Saturday, February 6, 2010
In which I slaughter a pumpkin and feel absolutely no remorse:
We are still living heavily off of last year's garden and orchard harvests, and thankfully so. This pumpkin, and his siblings like him who rest comfortably in my cellar, were not part of a "planned" community. He was a volunteer.
I have one section of my yard which is given over completely to vines. Space on our lot is such a premium for growing food, that I simply let the vines grow wild. Cucumbers go up and over the wire fence, so do a Christmas pole bean. This year I let the pumpkins do their thing. Sometimes, I get a cross-breed that I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I think they are interesting so I just leave them alone and see what they will become.
So, this fellow was a volunteer. I did not plant him. I let his vine grow because it intrigued me; it looked different than the others. I suspect that he came from the remains of a child's jack-o-lantern, but I don't remember that we had any just like this. It is much heavier than the traditional pumpkins used for carving, though, with a dusky skin and flesh that is dense. It has been a great "keeper," giving me seven basketball (or larger) sized gourds that have lasted this long in the winter season.
This last year I grew butternut squash (still have a few of these waiting to grace the table in March....), little pie pumpkins (which I used early to make pies and muffins because they don't keep as long,) an acorn squash and these big boys. All in all, a lot of beta carotene in my basement, sending up orange love to fill my kid's nutritional needs. There is virtually no effort to growing squash (pumpkins, gourds, etc.) If you have the room or even a place for them to grow "up," they are a wonderful investment that will feed your family thru the winter. It's interesting to watch pumpkins grow on a fence, too. They start out hanging high and small, and as they develop they reach for the ground. If you've never planted squash, I encourage you to give it a try. It really is fun. :)
To prepare my pumpkins, I cut them open and scoop out the insides. (If you throw the refuse back on your garden, you've just planted next year's squash garden. See? It's a step saver!) Some people like to prepare their pumpkin like this, then just bake it, covered, in the oven for an hour or so. I don't like to do it this way - I don't know, I just don't like the texture as much. I'd prefer to cut them, scoop them, then cut them into strips and take the peel off with a sharp paring knife. It *is* very hard on your hands, though, so if you have difficulties with your hands or if your hands aren't very strong, you may wish to use the oven method.
Mariam helped me every step of the way with this pumpkin's demise. I suspect that I could have moved much more swiftly without the extra....help, and yet, she was very cute with her assistance. I gave her the job of putting the peels into the bowl. Every time I gave her a strip, she said, "fank you." "Can I have another one?" Every. Single. Time. :)
I chop up the strips, add water to cover, then cook the pumpkin for about 35 minutes. I drain it in a colander, then run it through my blender. (Tonight though, I saved out a couple of cups of raw pumpkin to dice and add to stir-fry.) I do not like to can pumpkin - it takes too long and is messy. Some experts say that you should not pressure can pumpkin, but I just can't tell my mom and sister that. They've been doing it for decades with much success. I don't like to freeze it, either, as it gets watery. I'd rather let them stay whole, in my cellar, until I am ready for them.
The last time I "slaughtered" a pumpkin, I used it in the following ways: 4 cups went into a pumpkin/chicken curry. (Divine.)
*I say "slaughtered" because it absolutely feels so vicious to attack and slice open the poor pumpkin. If you need to take out some aggression....this is a good task for you.
Four more cups went into two loaves of pumpkin bread and 2 cups went into two dozen pumpkin/chocolate chip muffins.
This week, 2 cups will go into stir-fry (so will a bag of well-drained shredded zucchini from last year's garden...that's another super cheap, prodigious and easy thing to grow), 1 cup will go into the tomato sauce for Monday night's pizza (shhhh.....), 4 cups will go into a curry soup for me and hubby (I won't over-laden the kids with curry again this week. They love it, but I can tend to wear them out on a good thing if I'm not careful. I'm happy to eat curry pumpkin soup all week long for lunch, while they eat more kid-friendly foods.), and the rest will go into another batch of muffins. They really love those muffins. (That's not my exact recipe, but it is close. I usually use an unrefined sugar and olive oil, but those are easy to change. I've also learned that I can cut the sugar back to one cup and not miss it at all, particularly if I am adding chocolate chips.) Pumpkin is so unique in that it can mesh with curry or soy sauce, or tomato, or something sweet. It tends to pick up the flavors of the food it is in. I like to find ways to use it that do not include sugar. I'm definitely no sugar Gestapo, and yet, we get plenty of that. With a "fruit" so rich in nutrients, I hate to only use it for dessert.
So, there you have it. That's how I spent a half an hour of my Saturday morning. I won't pretend with you and tell you that I *love* butchering pumpkins - in fact, I really don't like doing it at all. :) Just wanting to be honest....
And yet, in terms of sheer usefulness, pumpkins are a very good investment in terms of gardening, storage, volume, and nutrition. Just like anything else, a little bit of work, even if I don't want to do it, yields some very good and beneficial results.
Can you tell that I'm looking forward to Spring and Summer?