by Steve Peters
At some point in recent food trend history we became obsessed with pumpkin. Everything from coffee to beer and pasta to ice cream has a pumpkin flavored variety in stores right now. Yet, if you were to take a close look at the ingredients in these foods you would probably notice a significant lack of actual pumpkin.
Instead, what we get in those cleverly marketed foods tends to be an overwhelming concoction of real or artificial spices that taste strangely similar to how grandma’s dusty bowl of potpourri smells. It seems that if one simply takes pieces of the traditional pumpkin pie spice blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and mace, and mixes it into a food, then one has magically created pumpkin.
As a pumpkin enthusiast, I am concerned about this misguided movement. On one hand, we have created a culture of people who think they know pumpkin. They are the ones buying up any item with pumpkin on the label. On the other hand, we have people who think they hate pumpkin because of all of these poor tasting items. Yet I have a theory that whichever pumpkin camp you might fall into, it might have little to do with the gourd-like squash itself.
Rather, I think one’s pumpkin affinity has much to do with feelings towards the autumn season. Particularly, the picturesque autumns we enjoy in New England – with crispy, colorful leaves underfoot, warm mugs of fresh apple cider, and brisk, cool days. In my experience, it seems that those who spend their summers longing for the autumn are the ones to embrace pumpkin, and those who’d rather be lying out in the sun at the lake, are not. In other words, pumpkins serve as a representation of the season. When we choose to buy or not buy pumpkin and pumpkin flavored foods, we believe we’re reconfirming our seasonal feelings.
Regardless of how you think you feel about pumpkins and autumn, I say don’t get too confident until you get out there and try the real thing. Fortunately, right here in the Rutland region we can experience fall and authentic pumpkins without having to go very far.
Mark and Andrea Winslow, of Winslow Farms on Route 7 in Pittsford, have been growing pumpkins for twenty one years – well before this more recent pumpkin food trend. On a daily basis, from the second week of September through the month of October, they open five colorful acres of pick-your- own pumpkins to the public.
The pumpkins range in all shapes and sizes, providing a multitude of uses, both culinary and decorative. “People do a lot of things aside from just carving,” says Andrea. Yet the smaller ones, known as sugar pumpkins, are the most popular in the kitchen. “They’re easier to maneuver, sweeter and offer more meat,” she explains. “Soup has been one popular use lately.”
While pumpkins have served as Halloween decorations for years, and we have all come across a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, there are certainly more options out there, as the trend has proven. And we can achieve this authentically right at home.
To start, you want to halve a sugar pumpkin and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon. The seeds can be cleaned, seasoned and roasted for a delicious snack or topping to soup, salad, or baked goods. Lay the pieces of the pumpkin, cut side down, on an oiled baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 – 50 minutes. Scoop out the pumpkin flesh and puree in a blender or food processor.
You now have true pumpkin puree, ready to flavor just about anything. Once you’ve tried flavoring with pumpkin at home, you won’t go back to the weak imitations. And in my experience, you might even convert those who once thought they didn’t like pumpkin.
Here are a few of my favorite uses to get you started. But also check out the stuffed, baked pumpkin recipe at http://www.doriegreenspan.com. Pumpkin latte: Mix puree in with milk, add some nutmeg and a little sugar, heat, then froth as usual and combine with espresso. Pumpkin pasta sauce: Mix puree with cooked onions and garlic, fresh Parmesan cheese, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, and light cream. Pour over pasta. Pumpkin soup: Combine puree, chicken broth, maple syrup, cream and nutmeg. Stir and bring to a simmer.
Steve Peters is RAFFL’s food education specialist and you can currently find one of his pumpkin baked goods for sale at Café Terra in Rutland.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.