I probably should have done this story just before Halloween, but I had other fish to fry.
I love riding through the agricultural areas of our county at this time of year, because some of my favorites are ripening and the fields make me so happy to be here. At Halloween there are pumpkin patches all over the place and piles of pumpkin and squash out in front of the grocery stores. Now, I know I can get many varieties of squash all year round thanks to the miracles of greenhouses and high-speed transportation, but autumn is particularly bountiful.
Pumpkins, of course, aren’t just for piling around in decorative displays on your front porch with leftover corn stalks, nor are they just for carving. (Carved pumpkins shouldn’t be eaten after Halloween is over, primarily because the candles leave the insides all smokey and the pumpkins often start to get a little fuzzy around the edges.) And the best pumpkins for carving aren’t necessarily the best ones for eating. But the stores are still full of beautiful specimens of some unique varieties and I’m here to tell you to pick up a few and try them, especially if you’re a fan of squash.
Here are some of the best eating varieties of pumpkin:
Kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, has green skin but is orange inside. It’s usually really sweet, and can be eaten just by steaming it and adding some butter. I used to find it in my vegetable tempura when I went to Charlie Tanaka’s at Cedar Tree Plaza (no relation to our newspaper!) in Santa Clara. I don’t even know if Charlie is still there, but he used to do a lot of seasonal vegetables in his tempura. If he was out of kabocha, he’d do sweet potatoes.
Cinderella pumpkins are orange and have a darker orange to red flesh. They’re also sweet and are great for roasting and baking.
Don’t confuse Cinderella with Fairy Tale pumpkins if you’re asking for them by name. They don’t look anything alike, and in fact some folks might think Fairy Tale pumpkins are pretty ugly. They’re more of a tan color and sometimes have blotchy green areas on the skin. But they taste good.
Although the pumpkin probably originated in North America, there’s a variety from Australia that lots of cooks like. It’s called a Jarrahdale, and while it’s shaped like a classic pumpkin, it’s pale green or even pale blue green. Inside, it’s nice and smooth and sweet.
One thing about cooking with pumpkin is that you wind up with a lot of seeds. At the firehouse, we liked to roast them and eat them as snacks, shells and all. Heck, that’s where the flavor is if you do it my way.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Seeds of one pumpkin
2 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Salt to taste
Dash of cayenne or white pepper
Spoon the innards out of the pumpkin and (not the flesh, just the seed part). Separate out the seeds and rinse them, the spread them out of paper towels to dry a bit. Combine the butter and Worcestershire sauce in a sauce pan and melt on low heat (just so you don’t burn it!). Stir in all the pumpkin seeds and keep stirring to get them all coated. Spread the seeds on a baking sheet and roast in a 350F oven for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and all the liquid goes away.
You could substitute a couple of teaspoons of curry powder for the Worcestershire sauce, or maybe some Reno Red (chili powder).
We like pumpkin soup at Fort Jameson. It’s great for warming up your innards after a blustery day. Think about it as the first course for Thanksgiving dinner.
When I get the urge (or I’m just feeling lazy) there’s a brand that I find in the organic food section that comes in a carton. We can just heat it up and add a little pepper and away we go. But sometimes I like to make it from scratch even if it is a pain in the neck. A lot of recipes call for canned pumpkin, which would be just fine, and you can substitute canned pumpkin in my recipe, too. Just be sure you use canned pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix!
4 c. chicken broth
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
2 c. pumpkin, peeled and cooked
1/2 tsp curry powder
2 c half and half
salt and pepper to taste
Saute onions in a butter. Add other ingredients and cook uncovered 15 minutes. Puree in the blender. (I tried leaving some chunks of pumpkin once and Marge Ann wouldn’t eat it.)
Add the half and half and cook another 5 minutes, but don’t boil it or you’ll curdle the milk. Serve hot.
Now, a lot of my recipes have never been written down and sometimes I have to cook something all over again while Madame Editor takes notes. Sometimes I research what other cooks are doing to make sure I’m stating things clearly. While I was poking through a cookbook put out by the canned pumpkin people, I ran across a couple of interesting variations on pumpkin soup. The peanut butter one makes a liar out of me and calls for canned pumpkin pie mix. I’ll be trying the peanut butter one soon, but let me know what you think:
Peanut Butter Pumpkin Soup
4 Tbsp. butter
4 c. canned pumpkin pie mix
2 c. cooked, peeled, pureed sweet potatoes
1 c. peanut butter
black pepper to taste
salt to taste
Chives for garnish
Melt the butter in a soup pot. Stir in the canned pumpkin, sweet potatoes and peanut butter. Add broth, salt and pepper. Stir until smooth and simmer for 20 minutes. Garnish with chives just before serving.
This next variation goes back to cooked pumpkin, but again, you could substitute canned pumpkin and probably get along just fine.
Apple and Pumpkin Soup
2 c. pumpkin, cooked
3 c. chicken broth
3 Tbsp. butter
1 c. half and half
1 med. yellow onion, diced
1 med. apple, peeled and diced
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. salt
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and saute the onion and apple until tender. Stir in the pumpkin, broth and spices.
Remove from the heat and process in the blender until it’s smooth. Return to the saucepan and stir in cream. Heat through, but don’t boil. Serve.
A certain restaurant reviewer we know would choke if she knew I like Fresh Choice, purist that she is, but one of the reasons I do is their winter vegetable dish. They roast it and often it’s served cold, but I think that’s a choice and not that they didn’t pay attention. She’d argue, but we aren’t going to tell her.
Here’s a version I’ve made at home
Winter Vegetables in Balsamic Vinegar
4 red potatoes, cut into 2-inch chunks
3 large carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 large turnips, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks
2 medium onions, quartered
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine the vegetables in a pot. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and pour over the vegetables. Bring to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce the heat and simmer covered until the vegetables are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Watch your liquid so you don’t let it boil away, and add more if you need to.
Another option would be to cook it until it’s nearly done, then spread it out on a baking sheet and roast it.