Pumpkin

A pumpkin is a cultivar of a squash plant, most commonly of Cucurbita pep, that is round, with smooth, slightly ribbed skin, and deep yellow to orange colouration. The thick shell contains seeds and pulp. Some exceptionally large ones are derived from Cucurbita maxima. In NZ and Australia, the term pumpkin generally refers to the broader category called winter squash elsewhere.

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Native to North America pumpkins are widely grown for commercial use and are used both in food and recreation. Pumpkin pie is a traditional part of Thanksgiving meals in the US although commercially canned pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie fillings are usually made from different kinds of winter squash than the pumpkins frequently carved as for decoration at Halloween. Pumpkins, like other squash, are thought to have originated in North America. The oldest evidence of pumpkin-related seeds dating between 7000 and 5500 BC was found in Mexico. Since some squash share the same botanical classifications as pumpkins, the names are frequently used interchangeably. One often-used botanical classification relies on the characteristics of the stems: pumpkin stems are more rigid, prickly, and angular (with an approximate five-degree angle) than squash stems, which are generally softer, more rounded and more flared where joined to the fruit. Pumpkin fruits are a type of botanical berry known as a pepo. The word pumpkin originates from the word pepon which is Greek for “large melon”, something round and large. The French adapted this word to pompon, which the British changed to pumpion and to the later American colonists became known as pumpkin. Traditional C. pepo pumpkins generally weigh between 3 and 8kg (6 and 18 lb), though the largest cultivars, C. maxima, regularly reach weights of over 34 kg (75 lb). The color of pumpkins derives from orange carotenoid pigments, including beta-carotene found in carrots, provitamin B compounds converted to vitamin A in the body.

Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop that are usually planted in early July. The specific conditions necessary for growing pumpkins require that soil temperatures 8cm (3 in) deep are at least 15.5C (60F) and soil that holds water well. Pumpkin crops suffer if there is a lack of water or because of cold temperatures and sandy soil with poor water retention or poorly drained soils that become waterlogged after heavy rain. Pumpkins are, however, rather hardy, and even if many leaves and portions of the vine are removed or damaged, the plant can very quickly re-grow secondary vines to replace what was removed. The thing I most fear for our pumpkins is powdery mildew – Powdery Mildew

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A courgette with powdery mildew – the white spots that grow on the leaves before the plant shrivels and dies.

Pumpkins produce both a male and female flower. Bees play a significant role in the fertilisation of the flowers. Pumpkins have historically been pollinated by the native squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, but this bee has declined, probably at least in part to pesticide sensitivity. Today most commercial plantings are pollinated by honeybees. One hive per acre (4,000 m2 per hive, or 5 hives per 2 hectares) is recommended by the US Dept. of Agriculture. If there are inadequate bees for pollination, gardeners often have to hand pollinate – inadequately pollinated pumpkins usually start growing but abort before full development.

To grow pumpkins, plant one seed in a tall yoghurt container filled with good compost, puncture a hole in the bottom of the pot to allow water to drain through, in April. Plant 1.5cm, 1/2 inch, deep (deep as your thumb) and firm the soil over the top. Keep well watered and put on a warm, sunny windowsill in your house. Take it off the windowsill at night to keep it warm. Transplant outdoors in May or when the frosts are over, spacing 1.2m (4’) apart. Keep moist and well fed – I feed mine lots of manure throughout the season because of my sandy soil that leaks away the nutrients – pumpkins are hungry plants. To prevent the fruit from rotting, gently lift from the ground and place a brick or large stone underneath them. Careful not to damage the stem. Harvest once they are turning orange all over, September – November and before the first frosts. The most obvious clue is to look at the stem as if it has died off and turned hard you know that the fruits are ready. Other ways of telling that the moment of truth has arrived is to slap the fruit (it should sound hollow) and to push your thumbnail into the skin, which should dent but not puncture. Cut the stalks a good 4 inches from where it joins the fruit. Wash the fruit with soapy water containing one part of chlorine bleach to ten parts of water to remove the soil and kill the pathogens on the surface of the fruit. Make sure the fruits are well dried. Then you need to cure it. Curing involves the hardening the skins to protect the flesh inside from deterioration. Do it properly and you can expect fruits to stay in top form for at least three months, comfortably taking you to the first harvests of next spring.  Remove the fruits to a greenhouse or as sunny a windowsill as you can find having first brushed off any dirt. Allow your fruits to sunbathe and develop a tan! This should take about two weeks for the top of the fruit then once carefully flipped over, another two weeks for the bottom. Pumpkins and winter squash prefer a well-ventilated, dry place. Keep the fruits raised up off hard surfaces on racks or wire mesh with a thick layer of newspaper or straw. Keeping them off the ground will allow air to circulate around the fruits while the extra padding will prevent the skin softening and becoming vulnerable to infection.

