Pumpkins are not only beautiful to look at, but they are super good for your body when you cook them and eat them. For example, a single cup of cooked pumpkin offers an astounding 170% of your daily need of vitamin A as well as a good dose of the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. This combination is good news for those of us living in the Great Basin Desert or the High Sierra, since vitamin A helps the eyes adapt to bright light, while lutein and zeaxanthin help the eyes cope with daily exposure to certain types of otherwise damaging light waves coming directly from the high mountain and high desert sun.
Pumpkins also contain other types of phytonutrients -- alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin -- which are now believed to lower the risk of lung cancer. (It also helps to stop using tobacco while sitting close to that smoky campfire.)
Pumpkins are high in vitamin E, also a very powerful antioxidant which helps prevent deterioration of body tissues in places like the skin and eyes. Some believe that this vitamin even has reparative powers and can help prevent heart disease, improve lens clarity in the eyes, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Pumpkins are also high in vitamin C (ascorbic acid), another powerful antioxidant required in humans and other primates for the synthesis of collagen, carnitine and norepinephrine. Vitamin C also helps transform fat into energy, and helps regulate blood cholesterol.
Pumpkin flesh is also high in dietary fiber, that needed combination of cellulose and pectin (the beneficial carbohydrates) that helps promote peristalsis in the alimentary canal, thereby keeping the intestine in good working order.
The flesh also includes other beneficial nutrients like magnesium, folate and potassium. Pumpkin seeds, a deliciously nutty treat any time of the year, provide needed iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, manganese, copper, as well as cucurbitacins and amino acids. The oil from the seeds also provides omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids in combination with L-tryptophan, also found in pumpkin seeds, are believed to improve memory, mental productiveness and mood.
All that in a delicious, easy to grow, easy to prepare package. Plus, as an added benefit, at least one day of the year they even ward off evil!
Gardeners in California's Sacramento Valley often grow pumpkins the size of VW bugs. Prize winning pumpkins are so big that heavy duty pickup trucks are needed to transport single pumpkins to the judging platforms! In fact, pumpkins grown in California and Oregon can gain up to 10 pounds a day in weight during the peak growing days of the summer. These pumpkins can end up weighing over a 1000 pounds by harvest time. (In 2007 a prize pumpkin from Oregon weighed in at 1,524 pounds!) That's a lot of water weight! And the decisive term here is just that: water. On the eastern side of the Sierra, it's not impossible to grow pumpkins that end up weighing hundreds of pounds, but it's impractical and certainly not water wise.
But pumpkins are so thoroughly intertwined with the life, history and culture of the United States, that it almost seems unamerican not to grow them in your vegetable garden. Certainly, pumpkins are indigenous to North America. Utilized by Native Americans for centuries, then introduced to throngs of immigrants, the pumpkin has become so beloved in this country that the name is considered a term of endearment. They are, of course, the center of attention on Halloween and many consider Thanksgiving dinner incomplete without a homemade pumpkin pie.
Pumpkins prefer a mildly rich soil, so you don't want to over fertilize your pumpkin plants; they are easy to grow in most types of garden soil. If you over fertilize your plants, they will try to take over, but if you have room, that's not such a bad thing. But a mild organic fertilizer mix will do fine. (Stop by our shop; we have some nice organic fertilizers perfect for growing food plants.)
It's always a good idea to grow more than one vine since if anything terrible happens to one, you'll have a backup. Plus, pumpkin lovers say you can never have enough pumpkins. You can can them, freeze them, enter them into contests and give them away to your neighbors and friends for thanksgiving. If you do grow more than one vine, its fun to plant four seeds in a small mound, then train each vine to grow toward different areas of your yard.
The roots don't like to stay soggy, but being relatively fine and without tap roots, they don't like to dry out completely either. The vines like lots of sun, but they do react to intense heat. In Reno, during the hottest part of the day, the leaves will tend to wilt. This is normal behavior for our region. By the time the sun drops behind the mountains, the leaves will perk up again. If they don't, you'll probably want to increase their daily water. The best time to water is in the morning before the sun is high and hot. Here in the high desert, overhead and evening watering usually doesn't present a mildew problem, but if you have soaker hoses set up in your garden, the early morning soaking method tends to be more efficient.
