Today marked the last hurrah for Halloween pumpkins.
Before the garbage man arrived, I stole a few big jack o’ lanterns from atop a neighbour’s green bin to break up and spread in my garden, where they magically break down and vanish over the winter.
Though big pumpkins are too stringy and watery to cook with (except for the seeds!), small pie pumpkins, bred for eating, deserve a second life in your kitchen for dishes sweet and savoury.
Patricia Rodrigues, an administrative co-ordinator with the Toronto Transit Commission, learned to cook with pumpkin and squash while growing up on the exotic island of Zanzibar off Africa’s east coast. Her favourite dish combines pumpkin chunks steamed until tender with sautéd onions, a little salt and green chiles, topped with fresh coconut.
Rodrigues’ latest creation is a pumpkin loaf fragrant with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, which all grow on the island of spice. You may never buy another can of puréed pumpkin.
Kevin Howe, manager of his family’s farm in Aylmer, had just finished harvesting his 25 acres of pie pumpkins when I called, and he was about to ship his last load of tiger-striped Styrian jack o lanterns, which contain edible green seeds without the tough coat.
The Howes have grown pumpkins for more than 40 years, cushioning the crop on a bed of straw from last fall’s rye. Howe said lots of people bought the smaller pie pumpkins for Halloween, giving them two for one.
Though the pie pumpkin’s flavour can be pretty bland compared to squash like butternut or buttercup, it adds moistness to baked goods and absorbs whatever spice you pair with it.
Pumpkin Patch News
Howe says white jack-o-lanterns sold out early, and he was thrilled with his spooky new warted pumpkins, orange with green bumps, which he expects will be even more popular next year. “There’s so much detail,” he says, “it’s as if an artist painted it.”
Buy & Store
- Choose a jack o lantern that stands up on its own with a sturdy “handle.”
- For cooking and/or decorating, choose a small to medium-sized pie pumpkin (labels are helpful) with firm, smooth orange skin that feels heavy for its size.
- Avoid cracks or bruises.
- A 2.5 lb (1 kg) pie pumpkin will give you about 1 ¾ cups (430 mL) purée.
- Store whole pumpkins in a dry place for months.
- Once cut, wrap the flesh in plastic and use within 5 days. Or cook and freeze in airtight containers up to 6 months.
- Wash pumpkin, discard stem and cut in wedges or squares. Cut away seeds and fibres.
- Oven: Roast at 375°F, skin-side up, 1 to 1 ½ hours. Or place in a baking dish with a little water, cover and bake at 325F about 50 minutes, until tender.
- Purée: Remove rind and serve as a vegetable or purée in batches in a blender or food processor. If too watery, drain pulp in a fine sieve. Pack purée or chunks in airtight containers and refrigerate or freeze.
- Boil/Steam:Cut pie pumpkin into large cubes and remove seeds and fibres. Boil in lightly salted water or steam 20 to 30 minutes until tender. Rodriguez steams pumpkin chunks low and slow in a pan with no added water.
- Microwave: Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds and fibre. Peel, then cut flesh into 1 1/2 inch cubes. Cover and microwave in an 8-cup (2 L) casserole on High for 15 to 18 minutes, stirring several times, until tender.
Roasting Pumpkin Seeds
Most pumpkins will contain about 1 cup of seeds. Wash seeds, removing fibres that cling, then spread on baking sheet and let dry overnight on counter. Toss with 2 tsp vegetable oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake at 250F, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours or until golden and crunchy.
- Use fresh, frozen or canned pumpkin purée in pies, muffins, scones, pancakes and breads.
- Try pumpkin cheesecake, crème brulée and ice cream.
- Make pumpkin soup or use purée to thicken any creamy vegetable soup.
- Serve soup or pork-pumpkin stew in the pumpkin shell.
- Make your own pumpkin spice latte.
- Make pumpkin ravioli with sage butter sauce or add cubes to risotto alla zucca.
Patricia Rodrigues used the spices of her homeland for these moist, delicious loaves, with their spark of fresh ginger.
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 ¾ cups cooked pie pumpkin or canned pumpkin purée
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted (20-30 seconds in microwave)
4 tsp milk mixed with 1 tsp white vinegar
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp grated fresh nutmeg
3 large eggs
Preheat oven to 375F.
Grease and flour two 8×4 or 9×5-inch loaf pans, shaking out excess flour.
In a small bowl, sift or stir together flour, baking powder, soda and salt.
With electric mixer on medium speed, beat cooked pumpkin in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Add white and brown sugar, melted butter, sour milk, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Beat in eggs one at a time until smooth.
Add flour mixture in three batches, folding in quickly and lightly with a spatula.
Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, until tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool on rack.
Makes 2 loaves. Freezes well.