In the pumpkin fields of dreams

Enroute to London from Kitchener a few weeks ago, I drove the back roads to escape the crush of traffic on the busy Hwy 401, and also (and most truthfully!), to enjoy the fall beauty of Ontario’s rural landscape.

My journey took me past a couple fields of pumpkins. A pumpkin patch is one of my favourite autumnal scenes. All those orange globes of varying shapes and sizes dotting the landscape seem like a vast field of creative dreams and artistic possibilities.

The pumpkins in the fields I saw that day were most probably destined to become Hallowe’en decorations, hollowed out and carved into smiling or scary faces.

Pumpkins best suited for cooking are small to medium pie pumpkins. They should feel heavy for their size and not be bruised or cracked.

Pumpkin can be cooked in a variety of ways.

* To bake, cut pumpkin into large chunks. Remove the seeds and fibre. Place the pieces in a baking dish with a little water, cover and bake at 325°F (160°C) until tender, about 50 minutes. Scoop the pulp from the rind; mash or purée.

* To boil or steam, cut pumpkin into large pieces. Remove the seeds and fibre. Cut pumpkin into cubes. Boil in lightly salted water or steam until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove cubes from the water and let cool slightly. Scoop pulp from rind.

* To microwave, cut pumpkin in half. Remove the seeds and fibre; peel. Cut the flesh into 1-1/2 inch (4 cm) chunks. Place in an 8-cup (2 L) casserole. Cover and microwave on High (100 % power) until tender, about 15 to 18 minutes, stirring several times during cooking.

Once cooked, puree the pumpkin pulp in a food processor, blender or food mill or mash it in a potato masher until smooth. Let the pulp drain in a strainer for 15 minutes; discard the liquid or reserve it to use in soups and stews. Season the pulp to taste with salt and pepper or pack it in airtight containers and either refrigerate for up to three days or freeze for up to six months.

One cup of cooked pumpkin (250 mL) will yield about the same amount of mashed pumpkin.

Cooked pumpkin can be used to make pies, muffins, breads, cakes, cookies, soups and stews or served as a side dish. Of course if you want convenience, canned pumpkin is readily available on grocery store shelves. Just remember to look for pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling.

Don’t forget about the seeds! An average-sized pumpkin will contain about one cup (250 mL) of seeds. The seeds are edible and contain protein and iron. To prepare them for roasting, first wash them, removing any clinging fibres. Then spread them on a clean baking sheet. Let them dry overnight at room temperature. Toss with 1-1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) vegetable oil. Bake at 250°F (120°C), stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown and crunchy, about 1-1/2 hours.

If you haven’t had your fill of pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving celebrations this past weekend, here’s an easy pumpkin pie recipe worth trying!

Butter Pecan Pumpkin Pie
(Makes one 9-inch/23 cm pie)

1 9-inch (23 cm) graham wafer pie crust (purchased or recipe of your choice)
2 cups (500 mL) slightly softened butter pecan ice cream
1/2 cup (125 mL) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) ground ginger
1 cup (250 mL) canned or cooked pumpkin
1 cup (250 mL) whipping cream

In pie crust, carefully spread ice cream.

In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Stir in pumpkin until blended.

With an electric mixer, whip cream until stiff; fold into pumpkin mixture. Spread over ice cream.

Cover and freeze pie until firm, at least a couple hours.

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