For most of us, fresh pumpkins are little more than the stuff jack-o'-lanterns are made of. However, the Connecticut field pumpkin--as well as the Big Max and Lady Godiva varieties of this member of the squash family--can wear many other faces.
Today's pumpkins run the full gamut--from minis weighing only a few ounces to the gigantic Big Max that can tip the scale at anywhere from 50 to 125 pounds. Between these extremes are the more traditional-looking sugar and Connecticut field pumpkins (called by a variety of names by different seed companies), along with the more unusual yellow-hued Lady Godiva and white varieties.
According to Jan DeLyser, executive vice president of the Fresh Produce Council, a locally based trade group, this year's pumpkins "may be a little higher priced than usual. The warm weather that hit California in early October brought the crop on too fast, and some of the pumpkins (about 25%)
are not expected to last until Halloween. While regular-sized pumpkins may become scarce as Halloween approaches, there should be an ample supply of mini-pumpkins."
For most of us, the jack-o'-lanterns we carve for that holiday are the sole way we use fresh pumpkins. However, this member of the squash family can wear many other faces. Scoop out the seeds and stringy portion and mini pumpkins become individual soup bowls. Larger pumpkins may double as
tureens for soups or become the cooking vessel for a stew. Chunks of pumpkin can enhance a soup or be cooked to make a spicy butter to spread on cinnamon bread or pancakes.
Most sources we checked claim smaller pumpkins provide the best-tasting pulp, but Linda Ayers of Ayers Pumpkin Patch in Santa Paula says that the meat of Big Max pumpkins also has a good flavor.
She believes most people choose smaller pumpkins because they can't use the huge amount of pulp larger ones yield. Prompted by Ayers' comments on the sweetness of white-pumpkin meat, The Times Test Kitchen taste-tested pumpkins with white and orange rinds. Although flavors were very similar, meat from the white variety was more orange in color, sweeter in flavor and smoother in texture.
Pumpkins, probably native to Central America, were already being widely grown by North American Indians when the first European colonists arrived. Settlers learned from the Indians to boil and bake pumpkin, as well as how to dry and grind it into meal for breads and puddings.
According to "The Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery" (Fawcett Publications: 1966, 1967), "The first New England pumpkin pie was made by cutting a slice from the top of the pumpkin, taking out the seeds and filling the cavity with milk and spices. Maple syrup or some natural sweetener was added and the whole was baked."
The flaky-crusted pies that have become a staple of our modern Thanksgiving feast developed later, as did canned pumpkin, now so readily available and convenient that most cooks opt to use it rather than making puree from an actual pumpkin.
Basic directions for cooking pumpkin and roasting the seeds are included along with today's recipes. Fresh or canned pumpkin may be used where pureed pumpkin is listed as an ingredient.
Stain glass by Envel Design Food Styling by Minnie Bernardino and Donna Deane
BASIC PUMPKIN PREPARATION:
To boil: Halve pumpkin, remove seeds and stringy portion. Cut pumpkin into small pieces, then peel. Cook, covered, in small amount of boiling, salted water 25 to 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and mash or force through food mill. Place pumpkin in strainer and let drain 30 minutes to remove excess liquid.
To steam: Halve pumpkin, remove seeds and stringy portion. Cut into small pieces and peel. Place in vegetable steamer, large strainer or colander. Place over boiling water, cover tightly and steam 50 minutes or until until tender. Mash or force through food mill.
To bake: Halve pumpkin, remove seeds and stringy portion. Cut into 2-inch pieces and peel. Place in shallow baking dish and brush generously with melted butter or margarine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees 45 minutes or until tender, brushing several times with melted butter.
ARGENTINE STEW IN PUMPKIN SHELL
2 pounds beef stew meat, cut in 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons oil
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
3 white potatoes, peeled and diced
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups beef broth
1 medium pumpkin (about 6 pounds)
Butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup dry Sherry
1 (1-pound) can whole kernel corn, drained
Trim any excess fat from beef and saute with onion and garlic in oil until meat is browned. Add tomatoes, green pepper, 1 tablespoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, sugar, white potatoes, sweet potatoes and broth. Cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours.