MANASSAS, VA — 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 pumpkin patches in the Manassa area, 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 Manassas. Here are some of them:
Yankey Farms, 14039 Owls Nest Rd., Nokesville. Open Sundays 12 p.m.-6 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Mondays 12 p.m.-6 p.m.
Messick's Farm Market, 6025 Catlett Rd., Bealeton. Open daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
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.