If you’ve been around Island Vittles for a while, especially if you’re a fan of my Facebook page, you’ll probably know that I’m not a huge fan of pumpkins as an edible. Oh, I have couple of favouites — my Mom’s pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, and a pumpkin/peanut soup warms my soul — but I have to say that, as a food blogger, I’ve come to dread October and the “creativity” of some bloggers who work it into everything from coffee to a dessert dip made with puree and cookie dough. (The single most disgusting recipe I have come across in 3 years of blogging — no, I’m not sharing the link here, cause that would just be mean.)
Aside from the fact that too much of anything always becomes vomit-worthy in the end, the other reason for my pumpkin despair is the amount of farmland North Americans take up growing jack o’ lantern pumpkins. Land that could be used to grow food, not ornamentals.
I wrote the following article a couple of years ago, for a local Pender magazine that has since folded, but I’ve pulled it out of my archives to
nag encourage you to recycle that pumpkin into your favourite dish.
(Originally published in Avid Magazine, November 2010.)
Wild Food – On the Front Porch
Halloween has become the second biggest consumer event of the year after Christmas. Canadians spend approximately $1.5 billion in costumes, candy and decorations each year, much of it disposed of within days.
In 2008, Canadian farmers planted 7,000 acres with pumpkins. In the same year, Greater Vancouver had 149 farms growing almost 1,000 acres of pumpkins. That is a lot of fertile land devoted to growing a crop that has become, for most, little more than a decoration.
I’m not a humbug, I promise — we have a jack o’ lantern on our front porch every year, and enthusiastically greet trick-or-treaters knocking at the door. I have no doubt that the majority of jack o’lanterns end up in the compost rather than the landfill. At the same time, I do find myself wondering what happened to pumpkins as food.
Pumpkins belong to the cucurbit family of plants that also includes squash, melons and cucumbers — the word pumpkin originates from the Greek pepon, meaning “large melon.” Native to the Americas, pumpkins were cultivated in Mexico as early as 7000 B.C. Rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants, this hearty and versatile fruit nourished Native Americans for centuries, and the first pilgrims from Europe gratefully welcomed it to their kitchens and storerooms.
Pumpkin’s journey from food staple to holiday accessory began with the mass arrival of immigrants from Ireland and Scotland in the 19th Century. Halloween’s predecessor, the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain, was an harvest-end celebration of bonfires, costumes and masks. It was believed the line between the living and the dead disappeared on October 31, and the dead could rise to curse the living with illness and crop damage. The original jack o’ lanterns were carved from large turnips and put out to defend the home from evil — once in North America, pumpkins were found to be easier to carve.
While some varieties, such as Sugar Pumpkins, are specifically grown to be eaten, any commonly available pumpkin is perfectly edible. We carve our jack o’lantern on the 31st, then turn it into pumpkin puree the next day. To make your own, cut a cleaned and seeded pumpkin into large pieces and lightly salt. Roast, cut side down, on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven until very soft. When cool, scoop out the flesh from the rind into a food processor or food mill and puree until smooth.
Pumpkin puree is rich and sweet, making it ideal for muffins and breads, soups, dehydrated fruit leather, and of course, you can never go wrong with a pie. High in fibre, it is an excellent digestive regulator for both man and beast — many veterinarians recommend a spoonful of puree with meals as a dietary supplement for dogs and cats suffering from either constipation or diarrhea.
Our homes and selves are kept safe for another year; it’s time to bring your carved pumpkin into the kitchen, lest you lose it to Cinderella’s fairy godmother, or more likely, the mould of forgotten fruit.
(All the jack o’ lanterns in this post were carved by my gifted husband, Howard.)