I’m a simple girl. I love desserts as much as the next person, probably more, but I prefer to focus my culinary energy on getting the family fed. If I have time and energy left over after ensuring our three squares are taken care of, I might consider making a dessert, but not often. When I do go the extra mile, it’s usually in fall or winter, as the siren call of pumpkins and apples beckons me.
Sure, I love to peruse beautiful recipes as much as the next foodie. The gorgeous photography, sumptuous description of the flavors… but they lose me after that. I rarely have the heart to make a dessert that requires copious amount of rich ingredients. I think my limit is about a half a stick of butter.
And while I don’t have an objection to a little cream, I don’t routinely buy it, so I rarely have some on hand. Probably my number one (scrooge-like) rule about making desserts is that I won’t shop expressly for their ingredients. I’m only willing to consider a recipe if I already have all of the components (or reasonable substitutes) at my fingertips.
And don’t get me started on the directions for fancy recipes. I read one the other day that was as long as a chapter of my dissertation. I’m tired from just reading the thing. No longer interested in making it. Moving on…
So that rules out a lot of desserts, but not all. I have a 5-ingredient flourless chocolate torte recipe I love. Apple crisp is in the rotation. (Not apple pie, though, as I won’t make crust.) I’ve made some pretty awesome healthy peanut butter cookies using this recipe. Pumpkin pie is in (an exception to the no-crust rule because the filling is so darn easy, and I’m not above buying the crust).
Last week one of our favorite vendors at the farmer’s market (the one who sold us 31 pounds of peaches back in September), had French heirloom pumpkins on offer. The variety I chose was naturally sweet, and lent itself to desserts. So after consulting several cookbooks and an old issue of Fine Cooking, I found exactly what I was looking for in a humble cookbook that’s an old family favorite.
It’s called the More-With-Less Cookbook, and the title sums up my priorities when it comes to making desserts (although they have great recipes for savory dishes, too). The book is a collection of recipes from Mennonites living around the world in 1976. The subtitle is “suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited food resources”. And that it is. It’s a great reference for cooking with frugal ingredients and making substitutions when needed. It’s also a walk back in time and around the globe.
While the emphasis is on using money sparingly, I would also argue that its ethos extends to making more with less time, too. The recipes are simple and straightforward. It’s a great resource to consult when you need ideas for how to use up a few things you’ve got in the fridge.
Anyway, this was not meant to be a
plug for love letter to the book. This is about dessert. But I couldn’t complete this post without giving proper credit to the book that had exactly the type of recipe I was looking for to use my fresh pumpkin (when no one else did). A simple pumpkin custard. No need to create a water bath or do anything fancy. Just 5 ingredients plus 4 spices. Mix in one bowl, bake in another. Done. And it turned out delicious, too. It’s like soft pumpkin pie filling, without all the crust to slow you down.
I happened to use freshly baked and pureed pumpkin, but I’m sure this would be good with canned pumpkin puree, too. In fact, I know that’s what I’ll use when I make it next time. And btw, I would consider this among the special class of desserts that are more-than-acceptable for breakfast. Apple crisp and bread pudding, you little morning lovelies, meet your new friend, Rustic Pumpkin Custard.
Recipe (slightly adapted from the More-With-Less Cookbook)
Time: 10 minutes hands-on, 55 minutes total
1 ½ c milk
1 ½ c pureed pumpkin (canned or freshly cooked)
2/3 c brown sugar
½ t ground ginger
¼ t ground cloves
¼ t ground nutmeg (fresh if possible)
1. Pre-heat oven to 350. Butter a 1-2 quart baking dish.
2. Pour milk into a small saucepan and heat on medium-high until scalded (i.e., when little bubbles form around the edges). Once heated shut off and set aside.
3. While the milk is heating, beat eggs in the bottom of a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add in the pumpkin, sugar, cornstarch and spices. Whisk until smooth. (Keep a close eye on the milk. It can boil over quickly. Mine did.)
4. Pour a small amount of hot milk into the pumpkin mixture while whisking. Slowly add more, whisking continuously. (The aim is to incorporate all the ingredients without letting the hot milk cook the eggs. Mixing the milk in slowly allows the temperature to rise gradually, avoiding scrambled eggs.) Whisk until smooth.
5. Pour the mixture into the baking dish and put in the oven. Set the timer for 35 minutes. Start checking to see if the center is firm (i.e., doesn’t jiggle) when the buzzer goes off. The exact cooking time will vary based on the dish you choose. The bigger the dish, the faster it will cook. Check every 5 minutes or so until the center feels springy like the sides. Remove from the oven.
6. Allow to cool until it reaches the temperature at which you’d like to eat it. I enjoyed it both at room temperature and chilled, straight out of the fridge (and baking dish) the next day.
The custard would be great with whipped cream, Grape Nuts cereal, pecan praline or even ice cream on top. All I had laying around was yogurt and some pepitas (i.e., pumpkin seeds) so that’s how I topped it… once, and only for a picture. Mostly I ate it plain, sometimes I even used a bowl. Enjoy!
Curious to check out more seriously frugal recipes from the global Mennonite community? My mom found my copy at a library book sale. We considered it a miracle. But now Amazon carries it! I bought one as a gift for Christmas last year, and apart from not having the previous owner’s endearing notes scribbled throughout, the new editions are great. Personally, I love the spiral bound version, because that’s what I grew up with. Either way, I’m sure you’ll find recipes you want to try, and soon enough you’ll have your own notes in the margins.
This post was shared at Natural Living Monday at Natural Living Mamma, Simple Lives Thursday at My Humble Kitchen, Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade, Unprocessed Fridays at Girl Meets Nourishment and Simply Natural Saturdays at The Pistachio Project.