It’s pumpkin season, and unlike hunting season, you don’t need any special outfit or apparel to bring home the prized pumpkin and you don’t have to go far to get one.
For a real treat, take your children to a pumpkin patch and let them select and pick a pumpkin from a vine.
Pumpkins are everywhere these days and most are purchased to make Jack-O-Lanterns, carved into magnificent faces based on one’s imagination or creativity with a sharp carving knife.
The history of the pumpkin as the iconic symbol for Halloween actually comes from Ireland, where supposedly a man named Jack made a pact with the devil. When he died, because of his unsavory past, he was not given entrance into heaven and because he tricked the devil, he was not allowed to go into hell.
However, Jack was forced to roam the earth with only a piece of coal to light the way. It was said he hollowed out a turnip to carry the coal. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”
In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them in windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits.
The pumpkin is considered a fruit and part of the gourd family.
Pumpkins are low in calories, fat, and sodium and high in fiber. They are good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein, and iron.
Diets rich in carotenes (especially pumpkins) offer protection against cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Pumpkins and pilgrims
Indians introduced pumpkins and squashes to the pilgrims. They were an important food source for those early settlers, as they stored well, which meant they would have a nutritious food source during the winter months.
It is documented that pumpkin was part of the second harvest or Thanksgiving feast. They would hollow out the pumpkin and pour in milk honey and cook it over an open fire.
The early pilgrims were also known to make pumpkin beer. They fermented a combination of persimmons, hops, maple sugar and pumpkin to make this early colonial brew.
In a PBS documentary I saw several years ago, beer drinking was done Sunday after church by everyone and lasted until the opened keg was gone — because once opened they had no way to retain its freshness.
From nuts to pie
Many of us discard the seeds as we throw the stringy pulp away when carving our pumpkins. But the seeds offer nutrition as well, whether with the shell on or off. Plus they are good.
My college roommate, Sarah Wells in Virginia, sends me a bag of spiced roasted pumpkin seeds called pepitas every year. I appreciate the work that’s required to create the delicious nuts.
Alton Brown has a short video on foodnetwork.com about the roasting of pumpkin seeds. It is a simple process.
Once you have extracted the pulp and seeds from the inside of the pumpkin, put that mess into a sink full of water and swish it around. After a few minutes the seeds will rise to the top and you can scoop them out with a mesh strainer.
Spread the seeds on dry paper towels or a lint-free dishtowel. Let them dry several hours or overnight.
However, Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Cook on Food Network offers another idea on drying the seeds after you strain them from the water.
“Allow the seeds to dry several hours or overnight. And beware: they’re quite sticky/slimy, so don’t place them on paper towels. Just leave them on a baking sheet and they’ll be fine.”
Brown roasts his on top of the stove. Heat two teaspoons of olive oil in a fry pan on medium heat and add the seeds. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
Stir the seeds or shake the skillet several times and cook until the seeds turn golden.
Drummond cooks hers directly on the baking sheet where they dried.
With your fingers, toss the seeds with several teaspoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with regular salt.
Place in a 250-degree oven until the seeds are lightly golden; 30 minutes to an hour.
Both then recommend: remove from heat and place the seeds in a bowl lined with paper towels. Once the excess oil has drained off, place the seeds in an airtight container. They should be good for a week or so or stored in the freezer for several months.
Of course, you can start eating them once they are toasted.
The name from Mexico can refer both to the whole roasted pumpkin seed or the tiny kernel inside the seed.
I’ve often wondered how you extract that kernel from inside that white husk.
It seems unless you have hours of time on your hands, this is an endeavor that might drive you crazy. However, there are professional companies that sell them and I highly recommend you just order them.
A great web site is nuts.com and the shelled seeds or pepitas as they call them are only $4.99 a pound with delivery guaranteed in two days. You might also check Whole Food markets.
Recipes abound for pumpkin pies. A pie can be made from raw pumpkin when it has been cut in half, oiled and placed flesh side down for about 40 minutes. But most people seem to prefer using canned pumpkin for its ease.
All recipes have several things in common: an unbaked pie shell, eggs, white or brown sugar, milk, cream or canned milk, and spices, lots of them.
Pumpkin pies are also available now and through the holidays in most bakeries and groceries.
Classic Pumpkin Pie
This recipe has been on the can of Libby’s pumpkin since 1950.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1-teaspoon ground cinnamon
½-teaspoon ground ginger
¼-teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) Libby’s® 100% Pure Pumpkin
1 can (12 fl. oz.) Carnation® Evaporated Milk
1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell
Whipped cream (optional)
Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.
Pour into pie shell.
Bake in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean.
Cool on wire rack for 2 hours.
Chili recipes still needed
I’m still looking for your chili recipes to share with our readers. They can be submitted to me by you, your family or friends.
It doesn’t matter how complex or simple your recipe is; it doesn’t matter what the ingredients are. What does matter is that I hope you will share your recipes.
I would also love to know any history of the recipe — your own creation, your mother’s or just the knowledge that your friends and family call it wonderful. It could also be a recipe you have acquired from somewhere and you think it is the best chili you have ever tasted.
You can email them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or send them in the mail to Chili Recipes, The State Journal, 1216 Wilkinson Blvd., Frankfort, KY 40601. Please include your name and a phone number where I can reach you.
— Kay Harrod