Harvesting, Storing, and Cooking With Pumpkins

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Harvesting and Storing Pumpkins

Plump, glossy pumpkins seem humble, yet they are actually a prima donna crop, requiring lots of everything, from space to food and water. They certainly do not thrive in containers unless the pot is perfectly enormous; a tree pot can support a single plant as long as only a few pumpkins are allowed to ripen.

I plant my pumpkins in the ground, not in pots, because deer do not (so far anyway) eat their coarse, hairy leaves. In the garden, pumpkins grow happily in mounded beds in full sun. They do best when given transplant fertilizer at planting time, then fed every few weeks with a mild (5-5-5) all-purpose feed.

Keeping Them Clean

To avoid mildews, keep pumpkin and squash foliage dry and use drip irrigation or leaky hose lines under a compost mulch. In wet seasons, keep your growing pumpkins above the damp soil by placing them on boards to avoid molds and mildews.

Harvesting BIG Pumpkins

If you are going for The Big One, measure your pumpkins daily as harvest time draws near to be sure they have stopped growing. Harvest pumpkins when fully colored, with a well-hardened rind that’s difficult to scratch with your fingernail. When your pumpkin is ripe, trim off the vine with a sharp knife, leaving 2-3 inches of stem.  Wipe off all dirt and moisture and store on racks or open shelves in a cool, dry place. Garages are often good, but many basements are too damp for vegetable storage.

Pumpkins In The Kitchen

Pumpkins and winter squash can be used interchangeably in many recipes, from breeds and pies to soups and vegetarian golden lasagna. Add chunks of fresh or frozen pumpkin to soups, stir fries, and stews. Many small winter squash like Delicata, Sweet Dumpling, and Carnival, can be eaten skin and all if halved, seeded, and baked until tender (usually about 30-40 minutes).

Baking Whole Pumpkins

Baking is the traditional way to cook pumpkins, but for the best texture and flavor, microwave any recipe that calls for pumpkins or winter squash. Because microwaves vary in power, experiment with small pumpkins before trying bigger ones.

Fill small pumpkins or squash with diced apples and nuts or bread stuffing and bake for a hearty side dish. For a quick and pretty dessert, microwave cored mini pumpkins for 3-5 minutes, stuff with brown sugar, butter, and nuts and bake again for 1-2 minutes.

Microwaved Pumpkin

1 small (5-6 inch diameter) pumpkin

Puncture a whole pumpkin in several places with an ice pick or skewer. Place in a microwave and cook on high for 3 minutes. Test for doneness by poking with a fork. If not tender, repeat cooking in 1 minute increments until done. When tender, cut in half, remove seeds and scoop out pulp or peel and dice cooked pumpkin for use in soups, stews, and vegetable dishes. For smooth puree, put diced pulp into a ricer or a food mill. Extra pumpkin may be frozen for up to 3 months. One small pumpkin makes enough puree for 2 pies.

Baked Pumpkin

2 medium (6-8 inch diameter) sugar pumpkins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut sugar pumpkins in half, scoop out the seeds and place them cut side down in a baking pan with half an inch of hot water in it. Bake at 350 degrees until pulp is soft (about 40-50 minutes). Peel and dice or process as described above.

Whole Baby Pumpkins

4 baby pumpkins (2-3 inch diameter)
1/4 cup orange juice concentrate
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

Puncture each pumpkin in several places with an ice pick or skewer. Place in a microwave and cook on high for 2 minutes. Test for doneness by poking with a fork. If not tender, repeat cooking in 30 second increments until done. When tender, carefully remove tops with stems, remove seeds and scoop out pulp.  Mash with orange juice concentrate,  salt, and hot pepper flakes. Spoon back into shells and serve at once. Serves four.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

High in protein and low in carbohydrates, pumpkin seeds make an excellent snack food and an unusual, crunchy garnish for soups and salads.

! cup raw, hulled pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon olive or canola oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Toss all ingredients and spread in a single layer in a rimmed baking sheet. Bake pumpkin seeds at 350 degrees F. until crisp (6-8 minutes). Store i a tightly sealed glass jar for up to 2 weeks.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

Beautiful and intriguingly spicy, Roasted Pumpkin Soup combines baked pumpkin with fresh orange juice, ancho peppers, toasted pumpkin seeds and cilantro.

1 medium (8-10 inch) pumpkin
1 ancho chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 organic orange, juiced, rind grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 quarts vegetable OR chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream (organic tastes best)
2 tablespoons cilantro, stemmed

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Cutting straight across, remove top inch of pumpkin with stem. Place pumpkin cut-side-up in a baking dish and bake at 425 until tender (about 30-45 minutes). When tender, remove seeds and scoop out pulp, taking care not to damage outer shell.  Rinse seeds and bake at 350 degrees until crisp (6-8 minutes). Mash pulp with ancho peppers, orange juice and rind, and salt to taste. Transfer to a sauce pan, stir in 4 cups broth and cook over medium high heat until hot through, adding cream as needed to fill pumpkin shell. Place pumpkin shell on a platter, fill with soup and serve, garnishing each serving with pumpkin seeds and cilantro. Serves 4-6.

Spicy Pumpkin Stew

2 teaspoons virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon chipotle chili flakes
1 red sweet bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
2 cups Florence fennel, finely chopped
2 cups diced pumpkin or winter squash, fresh or frozen
6 cups vegetable OR chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup cilantro, stemmed
1/4 cup jack cheese, coarsely grated

In a stew pot, heat oil and garlic over medium high heat until golden (1-2 minutes). Add chipotle flakes and  brown quickly. Stir in bell pepper, onion, and fennel and cook, stirring, until barely soft (3-4 minutes). Add pumpkin, cover pan and reduce heat to medium low and cook until vegetable juices flow (3-5 minutes).  Add broth and heat through (8-10 minutes). Season to taste with salt and serve, garnished with cilantro and cheese. Serves 4-6.

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One Response to Harvesting, Storing, and Cooking With Pumpkins

  1. Erica says:

    The pumpkin soup sounds wonderful – especially with ancho chiles.
    My favorite winter squash is Delicata but you’ve inspired me to cook some pumpkins this year. Thanks!

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