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Libby's shortage? Don't panic -- seek out squash of different stripes

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Bummer for Nestle, which produces the iconic Libby's canned pumpkin, the go-to squash for millions of pie makers this time of year.

The company says heavy rains have forced it to cease harvesting its crop in Downstate Morton -- which may lead to a shortage during the holiday season of those recognizable orange cans.

But relax, people. You can still bake your pumpkin pie and eat it, too. A pumpkin is a gourd -- as are those oodles of beautiful winter squash with the poetic names (Kabocha, Hubbard, Delicata) crowding the store bins these days.

In my freezer, I have a Ziploc bag full of the cooked flesh of a red Kabocha squash. I bought the squash in early October from farmer Vicki Westerhoff (below) at Green City Market, for our story on farmers' favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Westerhoff is a something of a squash expert -- she grows between 11 and 18 varieties of winter squash on her St. Anne farm -- and her recipe for custard-filled squash is delightful. 10-24_white_farmer_1.jpg

In my first attempt at Westerhoff's recipe, however, forces out of my control prevented me from keeping a close eye on the squash -- or, more accurately, the clock -- as it baked (long story; just know it involved my two daughters). The beautiful, majestic squash collapsed on me in the heat, the filling spilling out across the baking sheet. Dang.

But it still tasted delicious, so I scooped all the flesh from the skin anyway, collecting it in a bag and popping it into the freezer. And next week, I'll be making pie with it.

Westerhoff says the three best substitutes for the canned stuff are the Blue Hubbard, Long Island Cheese and Butternut squash (though she assures me my red Kabocha also will work well).

"I would dare say other than a super pumpkin connoisseur, no one would know the difference," she says. "In fact, I think they work better than pumpkin in a lot of ways. The texture is smoother and the flavor is just really good."

So wherever you would have used canned pumpkin, try substituting a squash of a different stripe. It won't be the same old pie you're used to, but I don't think you'll be disappointed, either.

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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