Forget all the failed apocalypse forecasts that have come and gone without destroying humanity. America faces a far more frightening (and possible) disaster this holiday season:
There could very well be a shortage of canned pumpkin during the holiday season this year.
This alarming news (actually, this isn't the first year we've heard it) is the kind of thing that sends chills up the spines of bakers and pie fans across the country, but while no one should panic, the canned pumpkin forecast isn't looking great. Illinois produces 90 percent of America's pumpkin yield, and this year heavy rainfall reduced the pumpkin crop by half its normal quantity, which is potentially very bad news for folks who like pumpkin pie a lot.
The canned foods giant Libby's controls 80 percent of the canned pumpkin market, and while the company is unhappy about this year's crop yield, the good news is Libby's believes demand can be met through the holidays.
However, they're also cautioning consumers not to wait until the last minute to stock up on canned pumpkin, because supplies may be low, and certain stores might see their shelves depleted. The grimmer prospect will come after the holiday season, because experts think that the supply will be completely drained by then, and there won't be any more canned pumpkin available until later next year. Now, for some people that's not a big deal, since they eat pumpkin pies and other food that uses canned pumpkin only in the fall and winter, but folks who enjoy eating pumpkin pie year round may be in for a very rough 2016.
For those of us looking around at all the pumpkins being sold to carve into jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween and wondering what all the fuss over a shortage is about, the answer's simple. The type of pumpkin used for canning is a completely different type from those most people buy to carve for Halloween decorations. Planning to use one of those for a Thanksgiving pie probably won't work out very well.
Perhaps the best strategy for anyone who does a lot of pumpkin pie baking throughout the year, or who uses canned pumpkin for other purposes, is to stock up heavily now, but that could drive the sort of last-minute shelf shortages that industry experts are warning about. Will there be the kind of panicked runs to the store that we often see right before a hurricane hits? I don't know, but with pumpkin pie at stake, I'm guessing almost anything is possible.
In honor of this grim scenario facing humanity, it seems somehow appropriate to share a couple of yummy recipes.
Pumpkin Pie Brûlée
1 deep-dish 9-inch unbaked pie shell
1 15-ounce can of pure pumpkin
3/4 cup sugar plus enough extra to form brûlée crust
1 1/4 cups whipping cream OR 1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix pumpkin and 3/4 cup sugar in large bowl to blend. Combine eggs, cream or evaporated milk, salt, and spices. Pour filling into pie shell. Bake pie at 425 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake an additional 45 minutes. Let pie cool for 30 minutes, then chill it for at least two hours.
Sprinkle additional sugar evenly across the pie's top until it is completely covered — roughly four tablespoons. Use a culinary torch to caramelize the sugar, which will bubble and begin to turn brown. Positioning the torch about two inches from the sugar and moving it in a circular fashion works well, but be sure to work from the edges toward the pie's center.
After getting a good sugar crust, refrigerate the pie until the topping hardens — around 30 minutes. Then serve!
Creamy Apple Bacon Pumpkin Soup
1 15-ounce can of pure pumpkin
2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
1 large pinch of pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Granny Smith apple cubed
1/4 cup cooked, crumbled maple smoked bacon
1 tablespoon maple syrup
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Cook the cubed apple in butter until it gets soft. Combine the pumpkin, cream, chicken broth and pumpkin spice, then simmer for five to seven minutes, whisking occasionally. Remove from heat, then stir in the maple syrup and bacon. Top with the cooked apple cubes. Enjoy.
Hopefully the Great Pumpkin Shortage of 2015 won't lead to rioting in the streets or a collapse of western civilization, but folks with a love of pumpkin-based recipes might consider hitting the stores early in the holiday season, and holding back a few extra cans to get them through what might be a rough first half to 2016.