Homegrown: Pumpkin perfection

  • Pumpkins. Also check merlin for other pumpkin shots for design of the page.

Can you think of another month more closely allied with a vegetable than October? November is a close second for pumpkin pie, but throughout October, pre-schoolers, grandparents and generations in between revel in finding just the right pumpkin to sit on the porch.

Yet despite all the fanciful carvings and pies we associate with pumpkins, many of us don't know that pumpkins have a wide use as vegetables.

When the object of choosing a pumpkin is a spectacular jack-o'-lantern, size and shape and sometimes color are the driving forces, but that all changes when a pumpkin is destined for the kitchen. No longer is it child's play.

Now the goal for pie, soup or a roasted side dish is smooth texture and a sweet taste, qualities not usually found in a fun-oriented pumpkin patch. You'll find these instead at farmers markets and, by planning ahead, in your own garden.

If you want to grow your own October orbs, shop for seeds after the first of the year. You'll find the best selections in catalogs and on mail-order nursery websites.

But be careful. Don't be persuaded by bargain prices for generic labels such as "pie pumpkin" or "cooking pumpkin." Instead look for specific varietal names to ensure you're getting exactly the pumpkin you want. By shopping farmers' markets now, you'll find varieties to try out this autumn before selecting seeds to plant next summer.

<b>What's the difference?</b>

Specially bred small varieties deliver the delicious taste we associate with pumpkin desserts and other dishes. Their flesh is denser, less stringy — often stringless — and sweeter.

Good-sized pumpkins for carving, on the other hand, develop relatively dry, loosely packed flesh usually lacking rich flavor and unsuited for cooking. Nonetheless, moderate sized ones make an intriguing tureen for soup.

When using any pumpkin as a serving vessel, hollow out the shell and place it in a warm oven for a few minutes, but not long enough to completely roast it or the walls will collapse. When warm, it keeps hot liquids from cooling down too fast after they're poured inside.

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