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Native Cooking Column by Dale Carson

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Days are full now. It is the best time. I asked someone the other day what they thought of food-wise when they thought about October. They said, without hesitation, PUMPKINS! When I think about October, I think about them too, as well as apples and cranberries. They all get along with each other in many combinations.

There are field pumpkins and they are anywhere from four pounds to over 100 pounds! The best size for cooking is a sugar pumpkin which is smaller in size, usually under four pounds. They are smoother skinned and sweeter tasting than the field varieties.

As for estimating how much you will need, you can get about two pounds of flesh and nearly six ounces of seeds from a four pound pumpkin. Fresh pumpkins can keep up to two months in a dry area that stays around 50 degrees.

For long storage, it is best to cook and puree it. This will allow freezing in bags in the amounts you usually use in your recipes. Pumpkin can be used just as you would use squash or even sweet potatoes. Chunks of it go nicely with other vegetables like tomatoes, celery, onions and potatoes in a vegetables-type stew. It makes breads, pies, delicious desserts and soup. Then, as a little bonus you get the seeds for roasting and eating. To be truly thrifty and creative, use the shells as serving containers. I used to serve cider or cranberry juice with a dipper from a large cleaned out shell at demonstrations very pretty and a great conversation starter. The following recipe is from my first cookbook, "Native New England Cooking," and has become a staple in our menu planning. It freezes beautifully and can be made in large batches for gift giving. I'm afraid it's not too soon to start thinking about that.

Pumpkin Bread

1/2 cup oil

1-1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup canned pumpkin

1-1/4 cup white flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup walnuts (optional)

1/2 teaspoon each: allspice, cinnamon, ground clove and nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar, oil, pumpkin, eggs and water in a large bowl. In another larger bowl mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the wet pumpkin mixture to this and stir until well moistened. Pour into greased loaf pan and bake for one hour. Be sure the top has a characteristic crack down the middle which means it is cooked through. Cool slightly and remove to a rack for more cooling.

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Roasting Pumpkin Seeds

Pull the seeds away from the pulp but do not wash them. Use a tablespoon of a light oil for every cup of seeds and salt to your liking. Spread the seeds out on a flat baking sheet. Bake in a low oven (250 degrees) for about an hour and a half.

For an interesting snack, mix the roasted seeds with peanuts, raisins and dried fruit like apricots.

Pumpkin Succotash

3 tablespoons of butter (or substitute)

1 tablespoon light oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup corn kernels

1 cup lima beans

2 cups pumpkin, cut in chunks

1/2 cup water or vegetable broth

Salt and pepper

Heat one tablespoon of the butter and the oil in a large saute pan. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Now add the rest of the ingredients and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Check frequently. Season and serve. (You can stretch this dish by adding a can of white beans and a can of stewed tomatoes.)

The Abenaki word for pumpkin or squash is wasawa. Pumpkin is an esteemed vegetable to all the people who grow it. Apache tradition includes a small ceremony to ensure a good harvest. Navajo cooks soak dried pumpkin and chop it in small chunks. After cooking to softness, it gets fried with some mutton. In the Taos Pueblo, unripe pumpkin is cooked with corn kernels and onion. Cooking methods vary tribe to tribe. One of the better ways to preserve the vegetable is to clean it and cut in one to two-inch rings then hang in the sun to dry. This is a favorite way to save pumpkin for winter use.

Notes & Tips

*Pumpkin is a wonderful source of beta-carotene as well as other nutrients. It also contains healthy amounts of Vitamin C and potassium. Canned pumpkin is just as nutritious. A cup of pumpkin contains just 80 calories.

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