Halloween is almost past, as is its quintessential symbol, the Jack-o-lantern. On November 1st, the sun will rise on streets filled with shattered pumpkins. More of the now-useless decorations festoon garbage cans in neighborhoods across the nation. For one brief night, or at best a week, the Jack-o-lantern holds court, then is quickly cast aside.
This is sad. Pumpkins are an important food source, and a pumpkin carved into a Jack-o-lantern is the first of many possible uses. As its bright orange color indicates, pumpkin is an excellent source of the antioxidant beta-carotene, as well as vitamin A, potassium, and dietary fiber.
The traditional scene, either on Halloween night or a few nights prior to it, is the family gathered in the kitchen. Dad and the kids are at the table, or squatting on the floor, carving pumpkins into Jack-o-lanterns while Mom makes a pumpkin pie from canned pumpkin! Should any of the children think to ask why she doesn’t make the pies from their extra pieces, she might tell them that pies must be made from pie pumpkins, not Jack-o-lantern pumpkins.
It’s true, modern agriculture has developed specialized pumpkins, some with thicker, meatier shells and sweeter flesh, others large and thin-shelled, perfect for hollowing out and carving into decorations. Our experience has proven, however, that a perfectly good pie can be made from a pumpkin bred for other purposes—as can soup, bread, fritters, and many, many other dishes.
We start with the seeds. Many people will go at least this far: sorting out and setting the seeds aside from the “guts” of the pumpkin. Rinse the seeds in water, put them in a frying pan with a pat of butter, and sprinkle on spices—we like chili and garlic powder, sometimes we use curry, or plain salt—it’s up to you. Sauté the seeds for about 10 minutes, then spread them on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven at 400° until lightly toasted. Make sure they’re crisp so that the hulls will crunch up nicely. If the hulls are still pliable, chewing the seeds becomes a chore, lessening the pleasure of the snack. Some people peel their seeds, but we find that tedious, and we like the added fiber from the hulls.
Last year, after removing the stringy insides of the pumpkins, we noticed that after scraping the shell’s inside smooth, the scrapings looked like grated pumpkin. This looked too tasty to compost, so Michelle whipped up a light pancake batter, added the pumpkin, and we had pumpkin fritters for dinner that night.
There’s always pie. We haven’t made a pie from cans in years. Some people don’t like the unprocessed pumpkin, but we find that a quick run through the blender after steaming makes it just as smooth as canned, minus any chemical emulsifiers or whatever else that might be added to the commercial product.
As much as we dearly love pie, there are other rivals for our affection. Pumpkin soup, particularly curried, is a family favorite. We have a copy of a soup recipe that supposedly belonged to Martha Washington, which calls for the soup to be made in and served from a hollowed-out pumpkin. We haven’t gotten around to trying it yet, but it stirs the imagination! My mother always made pumpkin bread, which is even better with fresh pumpkin in place of canned. We also love it baked like other squash, in big slabs, then slathered with butter. It’s a side dish worthy of any turkey, come Thanksgiving or Christmas. Haines grocers don’t throw out old pumpkins on November 1st, but sell them at a deep discount. A pumpkin kept whole in a dry, cool, dark room can keep for many, many months. This is how we keep the pumpkins we grow, as well.
You may already know that you can replace about half the oil a baked goods recipe calls for with applesauce. Many recipes use oil as a moistener, and applesauce works just as well without adding any fats. Pureed pumpkin works the same, as Michelle proved with an excellent batch of gingerbread one Halloween night. It provided moisture, but didn’t impart any pumpkin flavor to the gingerbread.
We’ve become so fond of foods made with fresh pumpkin that sometimes we seem more interested in eating them than carving them. Ours don’t linger after Halloween to grow fuzzy with mold. The next day they’re butchered, peeled, chunked and steamed. After that they’re canned or, when we lived on the grid, pureed and bagged in ziplocks, then stacked like orange bricks in the chest freezer. Some years we put by so much pumpkin that there was a pre-holiday push to use up last year’s supply before the next ones arrived.
So don’t toss your pumpkins! Instead, maximize their value as food in a variety of delicious ways.