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The Great Pumpkin
The season’s favorite gourd is both versatile and well-traveled

By B.A. Nilsson

It’s not exactly on the order of Halloween pumpkin smashing, but the noble gourd rated a mention in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor as those titular wives plotted to humiliate the fat, randy Falstaff. “Go to, then,” says Mrs. Ford, as her friends help her set up an assignation. “We’ll use this unwholesome humidity, this gross watery pumpion; we’ll teach him to know turtles from jays.”

The Greeks called it a “pepon,” or large melon; this got Gallicized into “pompon” before Shakespeare got hold of it. Early American settlers changed the second syllable to “-kin,” itself a version of the German “-chen,” and still used as an instrument of maternal torture in such formations as “my little lamb-i-kin.”

For all that European travel, the pumpkin itself seems to have originated in Central America; certainly the recipes that have endured are known to have crisscrossed the American continents for several thousand years. Now it’s grown in every continent except Antarctica.

Several varieties of gourd qualify to be called pumpkins. They belong to the family of curcurbita, which also claims the squash and cucumber. Cucurbita moschata look like butternut squash (and are related to them) and provide the meat you find in canned pumpkin products. Your jack o’ lantern is carved from cucurbita pepo, while the half-ton monsters are of the species cucurbita maxima. Cucurbita Mixta includes the cushaw melon, and there are many colorful varieties of pumpkin arriving on the scene. You’ve probably seen the white ones; red (rouge d’etant) and blue aren’t far behind.

Pumpkins need little garden coddling except for a long growing season (here in zone five, we start seeds under grow lamps in late spring) and the occasional turn of the fruit as it languishes in the field. As with other squash varieties, the blossoms make a worthy delicacy. They’re great as a sauté, deep fried, and in soup.

Were pumpkins part of that first Thanksgiving? Probably—or at least soon thereafter. They were too much a Native American staple to go unused. In fact, they proved useful to Native Americans as more than just food: You could weave mats and the like out of dried pumpkin.

Not surprisingly, then, some of the more interesting pumpkin recipes come from books that focus on this country’s indigenous population. Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations by Lois Ellen Frank (Ten-Speed Press, 2002) gives a well-informed overview of tradition and current practice, with recipes geared to the home cook.

Pumpkin Corn Soup with Ginger-Lime Cream can be served in a small pumpkin, if you’re ambitious. Prepare your pumpkin meat by quartering the squash, removing seeds and fiber (but cook the seeds for snacking) and baking the quarters, inside down, for 45 minutes in a 350-degree oven. When the meat has cooled, scrape it from the skins and blast it through your food processor. Two pounds of pumpkin should yield two cups of cooked meat.

Cook three cups of corn kernels until soft, then send them through a food processor. Season the corn purée with two cloves of garlic (finely chopped), salt and white pepper, and add three cups of chicken stock. Bring this to a boil over medium heat, and add the pumpkin. Stir and cook for another 10 minutes.

Peel and grate a tablespoon of fresh ginger, and combine it with the juice and zest of two limes. Add a half-cup of heavy cream. Use a dollop of this as a garnish when you serve the soup.

The recipe for Tesuque Pumpkin Cookies comes from the Tesuque Pueblo just north of Santa Fe. Cream together two cups apiece of sugar and shortening; add two cups of cooked pumpkin, two beaten eggs and two teaspoons of vanilla extract.

Separately combine four cups of flour, two teaspoons baking soda and small amounts of salt, nutmeg and allspice. Add the dry to the wet ingredients, a little at a time. Stir in two cups raisins and one cup chopped walnuts.

Drop the mixture by the tablespoonful on a greased cookie sheet, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Pumpkin pie began as a confection baked right inside the pumpkin; Here’s a variation from a new and wonderful book titled Foods of the Americas by Fernando and Marlene Divina (Ten-Speed Press, 2004): Baked Pumpkin with Corn and Apple Pudding can be served with ice cream or whipped cream.

Working with a 350-degree oven, dry 1/2 cup cornmeal on a baking sheet, then toast 3/4 cup pine nuts. Cut around the stems of four four-inch pumpkins and save those tops; scrape out the seeds.

Combine three coarsely chopped green apples, 1/2 cup apple cider, and 1/2 cup milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Pass the mixture through a sieve and purée the pulp, then add it to the liquid again over medium-high heat. Add the cornmeal, 1 cup of mixed dried fruit, 1/2 cup maple syrup (or honey) and season with mace, allspice and cinnamon. Stir it with a wooden spoon as it simmers for five to seven minutes, then add the pine nuts.

Distribute the pudding mixture among the pumpkins, replace the tops, and bake in an inch of water for 35 to 40 minutes, until the pumpkins are fork-tender. Serve warm.

This is also one of the few recipes that allows the more nutritious aspect of the pumpkin to come through: The gourd is rich in vitamin A and potassium.

At my house, several pumpkins decorate the porch right now and we’re about to embark on our annual fight over what’s to be cooked and what’s for show, with the opposing factions trying to claim the nicest-looking ones. Having but one child in the family means that the Court of Appeals is made up of three, with the tie-breaking vote almost invariably going to Mom. Still, I’ll try to have some cookies and soup on hand should you find yourself in the neighborhood. Just look for the porch that’s crawling with pumpkins.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, authors of The Book Club Cookbook, will be at the Schenectady County Public Library (Clinton and Liberty Streets, Schenectady) from noon-5 PM Sunday, Oct. 17, to discuss and sign their book. The event is a fund-raiser for the Capital Campaign to expand the downtown library to include a new children’s center, gallery and performance space. Samples of food made by area restaurants from The Book Club Cookbook recipes will be offered for sale. Gelman and Krupp interviewed book-club members all over the country to see what they were reading and eating; the result is a collection of 100 entries, each focusing on a literary masterpiece. . . . The Hudson Valley Council of Girl Scouts will hold its third annual Cookie Cuisine event from 6-9 PM Tue, Oct. 26 at the Italian-American Community Center (Washington Ave. Ext., Albany). Honorary Chair Carmine Sprio, Ric Orlando and a host of talented culinary teams take on the challenge of preparing gourmet entrées and desserts using Girl Scout cookies. This year’s participants include the Arlington House, Aromi D’Italia, Capital District EOC, Carmine’s, Crowne Plaza, Magnolia’s, New World Home Cooking, Real Seafood, SUNY Cobleskill and 333 Café. Tickets are $35; pony up $75 and you’ll be part of the honorary committee. For reservations, call Sharon Smith 489-8110, ext. 105. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com)


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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