'Tis the Pumpkin Season
It’s my daughter’s birthday today but we’re on opposite sides of the world so I’m miserable. I keep thinking back to the first hours after her birth when she stared at me with dark eyes that seemed to hold the secrets of the universe & never looked away. She wasn’t a crying baby & only at the moment of birth did she howl so indignantly that the doctor snapped to attention but after that, she didn’t really bother because I knew was she hungry (she gave me a warning sound) and I learnt to respond pretty smartly.
If I didn’t she was quite capable of waking the entire neighbourhood with her fury. There was no other reason for her to cry because I was one of those mothers everyone hates because I moved around with my children attached to various parts of my anatomy – when they were hungry, they were fed pronto and when they wanted anything else, I was their obedient servant. I introduced her to the carrots at a ridiculously early age because the German nurses insisted but, other than that she only started on solids at about 9 months and pretty much ate everything with a some definite likes, amongst which was pumpkin and she likes pumpkin to this day which is a good enough reason to write about it.
The pumpkin belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family and it is thought that they originated in North America but the oldest pumpkin-related seeds, dating between 7000 and 5500 BC, were found in Mexico; most of them have thick shells, orange, yellow or sometimes greenish in colour and they encase the flesh and the seeds. Americans love them, use loads of them and they gave the world one of my favourite pies, the pumpkin pie which is traditionally eaten at Thanksgiving; they’re also used a lot at Halloween with little faces carved in them, hollowed out with candles popped inside and these are called jack o’lanterns. The pumpkin is a new world vegetable and it was cultivated & grown by the indigenous people of the American continent and the rest of the world only found out about it after the Spaniards brought it back to the so called old world.
STUFF YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT PUMPKINS
- The Scandinavians actually knew about them before the 15th century; Leif, the son of the famed Eric the Red, was known to have settled temporarily with his family and other settlers in North America.
- The Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland has sculptures of pumpkins on it’s premises and the chapel was built in 1446 – a bit before Columbus discovered the Americas; taking into account that there was no internet, no speedpost and communication would have been via ships and higgledy piggledy roads, how did that happen? Easy: the chapel’s patron, Sir William St. Clair, actually crossed the Atlantic in 1398 and he would have seen these pumpkins. Be that as it may, pumpkins were distributed through Europe pretty successfully and form part of the European cuisine.
The word pumpkin originates from the word pepon (Greek for large melon). The French, being French, changed it pompon and the British called pumpion! It was the Americans who later changed the word to pumpkin and we used it to this day. Since some squash share the same botanical classifications as pumpkins, the names are frequently used interchangeably. In general, pumpkin stems are more rigid, prickly, and angular (with an approximate five-degree angle) than squash stems, which are generally softer, more rounded, and more flared where joined to the fruit.
- 500 g pasta of your choice
- 1 medium pumpkin, shell & seeds removed
- 1 small lemon, zest and juice
- 1 tsp sugar
- 200 ml double cream
- 150 ml dry but fruity white wine
- 1 generous teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 1 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
- 1 fat clove garlic
- 75 g (more or less) butter
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Loads of grated parmesan, to serve
- Preheat the oven 190 C & place the chunks of pumpkin onto an oven dish; chop the rosemary (remove leaves from the stalk completely), season to taste and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil before baking for around 45 minutes.
- Boil the pasta in salted boiling water as per instructions.
- Peel & chop the garlic & pan-fry in the butter on low heat until just translucent; then add the wine & the Dijon mustard & simmer for 4 – 5 minutes at which point you add the lemon juice, the lemon zest, the cream, the parsley and seasoning to taste.
- Remove the pumpkin, drain the pasta and combine pasta and pumpkin, pour over the sauce and check & correct seasoning to taste & serve with loads of parmesan.
DID YOU KNOW
- Pumpkins are monoecious, in other words they have both male and female flowers on the same plant.
- The largest pumpkin pie ever baked was in 2005 and weighed 2,020 pounds.
- Pumpkins generally weigh 4–8 kg but the biggest is capable of reaching 34 kg; it varies in shape and although they’re usually orange or yellow, some of them can be dark or pale green, orange-yellow, white, red or gray.
- Pumpkins are extremely healthy, low in calories, fat and sodium and high in fibre; they’re an excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein and iron.
- The heaviest pumpkin every weighed was from Minnesota in October 2010 and weighed 1,810 lb 8 oz.
