I love October. You have the end of the summer’s harvest and the first of the winter vegetables all at the same time. But even amidst all this plenty, October would not be October without Pumpkins.
I am not talking Jack o’Lanterns. While I am not against these haunted decorations per se, when I see them sprouting up in advance of Halloween, I shake my head, wondering why someone took one of the earth’s brightest bon-bons, turned it into a monster and set in on the stoop to rot. Pumpkin is far too yummy for decoration!
I’ll admit my October Pumpkin Project Tradition started with salvaging seeds from such candlelit carvings. Today, it has expanded to a half-day event that hordes every last spoonful of orange flesh and then freezes it away to be savored for at least the next three months.
Here’s the only rule to Pumpkin Project Day: Make too much. It is a true “project”, and if you are going to do it, you might as well get as much return on your effort as possible.
Besides, there is so much you can do with pumpkin! In addition to make puree for pie, bread, pancakes, soup and reduced into a side dish, I freeze raw pumpkin in thin slices (for sautéing, scalloping or layered dish-ing) and bite-size chunks (for roasting, curry-ing and frying).
And, of course, I still gotta roast the seeds.
To get started, pick out some pumpkins. In general, “sugar” or “pie” pumpkins are better for dessert preparations while conventional varieties such as Howden or Magic Lantern are better for more savory dishes. But don’t fret about the type; you can’t really go wrong when it comes to pumpkin.
Then cut them into halves or quarters depending on the size. No one tells you how hard this is. I usually have to place the chopping block on the floor and go at with my full weight. I dream of investing in a hatchet those mornings, but it would be a uni-tasker in our kitchen and Pumpkin Project Day only comes once a year.
Once you have them open, scrape out the seed and stringy bits of flesh. Reserve the seeds in a big bowl of water, to start their cleaning process. Also reserve a few raw pieces of pumpkin for chunking. Place the rest of the pumpkin pieces in a large pan, such as the one you will use for turkey next month and roast and 400 degrees for about an hour, or until very tender.
When cooled, scrape the pumpkin “meat” out and puree. Freeze or use immediately in place of “canned pumpkin” in any of your favorite recipes. I also like to serve pumpkin puree as a side dish, hot with a bit of butter.
With the reserved raw pumpkin, use a peeler to take of the tough outside. And then cut into bite-size chunks. You can roast or add to stews and curries the way you would with potatoes.
With the seeds, work them free of the orange string bits in the bowl of water. (They can be allowed to soak overnight, if need be.) Pat dry and spread them out in a single layer on oiled cookie sheets. Stirring occasionally, roast at 300 until dry and crisp, about 20-30 minutes. Salt and snack.
picture by Dmitry Skalev