I love most pumpkin-related foods: pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin scones, roasted pumpkin seeds, and even plain baked pumpkin with a bit of salt. And I love saying the word pumpkin. Pumpkin. Pumpkin. (Okay, now it’s starting to look weird. Gourd grief!)
And yes, I’m baking pumpkin bread (or cake, I haven’t exactly decided how sweet to take things) for my book club tonight. We’re discussing Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, which I highly recommend, and I think something pumpkiny will be very comforting.
So, from whence comes this lovely gourd? And is it more than just a beautiful, orange, carved face?
First of all, pumpkins, like all squashes and cucumbers, are actually fruits masquerading as vegetables. Pumpkins are 90% water and packed with beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lutein — nutrients which give them their lovely hue and magically turn into Vitamin A in the body. In case you’ve forgotten, you need Vitamin A to (among other things) create new blood cells, keep your immune system strong, and improve your eyesight, including night vision (trick-or-treating? A breeze!). Other awesome sources of Vitamin A include sweet potatoes and carrots. Don’t throw out those pumpkin seeds when you’re done carving, either – they are full of zinc, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, iron, copper, and protein (and they’re mighty tasty, too). Here’s how you can roast them to perfection: scoop them out of said pumpkin, wipe off excess pulp (don’t rinse), spread on paper towels and let them dry overnight; the next day, place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer, add salt or a little oil for flavor and bake at 170 degrees for about 20 minutes. Store them in the fridge for up to a week in an airtight container and add to salads, baked goods, oatmeal, or curries for an added crunch. (I found this picture at thymebomb.com and couldn’t resist – look at the broom next to the roasted pumpkin seeds? Too perfect!)
How did this humble squash become an edible mascot for all things fall? The Irish are credited for bringing pumpkin carving to the United States in the mid-1800s. (In Ireland they carved turnips, but found pumpkins easier to grow and carve.) Nathaniel Hawthorne was the first American to use the term “jack-o’-lantern” in his 1837 collection of stories, Twice-Told Tales: Pumpkins from the Crypt (sorry, I added the subtitle). Legends of “Jack of the lantern” — a farmer too evil to go to heaven and barred from hell after winning a bet with the devil–had been around for a long time. Irish children used to carry jack-o’-lanterns door to door on All Saints Day (November 1) to represent the souls of the dead and beg for “soul cakes.” (Remembering a soul wandering with only a satanic, ember-filled gourd by dressing up and eating loads of candy? I’m IN.)
I’m trying out a new recipe for pumpkin bread tonight, and I’ll certainly post the recipe later. In the meantime, carve those pumpkins sitting in your kitchen (or outside looking “natural” – yes, we have those too), roast those seeds, and blend up some pumpkin curry soup to ward off any evil cold-inducing spirits. Happy Halloween!