Between the Rows: Reasons to embrace pumpkin season

  • Sue Chadwick’s first-place pumpkin at the Franklin County Fair. Although hers isn’t an official white pumpkin, just pale in appearance, there are a number of white pumpkin varieties available, from baby boo to flat white boer ford to the Cinderella pumpkin. For The Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • A variety of pumpkins shown at the Butynski Farm Stand in Greenfield. Pumpkins are low in calories, while being a good source of fiber and vitamins A and C. These all support vision, heart health and reduce the risk of colon cancer. For The Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

For The Recorder
Friday, October 06, 2017

Jack-o’-lanterns seem as American as apple pie, but pumpkins, squash and gourds, along with tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize and cocoa are native to Central America and Mexico. Over time, they migrated to North America and Europe. In fact, new world foods are essential to a large portion of the African population.

We don’t often think about the important nutritional value of pumpkins. Pumpkins are all about Cinderella’s coach, Jack-o’-lanterns and pumpkin pie. However, the many species of pumpkin are low in calories, while being a good source of fiber and vitamins A and C. These all support vision, heart health and reduce the risk of colon cancer. Even the seeds provide health benefits. When was the last time you added some nutritious pepitas to your salad? Happily, pumpkins and squash are delicious, so it is no hardship to fit them into your diet.

Pumpkin is the essential ingredient in pumpkin pie (of course) but the menu is much larger, including pumpkin bread and pumpkin pastries, pumpkin ravioli, risotto and soup. We went to a party last year where they were serving pumpkin beer!

Pumpkin pie is a great dessert for the fall. It need not be kept just for Thanksgiving. I have bought canned pumpkin for my pies, but I have just been informed that most canned pumpkin is really squash. I guess I should read my labels better.

The best pumpkins for pie have familiar names, like the New England pie pumpkin, but less familiar are baby pam, Long Island cheese, long pie pumpkin, baby bear, ghost rider and spookie.

The first thing to remember about pumpkins and winter squash is that both are long-season fruits and need a long, warm season. Many gardeners use floating row covers or sturdier plastic over hoops early in the season to protect them from the weather, as well as cucumber beetles or other pests. They also need a rich soil with lots of organic matter to help retain moisture, a pH of 6 to 6.8, as well as a lot of sun and a lot of room. Their vines can run amuck in the garden.

The All-America Selections (AAS) Cinderella pumpkin is also known as the Rouge Vif d’Etampes, because of its color and shape resembling Cinderella’s coach. It will send out 10-foot-vines, and the fruits can weigh up to 20 pounds. Sorcerer pumpkin, another AAS winner, is similar in size with similar vines, but a deeper, dark orange color.

There are bush varieties, like gold nugget squash, which looks exactly like a pumpkin. This AAS squash can produce up to 10 fruits per plant, weighing about 1 or 1½ pounds.

What about those
white pumpkins?

Over the past few years, ghostly white pumpkins have come on the scene. There are a number of varieties. Baby boo is a miniature white pumpkin that might especially appeal to children. Flat white boer ford is bone white, and its flattened shape is similar to the Cinderella pumpkin. It will reach 30 pounds and is a good pumpkin for cooking. Lumina will grow to 20 pounds, and is a smooth, round squash good for carving and also good to eat. It is notable that these white pumpkins often need some shade to keep them from turning yellow.

The white pumpkin super moon is an AAS winner. It can reach up to 50 pounds and was chosen by AAS for its disease resistance, vigorous growth, early fruit development and flavor.

Johnny’s selected seeds and Baker Creek heirloom seeds offer large selections of very unusual pumpkins, like Galeux d’Eysines, which is a pale pink and covered with rough “warts.” It grows on a long vine and will weigh about 15 pounds. It can be a stunning decoration or can be eaten in stews and soups.

Pumpkins provide a lot of fun in many ways, including growing a giant pumpkin. I once attended a giant pumpkin club meeting and learned all about the trading in giant pumpkin seeds, and how to pamper plants over the spring and summer with shelters from the cold or wind, how to arrange proper watering and fertilizing.

They also talked about various pumpkin events. I was enchanted by the idea of a pumpkin race. Contestants hollowed out pumpkins large enough to sit in, and then raced each other across a pond. I always think of that race when I admire the giant pumpkins at the Franklin County Fair.

Make your own
pumpkin pie

I’m planning on some fun with a pumpkin, too, but it doesn’t involve a pond. I bought a pie pumpkin at the Greenfield Farmers Market, and I’m ready to make my first pumpkin pie from scratch — beginning with cooking the pumpkin. I’ve been told to cut the pumpkin in half, cut off the stem, scoop out all the seeds and scrape away any fibers.

Then, lay the pumpkin halves cut side down on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. It’s wise to test by inserting a paring knife here and there to make sure it is cooked through. Then, remove it from the oven and let it cool for an hour. Scrape out the cooked pumpkin flesh, put it in the food processor and process for two or three minutes until there is a smooth puree. The puree can be refrigerated for five days or so, or kept in the freezer for three months.

Bon appétit!

Pat Leuchtman has written and gardened since 1980. Visit her website at: www.commonweeder.com