanksgiving dinner and wrote that the pumpkin pie “shone like fine leather.” I love that. If you’re baking a pumpkin pie, look for smaller, sweeter varieties that are good for eating like Little Giant, Cinnamon Girl, Baby Pam, Amish Pie and Winter Luxury. If you’re using canned pumpkin, look for cans labeled “solid pack” rather than ones that say “pumpkin pie filling,” which have added ingredients.
There are some lovely pumpkin dishes at local restaurants. Potager makes a pumpkinfilled ravioli tossed with browned butter and a little fresh sage that’s really nice. I love the decadent chocolate chip pumpkin bread at Stella’s Coffee on South Pearl Street, too.
My regular go-to cookbook at home is “The New Best Recipe” from the editors of Cooks Illustrated, which is completely dog-eared. I also adore Ann Hodgman’s “Beat This!,” “Beat That!” and “One Bite Won’t Kill You” because of her snappy writing and great recipes.