I think I've expressed that I'm enamored with pumpkins. I love carving them, I love eating them, I love watching them spread out over a summer garden and attempt to take over the world. I have opinions on varieties and I've gathered a fair amount of recipes. I'm now going to impart this knowledge to you so current and future generations have this little bit of amassed wisdom, such as it is, at their fingertips.
Halloween brings pumpkins to the masses. Sure, if you have a good grocery store at your disposal you can manage a small sugar pie pumpkin now and again, but how boring?
Around here, if you're looking for a good time in a harvest-on-the-farm sort of way, I recommend the Impossible Acres Pumpkin Patch. They have lots of great carving pumpkins plus hay mazes and a petting zoo with baby everything. Wear shoes you don't mind getting muddy, give a friend a wheelbarrow ride, and come home with more pumpkins than you possibly know what to do with.
But, if you're looking for cooking pumpkins, well, that's another story. I went to Bobby Dazzler's Pumpkin Patch this past Halloween on a field trip with Luke's preschool. Being right on the highway, it lacks the charm of Impossible Acres and I'm sure I drove right past it with my nose up many years running. But, oh, the baking pumpkins. They have dozens of varieties and huge section of the patch set aside just for the pumpkins that are going in the kitchen, not on the porch. You can find Bobby Dazzler’s on 113 around County Road 27 on the west side of the highway.
If you can get your hands on one, try a jarrahdale. Hands down, the best pumpkin I've ever sank my teeth into. They are huge, so full of flesh that they're damn near solid, and not remotely stringy. We had barbecued pumpkin twice, made 4 loaves of pumpkin bread, a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, and pumpkin alfredo pasta, all on one jarrahdale and it was all fantastic.
The grocery stores rarely have anything but sugar pies, which I think are lacking in flavor, often stringy, and thinly fleshed.
I've also had good luck with Blue Ballets, which are technically more of a squash, but you'd never know it by the color or the taste. These probably aren't quite so hot for barbecuing, but great for baking. Shawn saved seeds; they made a debut in our garden this summer. But around Halloween you can get luminas and fairytales pretty readily, which are a pain to carve due to thick flesh but good for cooking.
Here's how it breaks down. If it's smooth and orange, carve a face into it and set it outside to scare the kids. If it's green, white, or mottled, take it to the kitchen. If it has serious ribs, slice that sucker up and put it on the grill.
All About Pumpkins has a pretty good listing of pumpkin varieties with their various strengths. I wish they had more pictures, but it's the best source I've found.
Cooking with Pumpkins
When you get into cooking pumpkins, most recipes are going to call for it grated, cubed, or canned. It you're going to cube or grate, first cut the pumpkin in half and clean out the guts, then slice it into reasonably easy-to-handle wedges and take a potato peeler to the outside. If you're going to be grating more than just a little, a food processor is your friend.
If a recipe calls for canned pumpkin, it really just means cooked, mushed pumpkin, and that's something you can do yourself.
How to Bake a Pumpkin
To bake a pumpkin for the purpose of harvesting pumpkin mush, grab a pumpkin, give it a quick wash, cut it in half from top to bottom, and scoop out the seeds and goop. (Save the seeds for planting or cooking if you like – waste not, want not.) Rub the inside and cut edges of the pumpkin with a little bit of vegetable oil, put your pumpkin halves cut-side down in a baking dish or on a cookie sheet with a bit of a lip on it. (There's some fluid involved in pumpkin cooking.) Throw it in the oven at 350º and leave it in there until the pumpkin dents very easily when you touch it through the skin. You want that inner flesh to peal away from the skin very easily. How long this will actually take varies based on size of pumpkin and thickness of flesh, but count on a hour at least.
Let the pumpkin cool. Then scoop the flesh out of the skin and put it in a colander. Set the colander in a dish. Put a plate on top of the pumpkin goo. Put something extremely heavy on top of the plate. Let it sit there for an hour or so until all the extraneous water has oozed out. Voila. Now freeze it or cook with it. Your call.
So you’ve got all this pumpkin around. What the heck do you do with it?
