Grown almost exclusively for sculpting into eerily glowing doorstep greetings for Halloween trick-or-treaters, pumpkins are now available at a number of Ventura County roadside stands and patches.
Pumpkins--a type of squash--weren't always relegated to their present role of ghostly jack-o'-lanterns. They were a dietary mainstay for American Indians and for Pilgrims, said Dewayne Boccali, owner of Boccali Ranch in Santa Paula.
"These groups depended on pumpkins because once harvested they last all winter--perfect since there was no refrigeration," he said.
The vine-grown fruit was used in everything from soups and stews to bread and candy.
Depending on the variety, pumpkins range in size from the minuscule three-inch Jack-Be-Little to those that can weigh in at more than 600 pounds.
"Some are best just for carving or decoration and others--like the Sugar Pie variety--are best to use in recipes because they're more flavorful," Boccali said.
"At our patch, we have six different varieties we keep in separate groups, so when people ask for one to use for cooking we can point it out."
However, few pumpkins are purchased with a favorite recipe in mind.
"They're here for the kids," Boccali said. "They love choosing the pumpkin which will be carved into a jack-o'-lantern--it really excites them."
Want some pumpkins on hand for the holidays?
"Better get them before the 31st," Boccali said, "because the patch is wiped out by then."
The end of October is pumpkin deadline because Halloween provides growers the only window of opportunity for selling their harvest.
"That's not a problem if you want pumpkins though," Boccali said. "Just buy what you expect to use and keep them in a fairly cool place--they'll last for months."
Pumpkins at Boccali Ranch are priced by size. "According to size, they go anywhere from 50 cents to $10," he said.
Boccali Ranch is at 11675 Ojai Santa Paula Road in the Ojai Valley, eight miles out of Santa Paula. Call 647-3300.
LOCALLY GROWN PRODUCE AND SEAFOOD
* Brandon King Seafood--Halibut, local spot prawns caught from the Channel Islands and Pacific lobster. Call 984-5826. 3920 W. Channel Islands Blvd., Oxnard.
* Carson Farm Supply--Valencia oranges are fresh picked this week. Call 646-3617. 111 Topa Topa Street, Ojai.
* Old Creek Ranch & Winery-Offering Red Delicious apples through the end of October. Call 649-4132. 10024 Old Creek Road, Oak View.
SERVING SUGGESTION PUMPKIN GNOCCHI
The brightly hued orange and yellow pumpkins not only add color to autumn decorating schemes but are also a rich source of fiber and Vitamin A. They bring a pleasant sweetness to many recipes--and not just pies. We'd like to suggest this recipe for Pumpkin Gnocchi, which first ran in The Times last year.
1 (2-pound) pumpkin
3 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cut pumpkin in half lengthwise, scoop out stringy pulp and seeds, then cut pumpkin into quarters. Fill deep baking dish 1/3 with water. Place quartered pumpkin in dish, shell side down.
Cover dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to one hour or until fork pierces pumpkin flesh easily. Remove pumpkin from baking dish and allow to cool.
Spoon pumpkin out of shell and into large mixing bowl. Mash with fork until consistency of mashed potatoes.
Measure 2 cups pumpkin pulp and place in bowl. Add flour 1/2 cup at time, mashing to blend with pumpkin, until dough forms that can be handled.
Take golf-ball-sized piece of dough in hands and roll into log shape, about 2 1/2 inches long. Cut in half and press lightly in center of each to make indentation. Place on lightly floured wax paper. Continue until all dough is used.
Bring large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add gnocchi several at a time. As soon as gnocchi rise to surface, remove with slotted spoon, allowing water to drain well. Place in warm, covered serving dish. Continue until all gnocchi have been boiled. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar into melted butter. Toss gnocchi with melted butter, then toss again with Parmesan cheese to taste. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Tip: Uncooked gnocchi may be refrigerated overnight. Boil and butter just before serving.