Pumpkins will take the entire growing season to mature. When autumn comes, the green fruit will begin to change to orange just as the leaves of the deciduous trees are turning. The frosts will kill the leaves and vine, but the pumpkins will endure. They can even sit where they grew if the ground isn't kept continuously wet. Picked pumpkins can be kept easily on the porch. They can also be brought indoors to keep you company and to beautify the interiors of your home until Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners
If you do bring them indoors to prolong their beauty, keep them dry and cool, away from direct sunlight. Watch for cracks or brown spots. In our region, it's not uncommon to keep pumpkins well into January.
There are pumpkin pie recipes in just about every good American style cookbook out there. Many of us have old handwritten recipes from our moms from their grandmas from their mothers stuffed in scrapbooks and the family herbal. Some of us love pumpkins so much we've invented our own recipes. Below you will find thorough instructions.
Most post-modern pumpkin pie recipes call for "canned" pumpkin, which means commercially processed pumpkin. As far as canned vegetables go, pumpkin does can well. but If you've grown your own pumpkins, you'll want to use fresh pumpkin for the pie. It's not difficult to do and the results are delicious and healthful.
For a classic 9 inch pie, you will need about 2 cups of Pumpkin Purée. A small pumpkin will produce about that much. A medium pumpkin will make a couple pies. A large pumpkin will have enough for soups and spreads, etc.
If you've never cooked your own pumpkin before, there are basically three ways to cook your pumpkin.
Prepare your pumpkin for boiling or steaming: with a long, sharp knife, cut your pumpkin in half. Scrape out and remove the seeds and stringy innards with a heavy spoon. Save the seeds for roasting. Cut each half into several pieces large enough to hold easily in your hands while you peel the outer skin away. Feed the peels and stringy innards to your worms in the garden compost. After peeling, you can cut the pumpkin pieces into smaller chunks.
Boil your pumpkin: place the pumpkin chunks in enough fresh water to cover. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for just under 30 minutes. You can poke the pumpkin pieces with a fork to make sure they are nice and tender. Purée the cooked pumpkin with a potato masher or whip it up in a food processor.
Steam your pumpkin: place the pumpkin chunks in a large steamer. If you don't have a steamer, you can use a large stainless steel colander that fits into a large soup pot. Put about an inch of water in the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 45 minutes. Test the pumpkin for tenderness. A nice simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes will be fine. Purée the cooked pumpkin with a potato masher or whip it up in a food processor.
Bake your pumpkin: Turn the oven on. Set the temperature to 375 degrees F. Spray a large cookie sheet with an organic, neutral tasting oil spray, or lightly oil the sheet with a teaspoon of liquid oil. You can use pumpkin seed oil for radical authenticity if you can find it at your local health food shop. Using a long, sharp knife, cut your pumpkin in half. Place each half skin side up on the baking sheet. Bake on a middle rack of the oven for about an hour. Once baked through, remove the pumpkins from the oven and let cool somewhat. Turn each half over and scoop out the flesh with a large heavy spoon. Purée the pumpkin with a potato masher or whip it with a kitchen fork or whisk.
Prepare the pie pastry:
Sift the flour and salt together into a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces with a butter knife. Drop the butter pieces onto the flour/salt mixture. Use a pastry blender, fusing the butter with the flour
until the mixture resembles medium fine bread crumbs.
Add an ice cube to your water to make sure it's nice and cold. Add the water, a single tablespoon at a time. Toss the flour/salt/butter mixture with a fork after you add each tablespoon of water.
Be very sparing with the water. After two tablespoons, begin working the dough with your fingers. Work it for a few minutes to see if the flour mixture begins to stick together. Add the third tablespoon of water only if the dough refuses to form. After the perfect amount of water has been added, press the flour mixture into a ball, then flatten it into a thick round. It will have a firm consistency. Wrap this in waxed paper or a recycled piece of plastic wrap. Chill it in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
Preparing the pie filling:
Preheat the oven to 425° F. Take the pie dough from the fridge, on a flowered surface, roll out the pastry to fit a 9 inch pie pan. Rum a small piece of butter to grease the pan before placing the pastry.
