Pumpkin Custard
A Diabetic-Friendly Dessert by S. John Ross, ©2002-2010. (Revised Version 2.01)

Sadly, there's an entire industry devoted to providing unhealthy desserts and snacks to diabetics with a sweet tooth. "Sugar-Free" cookies are a common sight at supermarkets . . . But they have every bit as much carbohydrate (from flour, oats, and alternate-but-often-still-glycemic sweeteners), and nearly the same glycemic impact, as ordinary cookies. They just don't use sugar, so it's legal (but a little misleading) to call them "sugar-free." Many of these brands even carry the logo of the American Diabetes Association . . . But what they fail to mention is that any product can be so marked, provided they make a donation to the ADA. The mark doesn't indicate endorsement or a proper fit into a diabetic eating plan.

Ignore the hype; read the stats. The only off-the-shelf dessert that's a genuine "no worries; eat all you like" affair is sugar-free Jell-O, which really is carbless, but, especially around the holidays, it's nice to have an alternative. I'm a pumpkin-pie junkie, and created this delicious pumpkin custard to scratch that particular itch without spoiling the meal.

  • 4 eggs' worth (4oz) egg-substitute/eggwhites (Eggbeaters, etc.)
  • 1-1/2 cups measurable Splenda or equivalent
  • 1-1/2 tsp ground cinammon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • tiny pinch of ground allspice
  • A tiny (really very especially tiny) pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3-3/4 cups pumpkin, fresh or canned (two 15oz or a single 29oz can)
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk

Using an electric mixer, combine the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Start with the eggs, work in the Splenda and spices and salt, then the pumpkin and the almond milk (slowly) last. Taste the mixture for sweetness (some folks might enjoy a bit more Splenda, adjust as needed). Pour it into a 2-quart glass pan. Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for 15 minutes, then 60 minutes on 350, or until a knife comes out clean. Cool on a rack, then either serve warm, or refrigerate. Makes six fairly generous servings.

Why it Works: By skipping the pie crust and just doing the good part of the pumpkin pie, and by using diabetic-friendly substitutions for the fillers and sweeteners, I end up with a dessert where a serving comes in at just over 14 grams of carbohydrate (a single Fruit or Bread exchange!), and half of those carbs are fiber, which means the glycemic impact is almost negligible. Pumpkin is especially valuable to diabetics because it's a great natural source of fiber that's nice and filling without being really high in glycemic carbohydrates. If the meal is especially light on carbs, you can even toss on a serving of no-sugar-added ice cream (which doubles the total carbs of the dessert, approximately), which is especially great if the custard is served warm. A lot of frozen whipped toppings are pretty good, too, because even the ones that use sugar are mostly air (but, as always, check the label and measure carefully).

Making it Naughty: Of course, if you reverse-engineer the ingredients back to naughtyland, what you have is my classic pumpkin pie filling. Just use real eggs, real sugar, and whipping cream or half-and-half instead of the almond milk, and you've got the finest filling for two buttery crusts you can imagine! But try it this way, first, and see if it isn't better than just about any pumpkin pie you've had, anyway.

Pumpkin Substitions: From pumpkin to butternut squash is a leap of no consequence (in some parts of the world, butternut squash is actually called "pumpkin," with no distinction made). From pumpkin to sweet potato is a leap of consequence worth trying (pretty much anything you can do with pumpkin, you can do with sweet potato and it's just a slightly different kind of yummy).

Fresh Pumpkin Notes: Preparing the pumpkin is easy and pleasantly messy: just chop it into halves, discard the stem, scoop out the seeds, and steam the rest until it's nice and soft. Once the pumpkin is cooked, it's a snap to scoop it away from the rind. A single "pie pumpkin" (farmers call it a small sugar pumpkin) will be good for somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-6 cups of cooked pumpkin flesh, so if you have excess pumpkin, just scale the rest of the recipe around how much pumpkin you have (with two stout pie pumpkins, you can make this recipe three times over). I do it both the fresh and canned way, depending on the season and how industrious I'm feeling. My favorite part of fresh pumpkin is the bonus snack in the form of the seeds: scoop 'em out, rinse 'em, salt 'em, toast 'em gently by tossing them in a hot pan (you can bake them on a cookie sheet if you prefer), and serve. Yummy pepitas!

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