In Praise Of Pumpkins

October 28, 1990|By Rosemary Knower

Waste not, want not. This time of year, a look at the fields heaped with mountains of pumpkins makes most people itch for a carving knife. What calls back childhood so well as the smell of a jack-o'-lantern pumpkin singed by its resident candle, or the spicy rum-and-ginger smells of pumpkin pie?

I was grown up before I discovered other uses for pumpkin, and was ashamed at the pulp I'd thrown away during all those years of carving jack-o'-lanterns. Pumpkin provides a rich, versatile puree that can serve as a base for soup or can be beaten into bread batter to make a moist, chewy breakfast. Pumpkin can be cut in chunks, boiled and mashed as a side dish. In fact, any recipe that cooked squash can do, cooked pumpkin can do.

We seem to be in the midst of a pumpkin renaissance, brought on by the pumpkin's close family ties to two popular squashes -- the calabaza and the kabocha -- varieties of West Indian and Japanese squash, respectively. Squash puree is one of the armory of culinary cosmetics on the nouveau plate because of its lovely color, varying from pale apricot to vibrant orange, and because it makes a fine foil for spicy food. Since many of the more exotic squashes are hard to find in the market, consider using pumpkin -- available in abundance. Among its virtues: It's relatively low in calories -- about 60 to a cup of raw pulp.

The recipes below for pumpkin bread, toasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin soup were all made from half of a pumpkin the size of a soccer ball. This is no doubt why an early visitor to America remarked in awe that "a single pumpkin could furnish a fortnight's pottage."

Sally Lunn pumpkin bread

Makes 1 pie plate.

Serve this bread with a selection of black currant preserves, dark honey, a good bitter marmalade and stewed apricots. It is also good with the slices split and toasted like English muffins for tea, and takes very well to thick, unsweetened cream and fresh raspberries. Unlike a traditional Sally Lunn, it is dense, moist and honeycombed with air bubbles that seemed designed to hold jam or fruit.

4 tablespoons butter at room temperature

4 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 eggs at room temperature

2 cups sifted flour, such as Wondra

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup of cooked pumpkin

1/4 cup of milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Butter a 10-inch, deep-dish Pyrex pie plate, or a 10-inch layer cake pan.

Cream the butter with the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until it is very light and fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until smooth at low speed. Separately, stir the baking powder and salt into the flour. Put the pumpkin into a blender with the milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Process until the pumpkin is pureed and smooth. Add the pumpkin and flour mixtures alternately to the butter mixture, beating at low speed until the batter is thoroughly blended. Pour batter into pan or pie plate. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes or until golden brown and done. The top will spring back when touched lightly.

Serve hot. It keeps well in the refrigerator if sealed in a zip-top bag, and takes kindly to rewarming.

Pumpkin, leek and mushroom soup

Serves four.

Served hot, this is an old-fashioned pottage, thick and substantial. It makes a fast, weekday supper warmed up with a tablespoon of dry white wine and chopped parsley. Or serve with a savory sausage, hot bread and cold, tart apple slices. Served cold, it makes a nice fall variation on vichyssoise. Thinly sliced ham, hearts-of-palm and chicory salad and bread sticks with wedges of mellow Cheddar complete the cold meal.

2 cups cooked pumpkin pulp

1 10 1/2 -ounce can beef broth (bouillon)

1/2 cup very thinly sliced leeks -- white part only

1 1/2 cups roughly chopped fresh mushrooms

1 tablespoon bacon drippings

1 1/2 cups potatoes, cooked and mashed

about 1/2 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cracked pepper

Puree the pumpkin with 1/2 of the bouillon in a blender. Saute the mushrooms and leeks over very low heat in the bacon drippings, until they are quite soft. Add them to the pumpkin puree and process the mixture until it is smooth. Pour it into another container. Put the mashed potatoes into the blender, along with the remaining bouillon. Puree until smooth, adding water as necessary. Pour the potato puree into the pumpkin puree, stir smooth and add the salt and pepper.

Cheese-garlic toasted pumpkin seeds

Yield: 1 cup of toasted seeds.

Thomas Culpeper, in his "Complete Herbal and English Physician," mentions the pumpkin as "a moist plant, under the dominion of the Moon. The seed is cooling. . . ." In other words, Culpeper thought the seeds were good to cool a hot temper. You might try serving these TV-side at the next Redskins game, to see if he's right.

L 1 cup pumpkin seeds, separated from the fiber but not washed

1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper

1 scant tablespoon Parmesan cheese

1 clove of garlic cut into slivers

Melt the butter and combine it with the salt, pepper, Parmesan and garlic. Let it stand for 5 minutes. Stir the seeds in the butter mixture until they are coated. Spread them on a non-stick cookie sheet. Use the back of a soup spoon to slide them away from each other into a single layer. Roast at 250 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the seeds are golden-brown.

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