The best pumpkin variety I’ve tried so far are ‘Racer’.

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The practice of carving pumpkins for Halloween originated from an Irish myth about a man named Stingy Jack. The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both readily available and much larger, making them easier to carve than turnips. Not until 1837, does jack-o’-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern and the carved pumpkin lantern association with Halloween is first recorded in 1866. In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween. In 1900, an article on Thanksgiving entertaining recommended a lit jack-o’-lantern as part of the festivities to encourage families to join together to make their own jack-o’-lanterns. Association of pumpkins with harvest time and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving reinforce its iconic role. Pumpkin chunking is a competitive activity in which teams build various mechanical devices designed to throw a pumpkin as far as possible. Catapults and air cannons are some of the common mechanisms. Some pumpkin chunkers breed and grow special varieties of pumpkin under specialized conditions to improve the pumpkin’s chances of surviving a throw.

Pumpkin seeds, leaves, and juices all pack a nutritional punch. Pumpkin has a range of health benefits, including being one of the best-known sources of beta-carotene and are a good source of fibre -one cup of cooked pumpkin is 2.7kg of fibre. Pumpkins have been found to reduce blood pressure, reduce risk of cancer, combats diabetes and supports your immune system.

Here are some yummy pumpkin recipes and ideas to get you started:

You can simply roast them at 180C in the oven covered in olive oil for 45 minutes. You can use them in soups, stews. Grate them up and add them to any casserole or bolognese, stir fry etc. Make pumpkin pie, try inventing a new dip…

Pumpkin Coconut Curry

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What to do with left over pumpkin? – make pumpkin seeds taste like popcorn

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Happy Halloween! Recipe Flashbacks – pumpkin cake anyone?!

What to do with left over pumpkin?

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For anyone who is debating throwing out their pumpkin after Halloween – stop!

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Start by cutting it up into chunks.

Any seeds you have saved from the inside, pat them dry and follow this recipe:

Pumpkin Seed Crisps – smell and taste like popcorn

– Seeds from a pumpkin – Salt and pepper – Olive oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Scrape out the seeds from the inside of a pumpkin and pat dry with kitchen roll. Place them on a pan and sprinkle salt and pepper generously over the top along with a little olive oil.
  3. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

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For the pumpkin flesh, put the chunks on large roasting trays and drizzle with olive oil. Pop them in the oven at 180C and roast for about 40 minutes or until they are cooked.

Eat them like this alongside other veggies or dishes or use these roasted slices for another recipe…

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Pumpkin Curry

(Serves 4)

– 1 onion, finely sliced – 1 tsp ghee or oil for frying – 1 tbsp mustard seeds – 1tbsp nigella seeds – 1 tbsp fenegreek seeds – 1 handful curry leaves – 1 tsp cumin – 1 tsp ground coriander – 1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric – 1 1/4  tsp ground garam masala – 500g roasted pumpkin – 1 large garlic clove, diced  Rice, chapatti, popadom, naan or a mixture, to serve – Freshly cut coriander and parsley, to serve

  1. Oil a large frying pan. Peel and slice the onion into thin strips and place in the pan. Heat high for a few minutes before turning down to simmer, stirring the onion. Let the onion simmer to a golden brown before adding the mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fenegreek seeds and curry leaves, stirring in the ingredients to combine. Allow the contents of the pan to simmer for a few minutes to absorb the flavours.
  2. Add the other spices: cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and garam masala, quickly followed by the pumpkin.
  3. Add the diced garlic clove, stir in.
  4. Serve hot on its own, with rice, an Indian bread, chutneys and freshly picked herbs from your garden, like parsley or coriander, torn and sprinkled over the top.

