The Many-colored


Colors in the patch include red, white and even blue, but nearly all can make tasty treats.

October 23, 2002|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Consider them one of Mother Nature's colorful surprises: pumpkins that are a shade apart from those normally found in the patch.

Pumpkins are no longer exclusively orange. The latest trend includes shiny orbs in crayon-box hues like bright red, yellow and even blue. Besides bringing a new aesthetic to seasonal decorating, colored pumpkins also add another dimension to cooking, with subtle variations in taste.

"Years ago, I only remember the regular orange pumpkins," says produce manager Allan Levitt of Sutton Place Gourmet, showing off the Pikesville store's eye-catching display of pumpkins and squash.

He pauses to thump a blue pumpkin - a medium-sized globe that actually appears a sea-foam bluish color. Next, he gently cups a tiny white pumpkin in his palm - the aptly named `Jack-B-Little.'

"Now there are so many different kinds of pumpkins," says Levitt, surveying the array of shapes, sizes and colors. He smiles and adds, "Some of them make for fabulous eating."

There are upward of 200 varieties of pumpkins, all with generally the same fleshy orange interior. But on the outside, the colors range from the vivid red `Rouge d'Etant' to the `Australian Blue' and `Crown Prince,' the latter with a steel-gray skin exterior and sweet orange flesh.

In between those extremes are tan or beige pumpkins - also sweet and widely used by commercial food processors to make canned pumpkin-pie fillings and purees.

Cheese pumpkins have multicolored green-, white- and brown-swirled skins, and are hailed for their flavor. Then there are assorted yellow and green pumpkins: The `Sweet Mama' is deep green with orange flesh that is good for pies, soups and roasting.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the somewhat rare white pumpkin, sometimes referred to by its varietal name, `Lumina.'

It's one of several different types of pumpkins grown on 46 acres owned by Frank Sensenig of Lancaster County, Pa.

"We plant in June, and harvest them in September and October," says Sensenig, noting that pumpkins thrive in well-drained soil, with plentiful amounts of nutrients and water.

Each week he sells his pumpkins and other produce at a 50,000-square- foot open-air market in Leola, Pa. (just outside Lancaster).

"Our pumpkins go all over the United States and overseas," he says. Technically classified as a fruit, the pumpkin's more common use as a vegetable dates back several centuries to its origins in Mexico, where it was a staple in everyday cooking.

Today, the humble pumpkin may show up in everything from traditional pies and soups to nouveau pastas. Low in fat, cholesterol and calories, pumpkins are loaded with vitamins A and C and have plenty of potassium and protein.

While most chefs seem to favor the familiar orange `Jack-O'-Lantern' pumpkin (sometimes called the field pumpkin) in the kitchen, demand for menu items featuring colored pumpkins increases somewhat around the Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays.

"In some ways it's gimmicky, but we try to keep the recipes cutting-edge," says Dan Lewis, corporate chef for Sutton Place Gourmet's six locations in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. "People want more oven-ready and prepared foods this time of the year."

To that end, the Pikesville store is carrying a dessert-style pumpkin salad - chunks tossed with yogurt and accented by currants. They are using the mini `Jack-B-Little' white pumpkins as ramekins stuffed with pumpkin risotto.

While pumpkins are the foundation for many delicious dishes, experts say cooking with them requires time and patience.

"They are not the easiest thing to work with, because you have to prep the pumpkin," says Lewis. "At some point, you usually have to peel them and dice them. You have to cut the pumpkin into fairly large pieces and roast it before it can be mashed or pureed."

Bob Matthews, creator of a pumpkin information Internet site called www, says colored pumpkins tend to come with their own quirks.

"The colorful pumpkins are great, but they can have tougher skins. And the pulp of the white and blue [pumpkins] can be tough too, almost gourdlike," he says.

His suggestions? "With any pumpkin, the larger it is, the tougher the texture. It's good to pick one that is smaller in size. ... They will usually be the softest and smoothest."

Finally, the experts agree that the color of the pumpkin is just a small factor in how a recipe will ultimately taste. "Use your creativity," says Matthews. "That's most important, whether you are making pudding, stuffing or baking pumpkins."

Lewis agrees. "With the orange pumpkins and the colored pumpkins, there are some differences in flavor, but the seasoning is what will have the most influence on the end product."

Pumpkin Flan

Makes about 1 dozen


1/2 cup granulated sugar


2 cups milk

2 cups heavy cream

6 whole eggs

3 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup roasted pumpkin pulp, pureed smooth

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice

whipped cream, grated nutmeg for garnish

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