DUBLIN, CA — The past several months have kindled new interest in baking as Americans spend more time hunkering down at home to avoid the coronavirus. Buying a pumpkin for a jack-o’-lantern is one reason to visit East Bay pumpkin patches, but 2020 could also be the year to make pumpkin pies from scratch.
Sure, canned pumpkin will do the trick. It’s healthy and packed with nutrients, and some of the top cooking websites say it stacks up well against the homemade pumpkin purée and saves busy cooks a ton of time.
But there’s something soothing, meditative and cathartic about digging into the pumpkin with your hands and scooping out the stringy innards and seeds. The coronavirus culinary revolution reflects our collective hunger to take control of at least one thing in our upended lives. #StressBaking isn’t just a social media hashtag.
Just dress for the occasion, and wear gloves if the sliminess is too much for you.
The first thing you need to do is head to one of the pumpkin patches around Dublin.
Windmill Farms in San Ramon boasts a pumpkin patch with pumpkins ranging from orange to beige and even black. There's a variety of gourds and specialty pumpkins, with hay bales, cornstalks and more. While you're at it, grab some fresh fruit pies, produce, specialty items and more in the open-air market. Visit Windmill Farms daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 2255 San Ramon Valley Blvd.
Joan's Farm and Pumpkin Patch in Livermore is another choice if you want to stay in the East Bay. The farm has plentiful pumpkins, an Old West town, Fort Maze, a petting zoo, an Antique Farm Equipment Museum, and Joan's Cafe. Bring your camera because there are photo opportunities galore. They prefer cash, so stop at the ATM before you arrive, or there is an ATM at the farm. Joan's is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, Oct. 3 through Halloween. The address of Joan's Farm and Pumpkin Patch is 4351 Mines Road, Livermore, CA 94550
Arata Pumpkin Farm in Half Moon Bay — Half Moon Bay's annual pumpkin festival has been canceled this year, but pumpkin farms are still open, including Arata's. According to the farm's website, "Arata's Pumpkin Farm is the oldest sustainable pumpkin farm in San Mateo County. Pumpkins have been a way of life at the Arata Farm since 1932." Not only do they have tons of pumpkins, large and small, but they also have a hay maze, a haunted barn, a petting zoo, hayrides, pony rides, and a train ride. The farm is open from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. 7 days a week through Halloween. In October, they remain open until 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The address of Arata Pumpkin Farm is 185 Verde Rd., Half Moon Bay, CA 94019.
Farmer John's Pumpkins in Half Moon Bay — Yes, there is a real Farmer John, and he is on hand to talk with you about pumpkins and picking the perfect gourd. Take photos in front of a teepee, and if you visit on Oct. 4, it's Bernese Mountain Dog Day. Last year, more than 130 dogs visited. Farmer John's is open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Halloween. The address is 850 North Cabrillo Highway (1 mile North of Hwy 92, on the oceanside), Half Moon Bay, CA.
Southern Living says small, round sugar pumpkins, sometimes called pie or sweet pumpkins, are the best pumpkins for baking. The stem should be brown, but still firmly attached, and check for blemishes and bruising. And don’t get hung up on the color. As a pumpkin matures, its flesh dulls.
JoyFoodSunshine was our first stop on the spin around the internet in search of classic homemade pumpkin pie recipes. It requires an investment in time — a little over two hours — but blogger Laura says on her website the 10-ingredient recipe “is the only pumpkin pie recipe you’ll ever need” and that “literally everyone” who tries it falls in love with it.
“It’s a beautiful blend of creamy, spicy sweet flavors that encompass all that is wonderful about fall,” Laura says.
Everything about this pie is made from scratch, from the crust to the dollop of homemade whipped cream added after it’s been plated. Laura tells you everything you need to know, from the tools you’ll need to how to know when the pie is done.
Sheri B., whose from-scratch pumpkin pie recipe is featured on Food.com, says the roasted pumpkin can be puréed using a sieve, food mill, blender or food processor, but she likes to create the filling with a hand potato masher.
For some cooks, secret pumpkin pie ingredients make for an unforgettable dessert. New York City-based food and wine writer Mandy Naglich’s recipe on Taste Of Home calls for cracked black pepper.
“The best way to preserve the spiciness of pumpkin spice is with freshly cracked black pepper,” Naglich writes. “It adds a robust bite to the traditional spice mix, which comes across subtly in each mouthful of pumpkin pie.”
The pepper won’t make the pie “spicy,” but guests may ask where you got the super-fresh spices, she says.
“Food Hussy” Heather Johnson touts the secret ingredient in her mom’s pumpkin pie recipe. For years, Johnson’s mother refused to share the recipe, but eventually gave it up to her blogger daughter: It’s Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry, a dessert wine.
After you’ve gone to all the trouble of baking from-scratch pumpkin pies, you may decide using a can of pumpkin pie filling is easier. But it’s a coronavirus quarantine memory, and hopefully a pleasant one, that you’ll always have.