A few years ago, my mother gave me a recipe for a pumpkin dessert–pumpkin ice cream, I think–and I remember being amused that it started out with directions on how to cook the pumpkin. I mentally classed this activity as being among those things only earnest Martha Stewart-types attempted, like making hand-embroidered gift tags or mining your own salt.
We had a stunningly unsuccessful squash crop in the garden this year. A couple of years ago, we had about 36 pumpkins, and lots of zucchini and spaghetti squash. Last year, the entire crop died in the space of about two weeks from powdery mildew. This year, though I saw lots of blossoms, we got exactly two zucchini and three small pumpkins. Oh, and we had two spaghetti squash, which Gene ran over with the lawn tractor. Oops.
We bought 5 enormous pumpkins at a farm stand down in Allegany County, on our way home from Friendship. The girls carved two, and I roasted some very tasty pumpkin seeds. The other pumpkins sat there, looking at me accusingly whenever I went through the door, so yesterday, I finally decided to try cooking one of the little ones. First, though, I had to figure out what to do with this mysterious vegetable. When we carve pumpkins for Halloween, the taste treat I anticipate is the seeds, roasted and seasoned, not the pumpkin itself. I can figure this out, I thought, after all, I am an information professional! I went in search of reference material.
The first cookbook I went to told me to “treat a pumpkin like a winter squash.” This was singularly unhelpful, as my experience of winter squash involves eating what my daughter turns into pie, and what other people serve me at Thanksgiving. This type of squash apparently grows in 15-ounce cans or rectangular 10-ounce boxes. I tried two more cookbooks, which told me how to make pumpkin bread (from canned pumpkin) and how to make pumpkin soup (“puree some cooked pumpkin.”)
I headed to the laptop and the Web, where the mystery was solved. It turned out to be very simple. The cooked pumpkin was a lovely yellow-orange color, lighter than canned pumpkin, and made divinely moist pumpkin bread. (Mary: “Gee, Mama, look–one of the loaves didn’t come out of the pan very neatly. There’s a chunk out of the bottom. WHAT a pity! We’ll have to eat it.” Rachel: “Yeah, what a shame.”) I remember that Mma Ramotswe, in the series by Alexander McCall Smith, likes to cook pumpkin for her family. I wonder how ladies in Botswana prepare pumpkin?
Cooking a pumpkin: Wash the pumpkin. Cut off the top, scoop out the guts (save the seeds for roasting,) and hack the pumpkin into pieces about the size of your hand. Put them in a baking pan, and pour in about 3 cups of water. Cover with lid, or failing that, aluminum foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the pumpkin is tender enough to be easily piered by a fork. Carefully take it out of the oven (the water will be boiling!) When it’s cool enough to handle, scoop the pumpkin flesh out of the tough skin. Then you can mash it up or puree it, and–holy cow–you can use it just like canned pumpkin!!!!
Next: mining my own salt.