Plentiful Pumpkins

I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. – Henry David Thoreau

Photo by Pete Wuebker

Autumn wouldn’t be complete without pumpkins at our house.  This year, Pete’s vegetable garden was designed to need as little attention as possible.  That meant the majority of it was devoted to just two things: tomatoes and pumpkins.

Photo by Pete Wuebker

Last year, a pumpkin shortage put the kibosh on a lot of people’s plans for baking.  Pete’s crop wasn’t particularly exceptional either, as a rainier than normal season resulted in less than ideal product from our little patch and throughout the nation.  Other years, his pumpkins have literally been snowed upon!  It’s a testament to the hardy pumpkin’s adaptability to survive these variable conditions.

This year, though, over the last several weeks, the house has been filled with the spicy aroma of baking pumpkin, softening it up to turn into pies and other delicious goodies.  Aside from Pete’s award-winning pie recipe which I will never stop promoting, my other personal favorite is pumpkin gnocchi.  Pete serves his version with maple syrup topping.  Incredible!

I found recipes for pumpkin gnocchi, including some that get pretty fancy:

Pumpkin Gnocchi

Pan Fried Pumpkin Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage

Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Gnocchi with Mushrooms

Pumpkin Gnocchi with California Walnut Brown Butter Sauce

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Parmigiano, Sage and White Truffles

Photo by Pete Wuebker

While most pumpkin recipes call for canned pumpkin puree that you purchase in the store, there is a world of difference when you make it yourself.  Even if you don’t have your own garden, we encourage you to consider purchasing pie pumpkins (the smaller ones you see at the store in the produce section) or larger ones that you might think were just suitable for carving.  Then, go ahead and process the pumpkin yourself.  It tastes so much better!

It’s easy to get one large pumpkin processed on a cookie sheet in your oven.  Click here for Pete’s instructions on how to do it.

Photo by Betsy Wuebker

When we visited farm country several weeks ago, the Barten Pumpkin Farm was part of the tour.  Claiming not to be “your ordinary pumpkin patch,” the Barten farm boasted over 6,000 pumpkins, all displayed in their yard for the event.  Eighteen years ago, the Barten clan switched from selling sweet corn by the roadside to specializing in pumpkins.

Photo by Pete Wuebker

Their display is impressive!  They use a variety of props, including haybales, broom corn, corn shocks and decorative gourds, to enhance their vignettes and complement the orange headliner.  When we arrived there was a veritable sea of pumpkins assembled under the protective branches of a pine grove along the Barten driveway.  Lots of activities were underway with the kiddies in mind.  Pete and I decided just to wander around and take photos.

Photo by Pete Wuebker

Pumpkins were a happy gift from the New World to the Old.  The University of Illinois Extension informs us, “Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. They also roasted long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and ate them. The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes.”

Pumpkins are surging in popularity as a superfood.  Medicinal uses for parts of the pumpkin have ranged from treatment for prostate ailments, snake bite remedies and to reduce the appearance of freckles.

Pumpkins are 90 percent water, and, “are loaded with the antioxidant beta-carotene, which has been shown to help improve immune function and can reduce the risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. In addition, pumpkins also contain many vitamins and nutrients including: calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, selenium, niacin, folate, and vitamins A, C, and E. One cup of pumpkin contains only 50 calories and 3 grams of fiber.”

That stupid blockhead of a brother of mine is out in the pumpkin patch making his yearly fool of himself. – Lucy Van Pelt, in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

There’s a brand new record World’s Largest pumpkin grown in Wisconsin and exhibited at the Stillwater (Minnesota) Harvest Fest this past Saturday (October 9, 2010).

Soon it will be time to carve jack-o-lanterns.  With the beautiful Indian Summer we’re having, carving yours now will mean it won’t last in time for Halloween.

Photo by Betsy Wuebker

Did you know the jack-o-lantern is named after an Irishman who was called Stingy Jack?  The legendary figure was doomed at the pearly gates for his sins on earth to forever inhabit the netherworld between heaven and hell.  Taking an ember from the edges of hellfire, he hollowed out a gourd and placed it inside to light his way through eternity.  The Irish, in turn, placed lights in hollowed gourds to guard against evil spirits and that of Jack himself.  When pumpkins made their way to the Old World, the size of the gourd made it the first choice for this practice.

