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Welcome, fall

Some folks look for changing leaves or the return of yellow school buses. For me, the first real sign that fall was upon us came last week, when I found there’d been a run on cinnamon in the Wegman’s spice aisle.

Our cooking changes with the seasons as much as our clothes. We spend winter longing for the spring-like green of asparagus and peas. We spend spring dying for our first taste of sun-ripened tomatoes. Then, when we’ve endured so many triple-digit days that our summer clothes are permanently wilted, we start looking for pumpkins, squashes and sweet potatoes to smash, and pulling the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice from our cabinets.

So once again this year, I’m excited about fall cooking. Apple bread and apple crisp have already been in this year’s fall rotation, and I have big plans for some pumpkin muffins, squash and kale soup and roast chicken with fall vegetables. This year I’d also like to finally add the cider-glazed chicken recipe that’s been staring at me for years from one of my favorite cookbooks to my weeknight repertoire.

What are your plans for fall in the kitchen?

On this first official day of fall, here’s a very basic how-to that will serve you throughout the season (and is great baby food, too).

How to make pumpkin and squash puree

(The same method can be used to puree pumpkins and other winter squashes. With larger pumpkins, you might need to roast one half at a time.)

1 butternut squash

1 baking sheet

Food processor, blender or food mill


4 coffee filters

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Scrub the squash so you don’t contaminate it when you cut into it. Dry squash and place on a steady cutting board (put a damp kitchen towel underneath for stability if you need it.). Carefully cut the squash in half lengthwise with a large, sharp knife.

Scoop seeds and fibrous goo  from the hollows on each squash half. Place halves cut side down on baking sheet.

Roast until the squash is fully tender. Plan for this to take about 45 minutes, but it will vary based on the size of your squash. Test squash by inserting a fork in the long, solid “neck.” The fork should go in with no resistance. The bulb-like end is hollow, so it will cook more quickly.

When squash is fully cooked, remove from oven and allow to cool until you can comfortably handle it.

Scoop squash flesh from skin with a spoon and place in your blender, food processor or food mill. You might need to do a little bit at a time to avoid overloading your processor. The only waste you leave should be the thin skin of the squash.

Process until all squash is pureed. Lightly dampen coffee filters and squeeze out excess water. Line colander with the filters. Scoop squash puree into filters and allow to drain for several hours. Excess water in squash is bad for baked goods.

Store puree in measured quantities in Ziploc bags. Unless I am preparing for a specific recipe that specifies another quantity, I usually freeze squash puree in 2-cup quantities in quart bags.

Flatten bags and store in your freezer until ready to use.

A few ideas:

Smitten Kitchen’s pumpkin swirl brownies

Caprial and John’s pumpkin soup with five spice

Pumpkin scones

Martha Stewart’s pumpkin souffle

Believe it or not, there is no actual pumpkin in a pumpkin-spice latte.

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