Whether you are a zealous advocate for or a staunch critic against pumpkin-spiced foods, as soon as the first day of autumn rolls around again, a panoply of pumpkin products is unleashed, to your rejoicing or your chagrin.
Pumpkins are one of the most redeeming qualities of fall, in my estimation. They’re such cheerful sentries, standing guard in a welcoming sort of way on almost every doorstep. Though they are still and silent, pumpkins evoke feelings of coziness and thoughts of holidays. A crisp and sunny October afternoon is made complete with clear skies providing the backdrop to drying leaves rustling in the breeze and bright orange pumpkins lining my porch.
That said, even with all those positive aspects, pumpkin spice things make me a little sad. Don’t get me wrong; I love the advent of pumpkin season. Be it a pastry, pudding, soup, ice cream, cake, beverage, or whatever -- if it’s pumpkin, I’ll eat it.
I make pumpkin custard pie all year round because we’re that kind of people. Things that good don’t have a season.
But I feel twinges of sorrow regarding most of these pumpkin products, because they have so much wasted potential. Too often all you taste in pumpkin spice is the spices; the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves get all the credit, and real pumpkin may or may not be even involved.
Again, I love those flavors, but it feels so unfair to my lovely pumpkin friends. It’s like fruit snacks that contain “up to 10 percent real fruit juice” or popcorn shrimp, which doesn’t ever even have any popcorn and disappoints me to no end.
So put pumpkin and its associated spices in all the trendy things and all the predictable places, but also try pumpkin as itself. As "The Joy of Cooking" puts it so well, it makes a “surprisingly satisfactory vegetable,” and another cookbook, "A Well-Seasoned Appetite," reminds us that “pumpkin’s only insurmountable limitation is the sense of possibility in the heart of the cook."
As a member of the rather large and varied Cucurbitaceae/gourd family, pumpkins are technically fruits, that are grown like vegetables, and treated culinarily as either. Their name comes from “large melon,” and they originated here in the Americas, but are now grown on every continent except Antarctica. The US produces about 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins annually, and the colors, sizes, and shapes go way beyond the standard smooth-skinned orange orb.
You can find red, green, yellow, blue, white, and even grayish pumpkins, in anywhere from teeny tiny to humongous — the current largest pumpkin on record weighs over 2,500 pounds, which is awesome and slightly terrifying. All pumpkins are edible, although different varieties are better for different uses. You knew the seeds were delicious, but even the skin and leaves can be eaten.
Most people are quick to inform me that just because I can eat it doesn’t mean I should, so I’ll qualify that by adding I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted the leaves and I only eat the peel of fresh homegrown pumpkins.
Pumpkins do store really well like other winter squash, so if it’s going to freeze overnight, pull some sturdy, unblemished ones off your porch and store them inside in a cool, dry place.
Then maybe you can have pumpkin pie for months right alongside us.
Amanda Miller writes a column about local foods for The Hutchinson News. She teaches classes at Apron Strings and makes cheese on her family’s dairy farm near Pleasantview. Reach her at email@example.com