Pumpkins forever

By Lynette Walther | Oct 29, 2019
Photo by: Lynette Walther A Cinderella’s carriage pumpkin will be prepared for use later in pies and baked goods. Even the seeds will be roasted and used for snacks.

The annual ritual pumpkin massacre has begun. Pumpkins have become synonymous with fall and Halloween, and in this country that tradition has its roots in our nation's history. Early settlers discovered Native Americans growing and harvesting pumpkins, and they soon incorporated them into their own diets, using them for soups, stews, breads and desserts.

According to the “Apple Hollar” website: “It is believed that the origin of pumpkin pie is thought to have occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and then filled it with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in the hot ashes of a dying fire.” This and other pies often were considered breakfast fare.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s, however, that Halloween and pumpkins became an American tradition. The event occurs on All Hallow’s Eve and dates back about three thousand years to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow-ain”). Samhain means “Summer’s End” which was celebrated at the end of the harvest season and and treated as such today by those who practice Wicca or other nature-based religions. Bonfires and costumed celebrants were often part of the festivities, no doubt giving birth to many of our Halloween customs today.

For Samhain, glowing jack-o-lanterns were carved from turnips or gourds, and were set on porches and in windows, welcoming deceased loved ones. They also served as protection against evil spirits. The light inside came from burning lumps of coal which later were replaced by candles.

There’s a lot of good in that Halloween Jack o’lantern pumpkin. Those pumpkin seeds you dug out of “Jack” are little nutritional powerhouses. They are high in antioxidants, full of valuable nutrition like magnesium and zinc and Omega-3 fatty acids. These elements can lower blood sugar levels, improve prostate and bladder health, reduce the risk of certain cancers, contain Amino Acid Tryptophan which helps promote sleep and are high in fiber. That’s part of what they can do. So don’t waste them by tossing them in the garbage.

Rinse them well to remove the slimy pumpkin fibers, spread on toweling to dry and roast in a number of ways, especially healthy snacks to help offset all that Halloween candy. Recipes from coconut-pumpkin seeds, to coffee-roasted pumpkin seeds, to cinnamon-sweet pumpkin seeds, to fiery-hot jalapeno pumpkin seeds abound on the internet.

As for the pumpkin itself, if left uncarved it can serve as a baked vessel for a variety of main dishes when stuffed with meat or vegetarian fillings. Here again, recipes abound on the internet. Pumpkin is particularly rich in Vitamin A, Lutein and Zeaxanthin, which helps eyesight and is also rich in vitamins that can boost immunity. Low in calories and dense in nutrients, pumpkin is versatile.

You can also take a pumpkin which has been carved for Halloween, clean it out well, and slice away any sooty areas from a candle flame that was used to illuminate it. Either refrigerate the entire pumpkin to process tomorrow or do that later on Halloween night.

The way I prepare pumpkin to puree for use in pies, soups or baked goods is to cut it up into manageable chunks if it's very large. Or simply slice in half for smaller pumpkins. Place pieces skin side down in a baking dish or pan so that they do not overlap. Bake at 350 degrees until tender when pierced with a cooking fork. This will take 45 minutes or longer for large pumpkins.

Cool pieces in pan and slice off the tough outer skin which can go into the compost pile. Cut large pieces into chunks and feed into a food processor. Process until pureed and pour puree into a strainer placed over a large pot or bowl. The puree will be quite liquid-y because, at this point, the pumpkin still contains a lot of moisture. Stir occasionally to allow more of the liquid to drain. You’ll probably find that the end result will have far more liquid drained out than puree left in the strainer. That’s good. That’s what you want.

Either use the puree then or measure out one-cup amounts and pack in freezer containers or small freezer bags to freeze and use later in recipes.

That famed headless horseman may or may not ride tonight, but his legend has survived centuries. Since the Middle Ages this mythical figure has appeared in folklore around the world. According to the legend, he rides in search of his head, or is he is depicted as carrying his head — often a pumpkin. By using your own head and with a little bit of work you can be enjoying the warmth and color and good nutrition of your pumpkin for weeks to come. Happy Halloween!

Lynette L. Walther is the 2019 GardenComm Gold Award winner for writing, and is a four-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Award of Achievement and the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. Her gardens are in Camden.

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