Posts

Let’s Celebrate Pumpkins! 2019 Year of the Pumpkin

by Heather Stone

Fall orange pumpkins sitting on straw.

photo courtesy of Pexels – 160662

When you hear the word pumpkin what comes to mind first? Is it autumn, Halloween, jack-o-lanterns, pumpkin pie or pumpkin spice latte perhaps. There are so many things to love about pumpkins. They are fun to grow and fun to eat. This year the National Garden Bureau named 2019 The Year of the Pumpkin, so let’s celebrate the pumpkin. https://ngb.org/year-of-the-Pumpkin/

Pumpkins are part of the Cucurbitaceae family along with squash, cucumbers and melons. There are a wide selection of pumpkin varieties ranging in size from as little as 4 oz to some weighing over several thousand pounds. Just this past fall a New Hampshire man grew the largest pumpkin on record weighing in at 2,528 lbs. Now, that would make a lot of pumpkin pie.

Pumpkins are easy to grow. They can be started indoors or directly sown into warm (70 degrees), rich, fertile soil when all danger of frost has passed. Sow the seed into “hills” of 4-6 seeds and thin to the 2 strongest plants per hill. Make sure to give your pumpkins plenty of room to grow to get the best fruit. Depending on the variety you are growing, pumpkins need anywhere from 12 sq.ft. to 48 sq.ft. of growing space. Water your pumpkin seedlings regularly and fertilize throughout the growing season. When it comes time to harvest make sure to cut the pumpkins from the vine when the skin is hard and leave a 3” piece of the stem attached to decrease the chances of decay.

Photo of a jar of pumpkin soup on a green placemat with wooden spoon.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay -congerdesign

 

Pumpkins aren’t just fun to grow. They are fun to eat too! We use pumpkins to make soups, breads and pies. We put pumpkin in smoothies, yogurt and even pancakes. Check out some of these great pumpkin recipes. But the flesh of the pumpkin isn’t the only tasty part. Roasted pumpkin seeds make a great snack too. Pumpkin flesh is rich in vitamin A, potassium and beta carotene. The seeds are a good source of protein and are rich in minerals such as manganese, phosphorous, magnesium and zinc. Not all pumpkins are created equal. There are pumpkins for carving and decorating and there are pumpkins for eating.  Look for pie pumpkins and cooking pumpkins for the best taste. Two of my favorites are Cinderella and Long Island Cheese, but there are countless choices.

So what kind of pumpkin will you grow this year?

 

 

The History of the Jack-O-Lantern

A scary faced jack-o-lantern.

photo courtesy of pixabay

 

by Heather Stone

As the last days of October approach pumpkins carved in an array of faces and lit from within by candles dress porches, stoops, windows and walkways. The jack-o-lantern as we know it is a true American icon of Halloween, but where and how did this tradition begin?

There are several theories on the origin of the jack-o-lantern. In 17th century Britain, an unknown man or night watchman carrying a lantern was referred to as “Jack of the lantern.”

During the same century in Ireland the “lanterns of Jack” were one of many names to describe the strange phenomenon of lights seen flickering over the peat bogs. These lights are known by many names including the “will o’ the wisps.”

Scooping out the innards of a jack-o-lantern.

photo courtesy of pixabay

My favorite theory is based on an old Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack who tricked the Devil. The legend of “Stingy Jack” has many forms. Here is one.

Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him, but Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin (the Devil being able to take one any form) that Jack could use to buy their drinks. After the Devil turned himself into a coin, Jack decided to keep the money placing it in his pocket. Inside his pocket lay a silver cross preventing the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack agreed to free the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years. Eventually, Jack died and legend has it that God would not allow him into heaven and the Devil angry from being tricked didn’t want Jack either. The Devil is said to have sent Jack off into the night with only a burning ember to guide his way. Jack but this ember into a carved out turnip and roams the earth to this day.

 

In Ireland, folks began carving faces into turnips to ward off Stingy Jack and evil spirits on All Hallow’s Eve. Beets were used in England. This tradition likely came to America with immigrants from these countries. The pumpkin being plentiful here and easy to carve became today’s jack-o-lantern.

