Lettuce Eat Local: There’s pumpkin going on this time of year

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Amanda Miller
Columnist
Lettuce Eat Local

 

Pumpkins may be one of the most undersung heroes of the vegetable world. (Although, botanically speaking, they’re a fruit, so add “undercover” to their list of attributes.) The more I consider them, the more I am impressed by their incredible diversity and versatility — pie is not the only answer to pumpkin.

It is, however, one of its highest callings, so don’t fight me on that. I’m just saying there’s not less to the situation, there’s more. 

In fact, I’m looking at three particularly unique illustrations as I type. Sitting directly to my left, where it has been for a year, is the hardiest pumpkin specimen I’ve come across yet — except for its sibling, a pleasantly plump pale yellow-white pumpkin who’s been stationed on an end table in the living room for the same length of time. These two tortoises of the gourd world entered our house last October after my sister-in-law’s harvest party; I fully intended them to be decor for only the standard autumnal timeframe, eating or tossing them when the time came. 

“The time” just never came. The white-ish pumpkin matched perfectly with winter decorations, too, and since my stash of seasonal ornamentation is decidedly sparse (not to mention my motivation for spending much effort decorating), leaving it there was too easy. Then its color also seemed spring-y, so there it stayed, and since it made it to summer in still pristine condition, I figured we might as well leave it until fall again! Surely I’ll remove it soon.

No, it’s not a fake pumpkin. But if I believed in the undead, that would be its category. 

Same for that other pumpkin right here on the floor at the corner of my desk. It’s the classic orange; in shape, it’s broad and squatty. This one hasn’t stayed due to omnipresent seasonality, but rather because of its utilitarian functionality. Originally it was a “paperweight,” anchoring in place a woven rug that serves as a back-up catcher of farm dirt and holder of front-door footwear. That was already helpful, but when the stem broke off months ago, the pumpkin became the perfect stepstool for Benson to reach things off my desk or to peer over my shoulder while I typed. (That might not sound actually helpful, but they’re better options than him climbing onto the desk or hanging on my back.) In these last few weeks of my pregnancy, I may have also enlisted its aid in sitting eye-level with Benson but not actually on the floor, and for propping things on it so I don’t have to reach all the way to the ground. 

The third pumpkin illustration is in another category entirely. This one definitely isn’t boasting any aesthetic qualities, as it’s pockmarked with holes and bright green or red golf tees. My other sister-in-law dropped this one off last week, along with a child-size hammer. Yah I’d never seen this either, but they’d just had this activity in the preschool class where she works, and she wanted Benson to get to join in on the fun. He calls it his “silly pumpkin,” and when the mood strikes him, he gears up to work on it, pounding the tees in, pulling them out with a pliers, and repeating. I guarantee you this one will not magically stay good for a year. 

And all of this from pumpkins, without talking about the one on my doorstep, the ones that filled my kitchen last week when the cousins came over to carve, the pumpkin patch we visited, or the ones we’ll find in lattes, crumbles, cheesecakes, chilis, and all manner of edible goodness this season. 

And pie, don’t forget pie. Whether you look at your pumpkins or stand on them, make sure to also eat them.

In addition to all the other pumpkiny things going on, we had three different forms of snacky pumpkin seeds in just the last two days — salted pepitas, plain roasted in-shell, and home-roasted from that jack-o-lantern carving. (Apparently Benson has a thing for pumpkin seeds and I’m going to have to hide them all soon.) Behold again the amazing nature of this autumnal produce —  cook it or carve it, and get seeds as an extra benefit. It seems like a task to get them from slimy orange-covered chaos to crunchy snackies, but honestly it’s very easy, and you get to customize your flavoring to whatever you want. 

Prep tips: I like to soak pumpkin seeds before roasting, but that’s optional: some people say it makes them crispier somehow and more digestible, while others say it makes no difference. I mostly say it makes it easier to get the last bits of flesh off. 

fresh pumpkin seeds, from however many pumpkins you want

salt

olive oil or melted coconut oil

sugar

ras el hanout spice blend, OR equal parts cumin, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and pepper, with a dash of cayenne

Rinse the seeds a couple times, or enough to get most of the pumpkin flesh off. Transfer them to a glass bowl with a tablespoon or so of salt, and cover with water. Let sit overnight. 

Drain and rinse the pumpkin seeds, pulling out any remaining bits of pumpkin. Pat them dry, or leave them on a towel to airdry for a couple hours. Transfer to a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and stir to coat. Sprinkle with a little sugar (maybe half a tablespoon per cup of seeds) and some ras el hanout/the spice blend. Roast at 375° for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check for seasoning, adjust as necessary, and continue baking until crunchiness is achieved. 

 

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