Every fall the last day of October brings Halloween, the passing of summer bounties and a welcoming to winter vegetables. This year at Halloween time, look past the ghouls, goblins and ghosties and pumpkin pies. Instead, think new savory pumpkin dishes. Realize one cup of pumpkin puree, boiled or steamed without salt, contains a mere 49 calories and beneficial amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, folate and Vitamins A and E.
We’re accustomed to finding pumpkin flavored with sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon or allspice in pies and desserts. However, pumpkin is delicious in casseroles, soufflés, ravioli, pancakes-waffles, vinaigrettes, breads, sweet & sour combinations, chutneys and pickles. Pumpkin flavoring also thrives in the company of tart accents such as garlic, ginger root, onion, hot peppers, chicken broth, shallots, certain cheeses, herbs and most fruits.
Historically, Native North Americans ate what they called pumpkin 9,000 years ago and introduced it to Columbus when he arrived in their midst. The explorer then introduced pumpkin to all of Europe. The English used their word for gourds, or “pompions.” Thus the word, “pumpkin” became popular. Early consumers preserved pumpkin meat by drying it in strips, or drying whole pumpkins for use as water jugs and cooking vessels. Gradually they learned to roast them and grind roasted seeds for poultices used in treating wounds.
As a gourd and member of the Curcurbita pepo family, pumpkins belong to the same family as muskmelon, watermelon and squash. Their common structure is a thin skin, a substantial wall of flesh, or meat, with a center of web-held seeds, some eaten, some not. True pumpkins, as we know them now, are strictly New World Columbus. West Indian pumpkin, pumpkin raised in the Carribbean islands is sometimes called cassava or calabaza. These look much like Hubbard squash, though it tastes like North American pumpkin. In Thailand they curry pumpkin; South Americans serve pumpkin with beans. Many produce markets in Europe and southern Spain send along a chunk of pumpkin with customers who buy their fresh greens. Many pricey Caribbean resorts serve their version of pumpkin soup before elaborate evening meals.
Choosing good pumpkins in fall or winter isn’t complicated. In general, however, the flesh from small sizes is more tender and sweet for eating. Such pumpkins have a hard shell and sound hollow when rapped with your knuckles. The stem should be attached, dry and firm. Choose pumpkins that are free from blemishes and heavy for their size. Store whole pumpkins at room temperature up to a month or refrigerate up to 3 months.
Pureed pumpkin is generally preferred for most recipes and easily done. Cut pumpkin in large chunks. Remove seeds and thread-like pulp. Bake skin-side-up, on a rack in a shallow pan with a small amount of water in the bottom. Tent it loosely with foil. In a 360-degree oven, cook about 45 minutes, or until fork-tender. Once cool, peel with a paring knife. To puree, use a food processor or a potato masher. One pound of pumpkin yields one cup of puree. Try making extra pure to freeze.
PUMPKIN TRICKS AND TREATS:
· The world’s largest recorded pumpkin weighed 1,061 pounds. Figuring a four-pound pumpkin yields four cups of pumpkin puree, this prize-winner could have made 265 pies.· Freeze extra pumpkin seeds for future Pepitas. There’s no need to defrost. (see recipe below)
· Though pumpkin meat can be micro waved when making puree, roasting makes a fruitier flavored puree.
· One Pilgrim recipe involved filling a whole pumpkin with milk, adding spices and honey or syrup. Then they baked it in hot ashes for 6 or 7 hours, it became custard-like.· Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock probably did not feature pumpkin pie. It’s said they filled a whole pumpkin with wild apples and cranberries and baked it. This can be adapted today by baking cubed, peeled, raw pumpkin, chopped apple, cranberries and nuts. Bake at 350 degrees until tender.
PEPITAS (Roaster Pumpkin Seeds)
¼ to ½ cup Salt
2 quarts Water
Seeds From one or more pumpkins
1 tbsp. Soft butter (per pumpkin).
To taste Cayenne, pepper, cumin, chili powder,
onion salt, garlic powder
· Bring water to boil, add salt and pumpkin seeds. Simmer on medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes.· Shake dry in colander.
· Spread evenly on greased cookie sheet. Roast in 300-degree oven for 30 to 60 minutes. Check often.
JAMAICAN PUMPKIN SOUP:
1 lb. Soup meat
½ lb . Bacon slices
2 quarts Cold water
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
1 tsp. Salt (to taste)
2 lb. Seeded pumpkin, in small chunks
2 medium Potatoes, chopped
2 oz. Sherry (optional)
one Bell, or hot pepper, diced
one inch Ginger root, grated
one Tomato, chopped
one large Onion, chopped fine
½ tsp. Black pepper
One bunch Green onions, coarsely chopped
4 sprigs Cilantro
· Try to prepare soup early, rest it, then re-season and serve.
· Garnish with torn cilantro sprigs.
· Sautee soup meat and bacon until bacon is cooked.· Add water, salt and garlic, and let boil slowly until meat is almost fully cooked.· Add pumpkin and potatoes and simmer carefully until vegetables are tender.
· Add sherry, chopped pepper, grated ginger, tomato, onion, black pepper and green onions and simmer 10 more minutes. Don’t overcook.