- Most bits of the pumpkin can be eaten, even the shell and definitely the seeds, leaves and flowers. Ripe pumpkins are baked, boiled, steamed or roasted and there are a myriad of recipes! I try and keep a supply of the seeds at all times because they’re extremely healthy and a delicious crunchy addition to salads and breads.
- The reason why people initially used the jack-o-lantern during Halloween was to is ward off demons; nowadays it’s simply custom and children like making them.
- In Cinderella, her fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a carriage (at midnight it becomes a carriage again).
- In Peanuts, the comic strip by Charles M. Shultz, Linus believes in the Great Pumpkin.
- In the tale of Pumpkin Juice by RL Stein, the sap of a pumpkin has magical effects.
- In all the Harry Potter novels, the students of Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, seem to love drinking pumpkin juice.
- In the Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, a pumpkin is hurled by the Headless Horseman.
- In the Oz books (Frank Baum), Jack Pumpkinhead has a pumpkin for his head on a wooden body.
- In The Nightmare Before Christmas (Tim Burton) the main character, Jack Skellington, is The Pumpkin King.
- In The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith) Precious Ramotswe, the detective loves to cook and eats pumpkin.
- Nathanial Hawthorne’s book, Feathertop a witch turns a scarecrow who has a pumpkin for a head into a man.
1 sweet short crust pastry case (you could buy it & mix a handful of crushed pecans into it or you can make it yourself – it’s easy enough.
- 500 g of cleaned pumpkin, cut into chunks
- 2 large free range eggs plus 1 yolk
- 80 g soft dark brown sugar (it’s dessert, you need the sugar)
- 1 small lemon, finely grated zest only
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ½ ground dried ginger
- 275 ml double cream
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
- You’re going to use 1 sweet pastry case, around 23 cm in diameter X 4cm deep.
- Bake the pumpkin in the oven with a little butter; cover it well and remove from the oven when it’s quite soft; remove and pass through a coarse sieve (you want to get rid of all the water).
- Whisk the eggs in a large bowl before putting the sugar, the lemon zest, the spices & the cream into a pot and bringing it to simmering point; pour this over the eggs & whisk quickly to incorporate but don’t over whisk.
- Add your pureed pumpkin to this and whisk again so that everything has been combined well and sis smooth; pour the filling into your pastry case & bake it for about 35-40 minutes – it will have puffed up around the edges & still be a little wobbly in the middle; remove from the oven and put the tin on a wire cooling rack.
- Once cool, cover loosely (don’t use plastic wrap) and put in the fridge; once chilled it’s ready to be served with lashings of whipped cream.
PUMPKIN AROUND THE WORLD
In the Middle East pumpkins are used for a loads of sweets and one of my favourites is the super delicious is halawa yaqtin. In Myanmar they also make sweet dishes, especially candied pumpkin but cook it as a vegetable as well. In India pumpkin is cooked with sugar, butter and spices in a dish called kadu ka halwa and strangely, this is the way South Africans, especially the Afrikaner, also cook their pumpkin. The Chinese living in the Guangxi province eat the leaves in soup or as a cooked vegetable. I tried it once and thought it was really rather nice but my family weren’t that impressed at the time; in fact, they were quite rude about it. In Australasia, South Africa and some parts of the USA pumpkins are roasted with other vegetables and it’s delicious as long as you don’t over roast it because you’ll end up with a large dish of mush. The Japanese make tempura, amongst others and in Thailand small pumpkins are filled with custard and then steamed as a dessert. The Italians combine it with a variety of cheeses as a filling for ravioli! Pumpkins are also used as a flavouring for alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks. The Greeks, The Turks and the Mexicans use a lot of pumpkin & and squash flowers and these are sometimes stuffed – I love them! The Kenyans use the pumpkin leaves to make seveve & the leaves are also one of the ingredients mukimo; here the children also eat loads of pumpkins seeds that they roast themselves in a pan before eating.
Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are small, flat, dark green, edible seeds; most of them are covered with a whitish husk but many kinds also produce seeds that don’t have them; do eat them because they’re an excellent source of protein, magnesium, copper and zinc.
PUMPKIN SEED OIL
The oil of the pumpkin seed is thick, greenish red and it’s made from the roasted pumpkin seeds. It’s great as a salad dressing but has a very strong taste and may be mixed with other oils. Eastern & Central Europeans consider it to be a delicacy & use it in some traditional dishes as well as in pumpkin soup & potato salad; I’ve even heard of it being used in ice cream but I haven’t tried it. The oil is rich in fatty acids.