In a large bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger and sea salt. Add the pumpkin, maple syrup, whiskey and cream. Whip with a strong wooden spoon until thoroughly mixed. Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks well, then add to the pumpkin mixture. Beat with the wooden spoon until thoroughly mixed. Beat the whites with a wire whisk until they form stiff peaks (you can use an electric mixer if you really want to). Fold the egg whites into the pumpkin. Pour this into the pastry shell.
Baking the pie:
Bake the pie at 425° F. for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325° F. and bake for up to 45 minutes more. Begin to check the pie at 30 minutes to make sure it doesn't overcook. The pie is done if a knife inserted in the center comes out more than less clean.
This pie is delicious served warm or cold, but especially nice and warm with whipped cream on top. Don't forget a nice hot cup of coffee with a shot of that Woodford Reserve on the side.
A single pumpkin vine produces both male and female flowers. You can tell them apart by the tiny pumpkin baby that forms at the base of the female flowers. Each plant will produce an abundance of flowers -- more than enough for the production of harvested pumpkins. The excess flowers are delicious and can be cooked in many ways.
It's fun to pick pumpkin (and other types of squash) flowers in the morning, just after they've opened. Remove the flower from its green stem. Some chefs also remove the center stem of the flower before cooking. You can fry them in a small amount of oil or butter. You can batter them or dip them in beaten egg and dry breadcrumbs before frying. They go well in omelet and other egg dishes. They have a light, very delicate taste.
Often you will find pumpkin seeds sold as a snake food, unshelled, roasted, then coated with a thick layer of salt (1/4 cup of typical, salted pumpkin snack can have over 900 milligrams of salt; that's more than 1/3 the body's recommended intake!). Although commercially prepared pumpkins might be delicious, an alternative to the huge high blood pressure rush of sodium is to simply roast your own seeds. This way you can create a delicious snack that is good for the entire family. Plus, a single pumpkin vine just might generate enough seeds to snack you into the next year. Here's a delicious southwestern pumpkin seed recipe:
Remove and clean the seeds from a single pumpkin, removing the stringy pulp from the seeds. Spray a baking sheet with organic cooking-oil, or lightly oil with a neutral tasting oil (or use pumpkin seed oil if you can find it at your local health food store), then spread the wet seeds in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake at 250 F. for about 60 minutes or until they are thoroughly dried. You can stir them occasionally. Remove to cool.
While your seeds are cooling, combine the following ingredients in a medium sized bowl:
Now heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil or grapeseed oil or pumpkin seed oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar and the dried pumpkin seeds. Cook while stirring continuously with a wooden spoon for a minute or so. Don't let the mixture burn. Pour the seeds from the skillet into the bowl of sugared spices. Mix well. Serve warm or completely cooled.
| Top |
There's a little 'goth' in all of us and Halloween night allows us to live it without guilt or backlash.
The carving of pumpkins is a uniquely North American tradition, although Jack O' lanterns actually date back to old Ireland with the carving of root vegetables. There's a colorful legend about "Tricky Jack" who tried to cheat the devil only to land himself in limbo after death, cursed to roam the earth. As a way to scare away the ghost of Tricky Jack, mortals would carve scary faced lanterns from turnips and potatoes. In the U.S., Irish immigrants quickly discovered pumpkins. Carving pumpkins was much easier than turnip or potato carving, and the result was powerful.
When people grow their own pumpkins each year, toward harvest time, they pick several of the largest and strangest they find on the vines. Then Halloween night they begin their little pumpkin carving party with a toast of Irish Whiskey to old Tricky Jack. Besides making sure Jack's awful fate passes on toward those stuffy households refusing to carve pumpkins on this most wonderful of October nights, the Irish Whiskey makes passing candy to the trick-or-treaters much more fun.