Beyond Jack o Lanterns
Eating pumpkins have fallen out of favor since World War II, as refrigerators have supplanted roomy root cellars as the place to store fruits and vegetables. Pumpkins bred to be carved into Jack o Lanterns on Halloween and discarded a few days later have come to dominate the pumpkin market. But older, heirloom varieties that have been preserved for centuries for their eating qualities are making a comeback, particularly at farm stands and in farmers markets.
The best pumpkins for eating, according to Damerow, are the Sugar varieties, which have thick, sweet, smooth-textured, nearly stringless flesh. But a list of more than a hundred varieties of pumpkins in the book includes more than three dozen culinary varieties, with an equal number of ornamental varieties and the rest, minis and giants.
The book includes several dozen recipes. Most call for pureed pumpkin.
The standard method of producing a puree is to boil chunks of pumpkin, peeled either before or after boiling. But that method results in some loss of flavor and nutrients. So Damerow proposes a better way, taking a cue from Native Americans, who cultivated pumpkins for 8,000 or 9,000 years before Columbus reached the New World. They would bury pumpkins whole in the hot ashes of a fire. You could do it that way yourself, or more conveniently, use an oven.
"Baking a whole pumpkin will give you drier meat, which saves you time simmering off liquid if your ultimate goal is to make a pie," she explains.
To bake a pumpkin, stab it in at least six places to release steam. Place it in a pan with some water in the bottom and bake at 350 degrees until the pumpkin is soft enough that you can depress the shell with a poke of the finger. Then let it cool, remove the seeds and scrape out the soft flesh.
Damerow recommends making more puree than a recipe calls for so that you can enjoy some of it on the spot, straight and hot, with melted butter and perhaps a sprinkling of cinnamon.
Here are three recipes from The Perfect Pumpkin.
pie pumpkins, cut, cored, peeled and
diced (about 7 cups pumpkin cubes)
2. Put the spices in a tea ball. Simmer them with the vinegar and sugar for 15 minutes.
3. Simmer the pumpkin cubes in this syrup for 3 minutes. Set aside for 24 hours.
4. Start water boiling in a canner. Heat the pumpkin/syrup mix and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the spices and pack into 7 ½-pint jars, leaving ½-inch headspace.
5. Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes, counting from when the water returns to a full boil.
This novel recipe is great for gift-giving. Baked in a canning jar, this bread "will last forever," if the seal isnt broken, she writes.
2. Cream together the shortening and sugar.
3. Beat in the eggs, pumpkin and water.
4. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add to the pumpkin mixture, along with the nuts, if desired
5. Pour the batter into clean, greased canning jars, filling them half full. Bake in jars without lids for about 25 minutes, or until the bread rises and pulls away from the sides of the jars.
6. When the bread is done, remove 1 jar at a time from the oven, clean its rim, and firmly screw on a 2-piece canning lid. Let the jars cool on the counter away from drafts. You can tell each jar has become vacuum-sealed when its dome is sucked downward at the center during cooling. Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place.
This recipe is from the Stonycreek Farm in Noblesville, Indiana, home of a month-long Pumpkin Harvest Festival each October.
3 cups raw
1. Saute the pumpkin in the butter until tender. Remove to a serving dish.
2. In remaining liquid in pan, combine the eggs, milk, spices, and Swiss cheese. Heat until the cheese melts.
3. Pour the cheese mix over pumpkin. Top with Parmesan.
Copyright 1997 In Season