Read more about the Queen of Halloween.

 

FALL IN LOVE WITH PUMPKINS

By Engrid Winslow

Halloween scarecrow with pumpkins at his feet.

A happy Scarecrow with BBB Seed Pumpkins…Fall is in the air!

Yep, we can tell we are here in fall because THE place to be on the weekends is in the pumpkin patch! Here are a few of my favorite pumpkin recipes and a link to one for our furry companions who love to romp in falling leaves and go on walks with us in the crisp fall air!

This recipe makes a delicious combination of fall flavors into a creamy “butter” (which contains zero butter and is very low in sugar) which is delicious on toast, biscuits, and scones or packaged into a gift basket for friends and neighbors during the Holiday Season. The best pumpkins for making a butter or pie are the small sweet ones like Sugar Pie or Cinderella.

PUMPKIN APPLE BUTTER

Makes about 4 ½ cups but can be doubled or tripled if you want more to share with friends and family

2 cups unsweetened applesauce (canned or homemade)

2 cups pureed pumpkin (canned or homemade – not pumpkin pie filling)

¼ cup apple cider

1/3 cup light brown sugar

3 TBL honey

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

¾ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp sea salt

½ tsp grated fresh nutmeg

Heavy pinch of ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often to make sure that sauce doesn’t scorch and sides of saucepan stay clean until mixture is reduced by at least one third. It should also darken in color to a caramel brown with an orange tinge. Process using water bath canning, which will keep for about 6 months [www.freshpreserving.com/canning-101-getting-started.html] or place in refrigerator to use within 2 months or freeze for up to 12 months.

 

PUMPKIN BOLOGNESE

Serves at least 4

When you replace tomato with pumpkin you create a delicious and meltingly mellow version of traditional Italian Bolognese. Use lots of black pepper to temper the richness of this sauce.

2 lbs pumpkin, unpeeled and cut into large wedges with seeds scraped out

Brush the pumpkins with olive oil and place on a foil lined sheet pan to roast at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes.  Let cool and then scrape flesh into a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and cook down at medium heat, stirring often until pumpkin has reduced and is the thickness of tomato paste. This step will take about 20 minutes.

In a large Dutch oven heat 3 Tbl olive oil and add ½ lb ground pork and 1 lb ground beef over medium-high heat. Stir and break up chinks so that the meat is no longer pink. Just lightly brown it – we don’t want a crust on the meat. Remove and set aside. Add 1 cup finely chopped carrot, ½ cup finely chopped celery and 1/2 cup finely chopped onion to Dutch oven and season with 1 tsp salt and lots of fresh ground pepper. When the vegetables start to look like they are browning, reduce the heat to medium-low but keep cooking, stirring until they are fragrant and softened but not browned – about 10 more minutes.

Return meat to the pan and add 1 cup dry white wine and simmer until wine is reduced and almost completely gone – about 10 minutes. Fold in the pumpkin puree and 1 cup milk. Add more salt and pepper to taste and reduce heat to a low simmer for 45 minutes to one hour.

Serve with cooked Tagliatelle pasta and grated Parmigiano Romano

 

And here’s a link to some amazing dog treats that my dogs have been enjoying for years:

positively.com/contributors/pumpkin-banana-dog-treats-grain-and-dairy-free

Giant pumpkins in an orchard.

BBB Seed BIG Max pumpkins!

 

Give Winter Squash Some Love

by Engrid WinslowPhoto of two golden butternut squash.

Now that the nip of fall is finally in the air it is time to celebrate the coming harvest of winter squash.  Winter squashes include the beloved Butternut as well as Sweet Dumpling, Delicata, Spaghetti, Hubbard, Long Island Cheese, Pumpkins and so many more varieties. The squash should be harvested before the first hard freeze but a light frost will actually sweeten the sugars in the squash fruit. The stems should be fairly dry and the fruit unblemished. If there are any squishy spots, just eat those right away but the others can be stored for up to six months.  The fruit should feel heavy and dense and your fingernail should not pierce the flesh when pressed against it. Cut the squash from the vine so that there is at least a 2” stem and then let them cure at room temperature for a week or two.  After they have cured they should be stored in a cool dry place such as a basement or garage where they will not freeze.