I did a lot of searching about for information on recipe copyright before I got into this. I had heard from an unofficial source that recipes aren't copyrighted at all. Not exactly true according to the U.S. Copyright Office, and I expect they would know. Here’s the deal. A list of ingredients is not copyrightable but a series of written instructions pertaining to the ingredients can be, and I have no wish to plagiarize folks who taught me how to eat yummy squash. So, below, I’m going to give you my recipes when they are mine to give, link out to recipes on free sites when possible, and link out to source books if that’s my only option.
You can also throw cut up pumpkin into just about anything you would use other winter squash for. Pasta for example, or Shawn puts it in with his wicked good Thai Curry bowls when it’s laying about.
All these recipes are tried and true and I have all the book/magazine sources in hardcopy in my kitchen so if I know you, I’ll lend you the necessary recipe, otherwise go to the library. It’s this really neat place that lets you read books for free.
And for my own selfish interests, I’m still on the hunt for the perfect pumpkin scones recipe. I’ve tried half a dozen and still haven’t found any that fit the bill. If you have one, please for the love of god, post a comment. I’m also trying pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin butter this year.
Pumpkin Alfredo Pasta
I got this idea from my dance teacher, Cara. I’m guessing she doesn’t care if I extend her recipe sharing outside the walls of the Intermediate II ballet class. Mix cooked pumpkin mush with alfredo sauce (canned or homemade, your call) in a 1:1 ratio and pour it over cooked fettucine. I like to sprinkle fresh ground nutmeg on top. Quickly, easy, festive, fattening. What more could you ask for?
Inspired by Harry Potter, I set out to make something like pumpkin juice and this is what I came up with. In a blender mix 4 c. milk, 1/2 c. mashed cooked pumpkin goop, 1/4 c. honey, and 1 t. pumpkin pie spice (1 part all spice, 1 part cloves, 2 parts nutmeg, 4 parts ginger, 4 parts cinnamon). Serve cold. If you want, you can ditch most the milk in favor of vanilla ice cream and have yourself a smoothie.
Take a nice lumpy pumpkin and cut it into wedges along those convenient ribs from top to bottom. Brush it with olive oil, rosemary, and a little salt and pepper. Now pretend it’s a steak and throw it on the bbq. When it’s tender enough to cut through easily, pull it off and eat it.
Pumpkin Ginger Biscuits
My Aunt Diane gave me The Pumpkin Cookbook for Christmas a few years back and this recipe comes from there. In the cookbook, they’re called “Pumpkin Scones.” They’re not scones; they’re biscuits. Very good biscuits, but definitely biscuits. Highly recommended. Don’t try the pumpkin halloween cookies out of this book though. Yuck.
Tuscan Pumpkin Soup
This is another good one from The Pumpkin Cookbook. The pumpkin crisps you sprinkle on top are not optional. You have to try these things.
Farmer John's Pumpkin Bread
I found this one in Sunset originally, but you can find it at MyRecipes.com. Trust me and go with the walnuts, not the pecans. On cold winter mornings, put a fat slice of this bread in the toaster oven and then slather it in butter and serve with hot chocolate. Mmmm....
Pumpkin Chocolate Marble Cake
Once upon a time a bunch of us went up to Chezza’s family cabin in Truckee and while we were there the guys got it into their heads to bake. We found this recipe in a Sunset laying around the living room and the cake that came forth lives fondly in the memories of all involved. Also freely available on MyRecipes.com. You can ditch the chocolate glaze and go with the simpler topping of a generous dusting of powdered sugar if you’re in a rush.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
This I got from Ania. Her version has 1/2 cup of sliced almonds instead of the walnuts. That’s just me. I put walnuts in everything. I don’t apologize for myself. It’s the way I was raised.
1 2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice*
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 large eggs
15 oz cooked pumpkin mush
½ cup melted butter
1 cup choc chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
Mix the dry powdery stuff in one bowl, and the wet stuff in another. Add nuts and chips to the wet stuff and pour the whole thing over the dry ingredients and fold in with a spatula until just moistened. Bake in greased cupcake tins at 350º for 20-25 minutes for regular sized cupcakes or more like 35 if you’re using the really big ones (my preference).
*Once again, 1 T. pumpkin pie spice = 1 t. cinnamon, 1 t. ginger, 1/2 t. nutmeg, 1/4 t. cloves, 1/4 t. all spice - all ground of course; use your head.