Photo by Pete Wuebker

The pumpkin farm had some strange-looking gourds in their displays as well.  These are snake gourds, but the farm also prides itself on ornamental and rare varieties that make for interesting textures.  Native Americans used gourds for food and medicinal purposes, treating ailments as disparate as skin conditions, headaches and insanity.  Gourds were made into toys, rattles, water containers and sacred objects.

It’s been our experience at this house that pumpkins and gourds are often “volunteer’ed” into new locations when their seeds are carried by critters and birds taking them out of their original places in the garden.  These surprises have shown up all over the flower gardens and even in the lawn!

Last week, on our outing in St. Paul, two of us ordered a delicious pumpkin soup, a pale puree made with cream and punctuated with crisp, toasted pumpkin seeds.  This delicious soup could as easily have been garnished with a little sour cream and caviar, too.

Roasting pumpkin seeds is easy:  You remove all their pulp, spread them on a cookie sheet to dry after soaking them in salted water overnight, then toss them in olive oil, butter, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, in any combination you think best.  Then just bake them in a 300 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, tossing frequently while baking.

There is so much to like about pumpkins.  The orange orbs in the fields seem to reflect the sun hundreds of times over during these last few weeks of the growing season.  As the nights get longer, and we turn toward the warmth of hearth and home, comfort foods and traditional rituals with pumpkins at their center are eponymous with bountiful harvests and days of Indian Summer.

I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. – Willa Sibert Cather

What’s your favorite pumpkin recipe or memory?

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  1. says

    Hi Betsy and Pete .. an amazingly interesting post .. first I loved the Thoreau quote .. great pumpkin v velvet! The pictures are superb .. and how long will a pumpkin keep once picked if in a dry place? Loved the snow on top. Then the Charlie Brown quote too ..

    The pumpkin pie sounds delicious .. and the idea of pumpkin gnocchi .. would be so tasty .. I love pumpkin and really first came across it in South Africa, where they served it similarly to your colonists …

    You’ve given us so much information here .. it’s wonderful too read, think about for choices of a meal .. and learn about how the natives utilised every aspect of the plant .. even weaving strips of dried skin into mats .. let alone the medicinal properties .. which we’re realising more about now ..

    Thanks Betsy .. such an interesting post with Pete’s photos and recipes .. what a wonderful day out and subsequent intriguing ‘research’ .. loved it – delicious thinking about them .. have a great week eating pumpkin sweet and savoury by the sound of it .. happy days .. Hilary
    Hilary has an awesome blog post here: Spaghetti anyone Made in China or does it grow on treesMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Hilary – Pumpkins can be preserved whole in what we call “root cellars” – cool, dry basement rooms where their neighbors are likely to be potatoes, etc. from the harvest. Pete likes to process them and then ziploc bag the pulp for freezing to be used in baking later, though. My favorite use for them is pie! 🙂

  2. says

    Betsy — WOW. I didn’t all this about pumpkins. They don’t usually last very long where I live. Although down the street, a Methodist Church always hold a pumpkin celebration and it’s fun to see the kids running around the pumpkins and picking the one for their jack-o-lantern:~)

    Thanks for sharing this:~)
    Sara has an awesome blog post here: Story Photo- Something More!My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Sara – You’re welcome. Kids and pumpkins just go together, don’t they? When we’re little we love our jack-o-lanterns and when we’re bigger we’re into smashing pumpkins (the activity and the band?). I remember a story my dad told about stealing pumpkins from his neighbor’s farm back in the late 1930’s. It’s just one of those traditional things! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Eliza – You won’t be disappointed in the pie, it’s a fact! It’s gotten so that with pumpkin, I want to try anything I see it made into on a menu when we’re out. It’s fun to be adventurous with things we take for granted or think of in only traditional ways. Thanks you.

  3. says

    Pumpkin gnocchi with maple syrup topping!!!! *she fans herself*

    I’d rather sit on a pumpkin instead of a crowded velvet cushion, too. Or, put a velvet cushion on a pumpkin 🙂 I think those little wooden stools are so cute, Betsy. I’d probably try to sit on one; little kiddies seats have a certain appeal to them.
    Davina Haisell has an awesome blog post here: For the Love of Story StructureMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Davina – I know! The little table and chairs set up in the “room of pumpkins” under the pine tree branches made me feel about six years old again. What a beautiful grove of trees on their property, just perfect for placing and piling up all their pumpkins. You’re invited over any time, and then we could eat platefuls of gnocchi in our little wooded glen. 🙂