Monday, September 22, 2008

Fall, Pumpkins and Such

I love fall. It’ s got to be my favorite season – until spring.

With the economy falling, and mortgages failing we need to focus on wonderful things “fall-ing”, as in the gerund of conjugating a verb. Think about delightful things such as a gosling or a duckling. And thus, pumpkins are a “fall-ing.” (Never mind, by now with my blogs you know I like words :))

Pumpkins and acorns and oak leaves and hay bales and corn stalks and … you’d never know I grew up a city girl would you?

In today’s blog we are going to look forward to enjoying pumpkins.

Of course, for many, the first image that comes to mind is a jack-o-lantern, but I’m here to tell you pumpkins are a whole lot more than “just” jack-o-lanterns.

Have you tried pumpkin as a regular squash or vegetable? If not, you are in for a delicious surprise. Forget the traditional pie spices for some different tastes. The pumpkin prepared as a squash has a mild, sweet meat. Simply slice it and bake as you would banana squash, dotting it with butter (lots), and sprinkle with nutmeg and/or cinnamon. For a sweet side dish you can cube it and bake as candied yams, with or without the marshmallows. Or simply cube and microwave or steam as a buttered vegetable. It can be cubed and used as an ingredient in casseroles, skillet dishes and soups.

You can also cook it, puree it and use it for a variety of bread, baked goods, and of course THE PIE. It freezes easily in two-cup batches ready to pop into any recipe.

It is very easy to prepare, or get ready to prepare. Cut it in chunks. Scrape off the seeds and pulp. Dip it into boiling water, as you would to blanch it, for just a minute or two, and the skin comes right off.

It really is a winter squash. Buy it when in season. Store several on a shelf in a cool closet, or basement, if you have one. If kept cool, they will keep for several months. The skin just gets harder. If kept on the same shelf as green winter squash, the green squash will turn orange. It doesn’t affect the flavor though.

It is more economical to buy several small ones for eating, than very large ones. Once they have been cut, they need to be used soon. They will keep refrigerated for several days to a week. Or you can blanch and freeze them to use later.

If you want to use a jack-o-lantern, use it as soon as possible after Halloween. Use it while it still resembles a pumpkin inside, not a black, furry creature with gray fuzz, or homegrown penicillin. Simply wash the inside very well. Scrub or cut away any burned or blackened areas. The candle wax should just peel off. Rinse well and prepare whatever recipe you have planned.

Remember the seeds can be roasted or toasted and eaten as a snack. The biggest chore will be separating them from the pulp. Some times it’s easier to allow the pulp to air-dry and then separate out the seeds. You can dry roast or use oil. They do burn quickly, so watch them and stir often.

Pumpkin can be interchanged in any recipe that calls for squash. It adds color and good food value. The only problem is that it is available fresh for such a short time.

White or Orange – you choose. The white kind has a milder flavor than the typical orange ones. The little pie pumpkins are usually more expensive; yet taste similar to their big brothers.

You can always hollow out a pumpkin to use for a soup tureen. Or you can hollow one out and bake it with the soup in it. You must serve it on a large platter. As you scoop out the soup or stew, scoop out chunks of the pumpkin from the sides as part of your meal.

Picking out pumpkins is as traditional as picking out the Christmas tree in our family. Even if you use fake ones to decorate with, it is still mandatory to stroll through the pumpkin patches and pumpkin piles at the stores. After all you have to heft and hug, check out the stems, and find the bumpiest, ugliest or prettiest. Now this year, thanks to Barbara, there will be even more pumpkins you have to heft. You will be checking for freshness and deciding how many meals there are in one or two -or three. You can draw faces on the ones you are going to keep on the closet shelf. Then at night, after Halloween, when you think all should be quiet, you will hear giggling, and “tee-heeing.” Your pumpkins with faces will be “fall-ing” off the shelf, thumping and bumping as they snicker with glee, to be in the dark in your closet!

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