The bright, fresh flavors of summer are in season throughout central Indiana.
Sugary sweet corn, cool watermelon and juicy tomatoes are the centerpieces of picnics and barbecues.
But looming on the horizon, a change is coming. With crisp days and cool nights come the autumnal taste of pumpkin.
For local bakers who can’t get enough of the cinnamon-spicy flavor, it’s never too early to fix your favorite fall desserts.
“I love fall, and so pumpkin is something that comes to everyone’s mind that time of year,” Franklin resident Debbie Hamilton said.
Pumpkin has been on a roll lately in food and beverages. According to Nielsen consumer services company, pumpkin-flavored offerings increased 18.8 percent last year over 2012. Items such as coffee creamer, muffins, ice cream and beer have been seasoned with the mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin and other spices.
The growing popularity made it a perfect choice as the key ingredient in this year’s Johnson County fair baking contest, said Linda Souchon, director of Purdue Extension Johnson County.
The contest had one of the best turnouts in years, she said.
In Hamilton’s home, her prized KitchenAid blender is regularly in use mixing up some kind of sweet treat. Cherry pies, strawberry tarts and anything chocolate are regular productions in her kitchen.
But pumpkin is one of the flavors that she always looks forward to baking with.
When she learned that this year’s base ingredient in the Johnson County fair baking contest would be pumpkin, she started planning. Her pumpkin muffins with pecans and chocolate chips were named reserve champion in the contest, while her pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies took first place in the cookies category.
“I dug out cookbooks and searched the Internet and tried to come up with something that was a little bit different,” Hamilton said. “Most people have probably never heard of using chocolate with pumpkin, and if you haven’t, it’s wonderful.”
But it was her pumpkin spice caramel cake that was named the grand champion of the entire contest.
She has been entering the fair’s baking contest since 2008.
“My grandmother was a baker, my mother and my aunt were both in 4-H. It’s relaxing to me, and it’s a joy,” she said.
Hamilton has had success throughout the years but had never won overall champion. She’s glad that it came with her pumpkin recipes.
One of the rules of the contest is that people cannot use dairy products that are not baked into the item, Hamilton said. Since a lot of pumpkin recipes call for cream cheese filling, and she couldn’t use that, she had to be creative.
Taking a spice cake recipe, she figured out how to add pumpkin spice-flavored instant pudding instead of cream cheese. The result was savory-sweet.
“I had a taste and consistency that I liked a lot. I put some almonds on top and drizzled caramel over it. I thought it sounded kind of fallish,” Hamilton said.