 

Winter Squashes are rich in fiber and vitamins and low in calories but they are also so hearty that they are great for meatless meals.  To my mind, the best way to eat most of them is roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper but let’s not forget pies and casseroles with warm winter spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.  The seeds can also be roasted for a delicious and nutritious snack.

 

Many years ago this recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto in Cooks Illustrated  Italian Favorites that I have tweaked and played with to come up with one of my most beloved recipes.  It gets the center starring role at least once a month during the winter season for its comforting warmth. It seems like a lot of work but this is one that is worth every minute.

 

 

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO

                Serves 4-6

 

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated Italian Favorites 2009

 

 

2 TBL olive oil

6 TBL butter

2 LB butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into ½” cubes which should yield 3-4 cups

  NOTE: Reserve seeds, fibers, peels and any extra bits of squash for use later

4 cups chicken stock

1 cup water

1-2 small onions, minced

2 cups Arborio (Carnaroli can be substituted)

1 ½ cups white wine such as Pinot Grigio that you will also drink with your dinner

1 cup grated Parmesano-Reggiano

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 TBL minced fresh sage leaves

¼ tsp grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

 

In a large non-stick skillet, sauté the squash over medium-high heat with olive oil until cubes are nicely browned.  Season with salt and pepper, remove from pan and set aside.  Add reserved squash peels, seeds, etc. to pan and cook, stirring to break up the fibers as much as possible until brown.  Place chicken stock and water in a saucepan with reserved, cooked bits of squash, bring to a low boil and reduce heat to a bare simmer.

Place 4 tablespoons of butter in the empty skillet over medium heat and let melt before adding onion, garlic and additional salt and pepper. Cook and stir often until onions are softened.  Add rice and stir until grains are a bit translucent around the edges (about 3-4 minutes).  Add white wine and cook, stirring until it is fully absorbed.  Add 3 cups of liquid (avoiding stems and other bits – Strain if desired but press the solids to get as much flavor from them as possible) and a half of the cubed squash to the pan. After the liquid is completely absorbed and the pan is nearly dry, continue adding liquid about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until liquid is absorbed before adding another ½ cup. Taste the rice for al dente and then stir in the rest of the squash, sage, nutmeg, parmesan and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add additional liquid if you prefer a looser risotto and sprinkle additional parmesan on the top.  Serve with the same white wine you used to cook your risotto.

 

You can add other things such as spinach, sweet peas and cooked chicken to this recipe if desired.

 

Pumpkins, They’re not just Decorations!

by Sandy Swegel

I thought I had a great bargain when I found organic butternut squash at the grocery today for only $.99 per pound.  I was in definite sticker shock when the squash rang up over $4.75.  Well worth it for high-quality food of course, but suddenly, all those pumpkin and squash decorations I’m seeing around town look like they ought to be food for me and not just for the squirrels.  My neighbor starts cleaning up after holidays the minute the holiday is over…so on November 1st I loitered in her driveway and offered to carry off that large uncut pumpkin she had decorated the front porch.  At .99 cent/pound, it was at least a $25 value.

There are lots of ways to cook pumpkin, but like most winter vegetables I find roasting makes the flavor sublime.  I decided to cut the pumpkin in thick slices as I’ve heard they do in France, marinate the slices in olive oil and rosemary, garlic and oregano, and roast in the oven for 45 minutes or so.  Just as yummy as the butternut squash I cook that way. And free!

Once I started prowling the web for French recipes for pumpkin, I found what I will do with another big section of that pumpkin:  French fries. Well, officially they are called “Chips de Citrouille.”  A traditional French recipe has you them in milk, dredge them in flour seasoned with salt, and deep fry in a cup of oil for two minutes per side.  You can make lots of variations without gluten or even bake them instead. http://www.traditionalfrenchfood.com/fried-pumpkin-slices.html

Yum. Now what to do with a big pile of pumpkin seeds!

http://www.yumsugar.com/Fast-Easy-Pumpkin-Fries-Recipe-12010370