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Pumpkin Dahl 

(Serves 4)

– 1 onion, finely sliced – 1 tsp ghee or oil for frying – 1 tbsp mustard seeds – 1tbsp nigella seeds – 1 tbsp fenegreek seeds – 1 handful curry leaves – 1 tsp cumin – 1 tsp ground coriander – 1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric – 1 1/4  tsp ground garam masala – 300-400g roasted and food-processed/ raw, grated pumpkin – 1 large garlic clove, diced – 250g red split lentils -Boiling water from the kettle – Rice, chapatti, popadom, naan or a mixture, to serve – Freshly cut coriander and parsley, to serve

  1. Oil a large frying pan. Peel and slice the onion into thin strips and place in the pan. Heat high for a few minutes before turning down to simmer, stirring the onion. Let the onion simmer to a golden brown before adding the mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fenegreek seeds and curry leaves, stirring in the ingredients to combine. Allow the contents of the pan to simmer for a few minutes to absorb the flavours.
  2. Add the other spices: cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and garam masala, quickly followed by the finely grated pumpkin. Place a pan lid over the top of the frying pan and leave until the pumpkin is slightly cooked. Lift the lid occasionally to stir to encourage the ‘sweating’ of the vegetables.
  3. Add the diced garlic clove, stir in.
  4. Meanwhile, boil a kettle of water. Put the red lentils into a glass or other microwave dish, large enough to hold all of the contents of the Dahl. Scrape the contents of the frying pan into the dish along with the lentils, followed by the boiling water, enough so that it is covering the ingredients. Stir to combine.
  5. Place a lid over the top of the Dahl and microwave for 15 minutes before checking and stirring. If the lentils have absorbed all of the liquid, it is ready. It will probably need around half an hour before this happens. If the lentils look too dry, add a dash of more boiling water.
  6. Serve hot on its own, with rice, an Indian bread, chutneys and freshly picked herbs from your garden, like parsley or coriander, torn and sprinkled over the top.

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Pumpkin Cake with Citrus Cream Cheese Sauce

Originally a River Cottage Veg Patch Cupcake recipe from a free booklet that came in my grandma’s paper. This is the first year I altered it slightly by making it into a Victoria sandwich styled all in one cake rather than individual cupcakes – it was little quicker and 12 pumpkin cupcakes can be hard to shift sometimes. The great thing about this recipe is that you really don’t know that there is pumpkin in it. I didn’t tell my family what the magic ingredient was the first time I made the cupcakes and they could not tell. Even my brother eats it and he is not the most ardent vegetable lover, let along pumpkin lover. Best cake to use a pumpkin in and the cream cheese icing is the perfect compliment. Who knew that citrus and pumpkin were such a lovely match? I also increase the amount of pumpkin…

A little note about the cream cheese sauce/icing: you might want to halve it as I always have too much but I just offer it as an addition as most people like to put extra with their slice. Also, mine never seems to set into icing hence why I have called it ‘sauce’. Looks prettily/spooky when it runs down the sides anyway…

Edit: After reading into it, I now know that the icing insists on using full-fat cream cheese otherwise it doesn’t set. I did use full-fat but very cheap stuff. So if you make this icing, go for full-fat, EXPENSIVE real cream cheese!

(Serves 10)

– 200g self-raising flour -1 tsp baking powder  – 3 medium sized eggs – 175g caster sugar – 300g roasted pumpkin – Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

For the cream cheese filling and topping: – 100g full-fat cream cheese – 25g butter, softened – 170g icing sugar – Finely grated zest of 1 orange

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line two 20cm sandwich tins with baking parchment.
  2. In a food processor, whizz the roasted pumpkin so it is finely grated.
  3. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl using an electric whisk until the mixture is thick, creamy and pale.
  4. Fold in the flour and baking powder. Scrape the pumpkin out from the food processor and fold in, followed by the lemon zest.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the cake tins evenly and smooth down the surfaces. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until lightly golden and springy to the touch. Insert a cake skewer into the centers to check that they are done. If it leaves clean, they are ready. Leave the cakes to cool in their tins for at least ten minutes before turning them out onto wire racks to cool completely. This is very important as the icing will run if spread on the cakes when they are too hot.
  6. To make the icing: beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl using an electric whisk until the mixture is smooth.
  7. Add the icing sugar and zest. Beat until it is very light and creamy. The mixture should be slightly thickened. If it is not, add a little more icing sugar and mix in well. Cover the bowl with a plate or cling-film and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before use. This is also important as it needs to be thickened or it will continue to run off the cake.
  8. Once the cake is completely cool and the icing has been left to chill, turn one cake upside down on a serving plate and spread half of the cream cheese icing over the base. Place the other half of the cake upright on top of the iced sponge. Ice the top of the other half, spreading and smoothing it over the surface carefully.
  9. Serve cut into slices. It should keep for about 3-4 days in an air-tight container.

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