Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eating Omily: "It's The Great Pumpkin...!"

Is it just me, or is Fall going by even faster than Summer did? Perhaps things will slow down after Halloween...the preserving kitchen isn't shut down yet: I still have a batch of green beans to blanch and freeze or dry, a couple pounds of beets to pickle, a last few chili peppers, more cabbage than we can possible eat fresh (sour kraut, anyone?), and of course, the onslaught of pears and apples has only begun!

I've often bemoaned the vast ignorance of seasonality in this country. Most of us don't know when things grow, let alone where, and see nothing wrong with asparagus taking up shelf space next to water melons in January. In spite of such wonderland-inspired conundrums, there is one fruit whose seasonality is ALWAYS respected. One big, beautiful product of the vine that I NEVER see between the months of December and August...whose delicious fruits are left to be savored at the proper time...I speak, of course, of the Pumpkin.
You may perhaps feel a little confused: sure, pumpkins pop up in cardboard bins in groceries this time of year, and if you're feeling festive you may just haul one home, scoop it's guts out and give it a charming face, but you don't EAT those things, do you??

Yes and no: pumpkins that are for jack-o-lanterns are bred to be large, have smooth symmetrical faces, a deep orange color, and be mostly hollow with a relatively thin shell. Pumpkins for turning into pumpkin pies, pumpkin breads, pumpkin icecream, etc. are bred to grow in cans.
That's a lie: there is a wide variety of pumpkins that are good for eating. They go by various names: pie pumpkins, sweet pumpkins, sugar pumpkins, baking pumpkins, eating pumpkins...They are usually smaller than their carvable brethren, and should you be brave enough to take one home and hack it up, you'll find that it's NOT hollow, but full nearly to the center with sweet, yellow pumpkin flesh. Packed into that center space are the seeds and orange stringyness that hang out in empty air and get scooped out of a jack-o-lantern.
To make yourself some pumpkin puree for a pie, or soup, simple cut a sugar pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and strings, lay it cut side in a baking dish, and roast at around 375 for half an hour or more, depending on size, until it's very tender. Scoop the flesh away from the skin, mash up, and if still to wet for your use, cook it on the stove to evaporate more water away.
Even if you aren't quite ready for pumpkin pie from scratch, your goofily-grinning jack-o-lantern has something tasty to share with you: as you scoop the goop out, one messy handful at a time, take a minute to separate the seeds from the goop, placing them in a separate bowl (which is what I'm doing with my scarily large arm in the first picture). Give them a wash, pat them dry, and then spread them out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle them with salt, and if you want my recipe, allspice, and maybe a pinch of pepper, cinnamon, and/or chili pepper. Slide these lovelies into a 375 degree oven. If you pull them after ten minutes the shells will be still be a little tough, and a sweet, nutty flavor will predominate. Let them stay for fifteen minutes, and the shells are perfectly crisp, and a toasty, almost popcorny flavor predominates.
Gobble a few while they're still warm, then toss the rest into trail mixes: absolutely delicious, autumnal, and full of manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, triptophane, iron, copper, vitamin K, zinc, and protein! There's a lot more besides; these nutrients are the ones that pumpkins are a 'good', 'very good' source of. They also contain healthy fats, and if you eat them shells and all, which you will if you put allspice on them, you're also getting a decent amount of fiber.
In this picture you can see my seeds cooling, the charred chilies steaming their skins loose in a bowl covered in plastic wrap, and the first bag of apples of the season just waiting for me to do something with them...such is my life.

So go get a pumpkin, already!
Happy Halloween!
~em

1 comment:

  1. What a cute pumpkin!! I love roasting the seeds :-)
    thanks for your comment and well wishes! The race went great!
    to answer your question about pork products- rarely are they "lean", they naturally contain high levels of sodium and fat. Dont get me wrong, I love me some bacon, but there has to be many moons in between the meals with it!

    *susan

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