Use pumpkin for desserts other than a pie

Thanksgiving is the most traditional and probably homogeneous meal of the year. Roast turkey, gravy, dressing, sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes and green beans will grace millions of tables across the country. The finale will play out the same way in many homes: a slice of pumpkin pie.

I can't imagine the holiday dinner without the pie, but I'm open to other desserts in the mix, especially since everyone wants to take some of the spread home with them. (I would bet refrigerator raiding reaches its yearly peak on Thanksgiving night.)

A West Ashley reader wants to make some sort of pumpkin dessert for Thanksgiving but not a traditional pie, and asked for recipes. And thankfully, there's no shortage of them out there.

Vicky Thaman of Summerville writes, "I have a wonderful recipe for Pumpkin Streusel Cheesecake Bars that I get rave reviews on every time I make them.

"They disappear in minutes and everyone begs for the recipe. I got the recipe from a Betty Crocker calendar a few years ago."

For cookie base:

1 pouch (1 pound, 1.5-ounce) oatmeal cookie mix

1/2 cup crushed gingersnap cookies

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

1/2 cup cold butter

For filling:

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

1 cup canned pumpkin (not pie filling)

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

2 tablespoons whipping cream

2 eggs

For topping:

1/3 cup caramel topping

1/3 cup chocolate topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In large bowl, stir together cookie mix, crushed cookies and pecans. Cut in butter, using pastry blender or fork, until mixture is crumbly. Reserve 1 cup mixture for topping. Press remaining mixture in bottom of ungreased 13x9-inch pan. Bake 10 minutes then cool 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar with electric mixer on medium until smooth. Add remaining filling ingredients; beat until well-blended. Pour over warm cookie base. Sprinkle reserved topping over top.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until center is set. Cool 30 minutes. Refrigerate about 2 hours or until chilled.

Before serving, drizzle with caramel topping and chocolate topping, if using. For bars, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows. Store covered in refrigerator.

Not everyone cares for pumpkin pie, as Diane Bennett of Kiawah Island has found, likely due to its texture. She has served the following two pumpkins desserts to friends and family members with great success.

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 (16-ounce) can pumpkin

1 teaspoon salt

1 (13-ounce) can evaporated milk

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 box yellow cake mix

2 sticks butter, melted (do not substitute margarine)

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Mix first six ingredients in a large bowl. Pour into an ungreased 9x13-inch pan. Sprinkle with cake mix, then drizzle melted butter on top. Top with chopped nuts.

Bake for 1 hour, 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Can be served warm or cold.

(Elizabeth Zielinski of Cross offered a similar pumpkin cake recipe as an alternative for people watching their sugar intake, using Splenda instead of sugar and a sugar-free yellow cake mix.)

Diane also shared another low-fat option "since someone is always on a diet," she says.

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

2 tablespoons margarine, melted

1 (16-ounce) can pumpkin

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 (8-ounce) packages light cream cheese

1/2 cup part-skim milk ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 3/4 teaspoons maple flavoring, divided use

1/2 cup evaporated skim milk

1/2 cup egg substitute

1/2 cup nonfat sour cream

1 tablespoon sugar

Chopped pecans (optional)

Combine graham cracker crumbs and margarine in a small bowl. Press into bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.

Beat pumpkin, brown sugar, cream cheese, ricotta, flour, pumpkin pie spice and 1 1/2 teaspoons maple flavoring in a large mixer bowl on high speed for 1 minute. Add evaporated skim milk and egg substitute; beat just until blended. Pour over crust.

Bake at 350 degrees for 65 to 85 minutes or until knife inserted halfway between center and outer edge comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes on wire rack.

While cheesecake is cooling, prepare topping: combine nonfat sour cream, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon maple flavoring in a small bowl.

Spread cheesecake with topping. Chill. Remove sides of pan, sprinkle with pecans and serve.

Maxwell Mowry of Charleston writes, "This is for the reader who asked for pumpkin recipes, but not pumpkin pie. Last year during the holidays I served this sweet potato fool to great acclaim. It occurs to me that one could substitute pump-kin in place of sweet potatoes."

2 cups pureed sweet potatoes or pumpkin

1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

12 to 18 ginger snaps, coarsely chopped

Small (8-ounce) container frozen nondairy topping, thawed

Combine sweet potatoes or pumpkin, brown sugar and spices, stirring until well blended. Layer half the ginger snaps into a 2-quart glass trifle bowl. Spread with half the sweet potato or pumpkin puree, then top with half the whipped topping. Layer remaining ginger snaps, puree, and topping. Chill for at least 1 hour.

Variation: Instead of whipped topping, beat 1 cup heavy cream until thick, then gradually add 3 tablespoons powdered sugar, beating until stiff.

To be continued next Sunday ...

A North Charleston reader likes the old-fashioned look and texture of cookies that crackle over the top when baked, and asked for various recipes.

A West Ashley reader is looking for potato side dishes that are baked. She also would like to try new chicken and/or beef stir-fry recipes.

Another reader is inter- ested in making easy edible gifts.

Looking for a recipe or have one to share? Reach Food Editor Teresa Taylor at food@postandcourier.com, 937-4886 or 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403-4800.