Monday, November 15, 2010

Libby's is Never Gonna Give You Up, Never Gonna Let You Down...

Dear Tricia, I tried to make a real pumpkin pie without using a can of Libby's pumpkin pie mix. I followed a recipe where I roasted the pumpkin, added eggs, sugar, spices and evaporated milk. I thought that since I made the pie from scratch it would taste even better than coming from a can, but I was sorely mislead. My pie did NOT taste like the pumpkin pie I'm used to. Why? Was it the recipe?

First of all, I totally just Rick Rolled you in the form of a jack-o-lantern. And if you don't know what that is, I'm surprised you still like my blog. Moving on....

Actually, no it wasn't the recipe- it was the pumpkin. Pumpkin pie such a misleading name for a pie: its not made from the pumpkins you and I know as pumpkins. Libby's has a monopoly on the canned pumpkin industry- they produce about 85% of the world's canned pumpkin and it all comes from a very special, trademarked type of pumpkin grown in Illinois.

Libby's developed a sort of cross-bred type of squash called a Dickinson Pumpkin. It looks more like a giant butternut squash than a pumpkin and its got lots of extra pumpkin meat inside, unlike that wimpy guy you use for carving your gnarly jack-o-lanterns. A Dickinson pumpkin is trademarked by Libby's as their own proprietary seed. (Read: no one else has access to growing or harvesting it except for Libby's.) That means no one else's brand of canned pumpkin is going to ever taste like Libby's because they're the only ones who can grow that tasty little squash. Smart huh? And terribly frustrating if you like to make things from scratch. Their proprietary seed is off limits to you, me, and everyone else who wants to know.

Remember last year when there was a warning that canned pumpkin would be scarce because bad weather affected so much of the canned pumpkin industry's crop? I read about one non profit group who takes produce not-fit-for-harvest and donates it to shelters and soup kitchens. After Libby's crappy harvest of pumpkins last year, the non profit took it upon themselves to ask for a donation of the crapkins and Libby's wouldn't allow it because their proprietary seed is off limits to anyone but the consumer who buys the pumpkin in its final, canned form. (What, you don't think someone would take that crapkin to a professional and try to cross breed their own copy? I'd totally do that. And then I'd sell it to all of you. I'd call it Magic Unicorn Glitter Pie Mix.)

If you want to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, I'd suggest taking whatever recipe you used and try using equal parts of both butternut squash and pumpkin instead of just pumpkin.

And by the way, you're welcome for your newest bit of food knowledge to drop at your company's holiday party this year. That's one even your boss will be impressed with, which might help him forget what you said about him at last year's party after one too many eggnogs. Yeah, we all heard about it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stuff It.

Dear Tricia, Being a non-native in Colorado and coming from Texas, I have had many conversations with my friends and coworkers about whether it is called "stuffing" or "dressing." Is there a difference? Or is it just different lingo for different areas?

This is a great question to start off my month of Thanksgiving-themed blogs! Stuffing or dressing: which one is it? My immediate thought was that stuffing is cooked inside the bird and dressing is cooked outside, but this one had me scratching my head so I went to several different sources to try and find an answer. The Food Lover's Companion, which most of us in the restaurant world will deem as the most reliable source of culinary information, was no help at all.

Stuffing: see dressing.

Not awesome. For the first time ever, the FLC let me down. Jerk. So I decided to go back a little further and check out my husband's unabridged, second edition Webster's Dictionary. (Its a mammoth book- 16.4 pounds to be exact. Yeah, I put that sucker on my bathroom scale.) This edition was published in 1934, so I went back a good 80 years to see what they thought then:

Dressing: a. the spice mixture added to the bread, etc., used in stuffing a roast. b. a seasoned mixture as of bread, nuts, or oysters, often used to stuff poultry or roasts.

Stuffing: any seasoning preparation used to stuff meat; a composition of bread, spices, condiments, etc.; forcemeat; dressing

Yeah, that didn't tell me much either, except that dressing is used as stuffing. Then, when you start to get into the difference between stuffing being used as a noun (like a bowl of stuffing) or a verb (you're stuffing the turkey), things get really unclear.

The only difference I can find, when there is a difference explained at all, is that dressing is cooked by itself, while stuffing is cooked inside the turkey. However, there are still so many stuffing recipes that are cooked outside of the turkey. They're used interchangeably and have the same ingredients. Case in point,'s food dictionary has this little gem to offer:

stuffing: see dressing

Ugh... not again. Way to give me a whole lot of nothing, What that does tell me though, is that dressing and stuffing may indeed just be regional differences. So I started looking up the history of stuffing in the south, and let me tell you, they do NOT like using the word stuffing. Chef Eve Felder, one of the deans at the Culinary Institute of America, claims that stuffing isn't a pleasant word, so in the South, they called it dressing. Those southerners- so polite and gentle.

Then I went to my Facebook fan page for the blog (Have you joined it yet? You're missing out.) and started asking where everyone is from and what they call it. Everyone responded pretty quickly- from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Florida, Tennessee, New York... seems that majority of them call it stuffing, and the ones who call it dressing are from the south. Not everyone from the south called it dressing, but the only ones who even mentioned the D-word were southern.

So the answer? I'm going with both. Dressing and stuffing are the same thing, with the same ingredients, sometimes cooked outside of the turkey, sometimes cooked inside. (Or sometimes layered in between glorious layers of duck, turkey, and chicken like the culinary wonderment that is the Turducken.)

Similar quandaries include the sprinkle/jimmie debate, the sub/hero/hoagie dilemma, and of course, my favorite: soda/pop. (Even though we all know it's soda. Le duh.)