The leaves have begun to change and the hot winds of summer have given way to the cool fall breezes. And before we know it, it is that time of year again, PUMPKIN TIME! As families and chefs alike run off to the pumpkin patches to gather these wonderful orange gifts, one wonders…what is the low-down on pumpkins?
Pumpkins have a long history and have been around a lot longer than its usage in the First Thanksgiving. The seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating all the way back to 7000 to 5500 B.C. In fact, references to Pumpkins date back many centuries. The name itself originated from the Greek word for "large melon" which is "pepon." "Pepon" was changed by the French into "pompon." The English changed "pompon" to "Pumpion" eventually it evolved to pumpkin.
The pumpkin is a gourd-like squash of the genus Cucurbita, which also includes cucumbers. Which would explain the wateriness of both the cucumber and the pumpkin, as the pumpkin is 90 percent water! This wonderful vegetable is so resilient that is grows on six of the seven continents including Alaska. Antarctica is the only continent that they won't grow in.
When ripe, the pumpkin can be boiled, baked, steamed, or roasted. The Middle East uses it for sweet dishes; a well-known sweet delicacy is called halawa yaqtin. South Asian countries like India, cooks the pumpkin with butter, sugar, and spices; this dish is called kadu ka halwa.
In Guangxi province, located in China, the leaves of the pumpkin plant are consumed as a cooked vegetable or in soups. Australians often roast it with other vegetables. Here is the United States, during early colonial times used the pumpkin as an ingredient for pie crust and not for the filling as we do today. And of course, the pumpkin can be used for flavor in both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.
The grand history and usage aside, one must be wondering how to use this wonderful plant in a new way…and here it is!
Pumpkin Punch (alcoholic)
• 2 qts. Pumpkin juice (Directions below)
• 1/3 c. packed light brown sugar
• 2 pieces (2 inches each) cinnamon stick
• 2 c. dark rum
• 8 long cinnamon sticks, for garnish
Pumpkin Juice: (takes about an hour or two based on pumpkin size) Keep your eye on it!
Place pumpkin on cookie sheet. Cut the pumpkin in half if was not already carved (Otherwise…expect a cleanup)
The juice will separate from the pumpkin flesh, spoon off this juice periodically and save it so it doesn't leak all over your oven. Once your pumpkin flesh has baked long enough to be good and soft, remove from the oven and let it cool. Strain the pumpkin flesh. (You can use the flesh for other recipes)
In a nonreactive pan combine the juice, brown sugar, and short cinnamon sticks. Set over medium-low heat, partially cover, and slowly bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally and skimming any scum that forms on the surface.
Meanwhile, divide the rum among 8 large mugs. Strain the juice into the mugs and serve immediately.
You don’t have to be at Hogwarts to imbibe this elixir but after a few… You might think you are.
Photos provided by: rawfoodsdiet.wetpaint.com, learningoasis.org, flickr.com, planetearthdvd.info and xandgunn.livejournal.com