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Pumpkins a versatile ingredient for autumn dishes

"For pottage and puddings and custards and pies "Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies. "We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon, "If it were not for pumpkin, we should be undoon." From an early American folk song Pumpkin vines win...

"For pottage and puddings and custards and pies

"Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies.

"We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon,

"If it were not for pumpkin, we should be undoon."

From an early

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American folk song

Pumpkin vines wind and curl across the earth creating blooms that become the beautiful orange fruits we know as the symbol of autumn, the harvest, of Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Pumpkins are members of the gourd family and their lineage includes squash, cucumbers and melons. Their name comes from "pepon," a word crossworders know as a clue for melon or squash. "Pepon" comes from the Greek word for "large melon" although pumpkins are native to the Americas.

It comes in a great variety of shapes - round, squat, ovoid, square - and sizes, from a pound or two to more than half a ton.

It is plentiful at this time of year and is used in both sweet and savory dishes from cakes, pies and breads to soups and stews. The blossoms and seeds may also be cooked and eaten. And farmers use them as feed for livestock.

The following recipe has been published in earlier columns. It is adapted from "The Joy of Cheesecake" by Dana Bovbjerg and Jeremy Iggers. I make a few adjustments every time I make the recipe.

A springform pan is a necessity. It is a round pan with straight sides 2½- to 3-inches high that expand with a clamp and separates from the bottom of the pan when the clamp is snapped open.

It would be exceedingly difficult to remove the cake from an ordinary pan. Springform pans come in many sizes and recipes always give the size of the pan required for the amount of batter used.

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Most cookbooks have sections telling the volumes of various pans and when I checked, I found I could make this pumpkin recipe in two 7-inch pans, thus having one to freeze or give away with the request that the pan be returned to me.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

2½ pounds cream cheese

1 cup brown sugar

6 eggs graded large, lightly beaten

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

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1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 cup heavy cream (or plain yogurt)

1 tablespoon dark rum

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 can (1 pound) pumpkin or equal amount of fresh pumpkin

Crumb crust (recipe below)

Whipped cream (as desired)

Have ingredients at room temperature. Prepare crust and set aside. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese, sugar and eggs. Add flour, spices and flavorings. Beat in cream and add pumpkin, beating until ingredients are just combined.

Pour mixture into a prepared crust and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees and bake for another hour. Turn off heat and leave cake in oven overnight to cool. (This procedure is supposed to produce a cake that isn't cracked.) Refrigerate and serve with whipped cream if desired. Makes 16 generous servings.

Crumb Crust

1½ cups chocolate wafer crumbs

½ cup finely chopped pecans

6 tablespoon melted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

Crumb crackers in a food processor. Place crumbs and nuts in a bowl and add butter and sugar. Blend thoroughly.

Press crumb mixture over the bottom and partly up sides of a buttered, 10-inch springform pan. Smooth into an even thickness. Chill for 10 minutes in the freezer.

Resources: "The Food Lover's Companion" by Sharon Tyler Herbst; "The Joy of Cheesecake" by Dana Bovbjerg and Jeremy Iggers; www.umkc.edu/imc/pumpkin.htm; www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/pumpkins/facts.html

Readers can reach Forum food columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com

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