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Of the multitude of winter squash varieties grown, the bright, orange pumpkin is the most popular, and not necessarily for its wonderful flavor.
That giant squash is most often carved or painted into happy, sad or monstrous faces. But if we are fortunate enough to have a good harvest of them, they can be cooked just as you would use butternut, buttercup, acorn on any other winter squash.
But Halloween wouldn’t be the spooky holiday that it is without pumpkins lining the driveway, sitting on the porch or on display just about anywhere around our homes. And Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a pumpkin pie, preferably with a dollop of real whipped cream.
The whole idea of a carved pumpkin began centuries ago in Europe. But it wasn’t the pumpkin that was carved, then a candle inserted inside to provide light, but hollowed out giant gourds, potatoes, turnips and even large beets.
As Irish legend has it, a stingy old drunk by the name of Jack began the tradition by using one of those vegetables as a lantern, lit by an ember from hell. He spent his entire afterlife wandering between heaven and hell, using just the weak light from the ember to light his way.
This rather depressing legend was transformed when the Irish immigrated to the United States in the mid-19th century, and people learned that a hollowed-out pumpkin was much larger and easier to carve. So now, we have
Jack-o-lanterns carved almost exclusively from pumpkins, and the legend of Jack and his endless travails is largely lost.
Pumpkins are much more than pie. They serve nutritiously as a vegetable side dish, and can be cooked up into cakes, cookies, soups and a myriad of other delicious dishes.
Here are a couple of recipes.
Pancakes come in so many flavors, that a book could be written just about them. Here’s how to make pumpkin pancakes.
Pumpkin Pancakes (about a dozen 4- or 5-inch pancakes)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
one-half teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (this spice is usually made up of a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger)
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 cups pureed pumpkin
one-half cup molasses
about 4 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
one-half cup walnuts (optional)
In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Set aside.
In another bowl, beat the egg, then add the pumpkin, molasses, milk and melted butter.
Combine the wet and dry ingredients until smooth. Stir in nuts, if using, and add another tablespoon of milk if the batter appears too thick.
To cook, pour heaping tablespoonsful of batter onto a pre-heated, lightly greased skillet. Cook until bubbles appear, then flip and cook until golden brown.
Keep pancakes warm by placing on a platter and setting in a 225 degree oven. Serve with powdered sugar, maple syrup or, for the molasses lover, more molasses.
As an elegant and delightful first course to supper, try two of the season’s most popular offerings – apples and pumpkin – in this unique soup.
Apple and Pumpkin Soup (6 servings)
One-half cup undiluted apple juice concentrate, thawed
1 large apple, washed and diced
1 large onion, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
about 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth
3 cups pureed pumpkin
1 cup evaporated skim milk
paprika and a spoonful of apple/onion sauté for garnish
Saute the diced onions in the olive oil for about 3 minutes, then add the diced apple and sauté for 2 minutes longer. Sprinkle with curry powder and sauté for another minute. Set aside.
Put half the onion/apple sauté in a large pot (setting aside a little for garnish). Add the stock and pureed pumpkin. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer on low heat.
Meanwhile, put the other half of the apple/onion mixture and the apple juice concentrate in a blender. Process until smooth. Add to the soup pot. Add evaporated milk and simmer until the soup is hot, but do not boil. Top each serving with a sprinkling of paprika and a bit of apple/onion sauté.