I’d heard about pumpkin patches before, and seen plenty of pictures of cherubic babies propped up in the midst of a field of orange, but I’d never actually been to one. How cool could it be? And how much better (or for that matter, cheaper) could it be than just picking up a few pumpkins at my local Home Depot where they get progressively cheaper the less Jack O’Lantern carving time remains before Halloween.
My opinion changed this past weekend, when my husband and I packed up our 2-year-old and headed for the country, along with her best friend Elijah and his parents. We had the sort of directions that only country folk can provide… head east along Route 52, past the big corn maze, and stay to the left at the fork. I was dubious as we got further and further from civilization. But then, we saw signs for “congestion ahead” on this unlikely stretch of field-bordered road. And sure enough, a huge gravel parking lot filled with SUVs, and a corral of beat-up wheelbarrows. Behind that, a sea of orange. Our two year olds went nuts, trying to lift the heavy orbs, trotting along the paths that separated the enormous, hundred-pound pumpkins from their smaller, head-sized counterparts. We couldn’t help it: cameras came out and we snapped away madly, getting caught up in an all-American pastime. I was particularly impressed with how many different shapes sizes and even colors of pumpkins there were — even blue pumpkins, which were marked as being “Eatable.”
As we drove away, the back of our Volvo sagging under the weight of more pumpkins that we probably need (to the tune of $35!), I started thinking that “eatable” sign by the blue pumpkins and about how most of the thousands of pumpkins at Bert’s Pumpkin Patch will rot on someone’s doorstep until they get thrown out to make room for the Christmas decorations, or they’ll get carved into grotesque faces. It seems like a terrible waste of a perfectly edible food.
I think pumpkin is an underrated fruit (so underrated, in fact, that many people think it’s a veggie). For some reason, Americans only think of it as something to eat from Halloween to Thanksgiving. But with the availability of canned pumpkin year-round, or the ability to make your own pumpkin puree and freeze it for later, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy pumpkin-flavored goodies year-round.
And if the rich flavor of pumpkin isn’t reason enough to indulge, its healthy nutritional profile should convince you. Pumpkin is a great source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that can help prevent against certain types of cancers. It is high in vitamin A and potassium, and a decent source of fiber. Low in calories and fat-free, its creamy consistency makes it a good substitute for some of the fattier liquid ingredients in baked goods.
I like to stir pumpkin puree into oatmeal, or make dense, moist pumpkin bread. Mixed with goat cheese or grated parmesan cheese, it’s a delicious ravioli filling. Plus, at Thanksgiving, it’s my family’s favorite pie.
Canned pumpkin is certainly convenient, but if you went a little pumpkin-crazy this year at your own pumpkin patch, making pumpkin puree is simple. Just be sure to use smaller pumpkins (about 6 to 8 inches diameter); they’ll be more flavorful.
Wash the exterior of a small pumpkin (often known as a “pie pumpkin”). Cut it in half from stem to base, and scoop out the seeds and pulp (save the seeds to roast separately). Cut pumpkin into small enough pieces to fit inside a microwave-safe glass baking dish. Add an inch of water to the bottom of the dish and cover. Microwave on high for 15 minutes. Check the pumpkin to see if it’s soft enough so a fork easily pierces the flesh. If not, keep microwaving for 5 minutes at a time until it’s soft.
Let the pumpkin sit out until it’s cool enough to handle, then scoop the pumpkin flesh from the rind. If it seems watery, you can strain it overnight in a fine mesh strainer or a piece of cheesecloth suspended over a bowl to catch the liquid. Use a blender or an immersion blender to puree the cooked pumpkin until it’s creamy.
You can also cook pumpkin in the oven, using the same method. Just use an ovenproof container with a lid, and be sure to add about an inch of water to the base of the pan. Cook at 350?F for 45 minutes to an hour until it’s soft, and check halfway through cooking to make sure that the water hasn’t completely evaporated.
Now you’re ready to use your puree in pies, breads and whatever else you feel like cooking up! Bon appetit!