Singing the praises of pumpkins and seeds

Published 9:34 pm Tuesday, September 29, 2020

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A pumpkin is a gourd is a squash. An orange winter squash to be exact, as opposed to a summer squash such as our yellow straight neck and crooked neck varieties.  And our favorite fall porch ornamentation and pie ingredient has a very historic and proud heritage.

Native Americans grew and harvested pumpkins in the fall and winter for a healthy and hardy diet staple.  Colonists who landed in North America quickly grew to love the large, round fruit with its mild, sweet flavor and velvety smooth texture. They learned to mix the pumpkin with molasses made from the sap of local sugar maple trees for the most scrumptiously rich pies that would eventually become a national favorite, even a Thanksgiving tradition.

Because pumpkins and gourds are ready in late summer into early fall, they became symbols of the changing season, the fall harvest and Halloween.   And I’m celebrating with pumpkins on the front porch and out the front door.  In fact, I had a pumpkin on the porch of this Tennessee house before any of our belongings arrived. We closed on this house on October 4, in 2017, and I placed a pumpkin on the porch that very afternoon from the produce stand down the road. And later Mack and Laura came bearing pumpkins and pizza, so a tradition was born.  DW is now my pumpkin spotter and has gotten quite good at picking them out, the main criteria being a long (very long) stem, some perfect and others not so perfect for a perfect fall display.

But for pie, the smaller sugar pumpkin is the pick. And Mack has already requested that I help him make a pumpkin pie. I’m not sure that our picky eater will even taste it, but he’s more than willing to scoop out the stringy seeds with his hands. I think that’s what he’s most looking forward to. Since he won’t have a class field trip to the pumpkin patch this year, Mack and I will take our own trip to the farmer’s market for our pie pumpkins. Maybe all his cousins would like to join us for pumpkin pie 101, too.

Those seeds are also quite tasty when seasoned and roasted and not to be thrown out, but luckily, you don’t have to scoop out the slimy mess. They are sold salted, roasted or raw. But what a fun October activity. Here’s how:   Cut a pumpkin open. Scoop out the inside pulp with seeds. Place in a colander and rinse under cold running water until only the seeds are left. Blot them dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.  Line a 9-inch pie plate with two layers of paper towels. Sprinkle seeds on towels in a single layer.  Microwave on HIGH 13 – 14 minutes or until seeds are dry but still white. Let stand 5 minutes.  Toss seeds with salt and melted butter.  Or maybe ¼ teaspoon seasoned salt or your favorite herbal or spice blend for gourmet pumpkin seeds.  They can add crunch to soup or salad or taste great right out of your hand. Super treat.

For you lovers of pumpkin spice here’s something for you – pumpkin ice cream.  For 4 servings, soften a pint of good vanilla ice cream, fold in ½ cup canned or pureed pumpkin, 2 tablespoons sugar (or artificial sweetener equivalent) and ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice.  Refreeze.  Scoop into 4 dishes to serve.  Serve with a gingersnap on the side.

Hello fall!

Next up an easy, creamy pot of pumpkin soup: Heat one (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree, one can (14.5oz.) chicken broth, ½ cup water or skim milk and 1 teaspoon mild curry powder in a medium sized saucepan.  Lightly stir with a whisk.  Serve as a first course soup or with a ham & cheese sandwich.  A treat when the days grow shorter and the temperatures fall.

Roasted for a perfect seasonal side.  Cut a fresh pumpkin into cubes; toss with 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil, 2 tablespoons of thawed apple or orange juice concentrate and a dash of nutmeg.  Put on a baking sheet coated with pan spray; roast in a 400º oven for 30 minutes or until tender, stirring once.  Roasting makes pumpkin even sweeter. Turn it into an October celebration with roast pork, greens and peas.

And back to the seeds.  Here’s another reason to eat pepitas right now, one which I cannot fail to tell you… pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc.  And zinc is the mineral of the hour, it appears to help fight the symptoms of COVID-19 and speed up recovery.  So eat up! (And there are more zinc sources: chicken, grass-fed beef, lamb, oysters, crab, lobster, eggs, yogurt, tofu, oatmeal, cashews, chickpeas/garbanzo beans, mushrooms, spinach, and cocoa powder.)

So, praise to the pumpkin! Seeds and all. Stay well out there!