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The frost is on the pumpkin. November 9, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Living in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, as our friend Ben and I do, this time of year is always a lot of fun for us. That’s because we get to see the pumpkin fields. Pumpkin fields around these parts don’t tend to be too big—usually just a long strip nestled between fields of corn—but it’s still impressive to see them appear once the corn’s been harvested. By then, the vines have died back, so the pumpkins look like they’ve magically emerged directly from the ground like round, orange mushrooms.

The pumpkin fields are a beautiful sight, but a sad one, too. That’s because, if the pumpkins are still in the field in November, it means that nobody’s bought them. And, unlike times past when pumpkins were used as livestock feed over winter, and were a staple in people’s winter diets, too (they’re the reason the Pilgrims and their beasts survived those first few winters), nobody bothers with them now. People buy their Hallowe’en pumpkin, make pumpkin pie from a can, and that’s that. As a result, from what we’ve seen, those fields of beautiful pumpkins are plowed under. But until then, with their backdrop of gold-leaved mountains and golden corn stubble, they’re a breathtaking sight.

A lot of people around here still have their Hallowe’en decorations up, which gave me a chance for another observation: “Look, Ben! Those people have put out carved pumpkins!” 

Sure enough, the house we were passing had five carefully carved Jack-o’lanterns on the front stoop. I couldn’t remember the last time our friend Ben and I had seen a carved pumpkin. We see lots of whole pumpkins—we set out a colorful assortment every year ourselves—and painted pumpkins (like the ones being sold as a fundraiser at our vet’s). And sadly, we see plenty of plastic pumpkins, and those hideous plastic orange “pumpkin” leaf bags, too. But honest-to-gosh carved pumpkins? Not around here. So it was a thrill to see what seems like a dying art. We went by in the daytime, so I could only hope that the family lit candles in them at night.

Speaking of which, did you know that the original Jack-o’lanterns were turnips? Yes, turnips, the huge winter storage turnips grown across Europe as animal feed back in the day. (Another connection to pumpkins.) In Britain, the custom arose to hollow out one of these turnips, put a candle in it, suspend it from a pole like a lantern, and carry the lighted turnip “lantern” through the streets on All Soul’s Day eve (aka Hallowe’en). When the English came to America, they found the Native Americans cultivating pumpkins, and transferred the tradition to them. I don’t think the turnips actually had faces carved on them, though, so I’m not sure how that practice arose. 

At any rate, seeing these great Jack-o’lanterns made me wonder if the tradition of pumpkin-carving is still alive and well in your homes and communities. Let me know!

               ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

Picking pumpkins. October 24, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized.
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Silence Dogood here. Every year, our friend Ben and I make treks to our local Kutztown, PA farmers’ market, to Lennilea Farm Nursery out near Huff’s Church (yes, that is the town’s name), and to Jim Weaver’s Meadow View Farm in nearby Bowers, PA, to try to find pumpkins, winter squash, gourds, and colorful “Indian” corn to add to our Harvest Home displays for October and November. (Most of our property is shaded, so our few sunny veggie beds are dedicated to more productive crops, though this year we did get some wonderful small pumpkins from a vine that volunteered in one of our compost bins.) We love choosing our pumpkins, etc., and try to stretch the selection process out as long as possible by only visiting one venue a weekend and by limiting our selections at each place so we can slowly build up to the ultimate display.

This fall, our first stop was at Meadow View, and a brochure they’d prepared for their pumpkin-, squash-, and corn-buying customers inspired us to add another dimension to our purchases this year: They had to be edible as well as ornamental. The brochure divided its pumpkin, squash, and gourd offerings into those that were purely ornamental, and those that could be used in pies, casseroles, soups, ravioli, custard, or just for eating baked or roasted. The numerous types of corn were also identified by use for fresh eating, flour, popcorn, roasting, cornmeal, tamales, and/or tortillas.

Well, alrighty then. Fired up by our new mission, we returned home with two big, gorgeous scarlet-red ‘Cinderella’ pumpkins (“heirloom from France ['Rouge Vif d'Estampes']; pies or casserole”); a flat, tan heirloom ‘Long Island Cheese’ (“nutty pumpkin flavor”); a sizeable upright ‘Peanut’, aka ‘Galeux D’Eysines’ (“beautiful French heirloom squash, salmon/peach colored warty skin, sweet orange flesh used in soups and baking”); a white ‘Valenciano’ (“excellent flesh for pies”); and a big gold-and-white-striped cushaw (“good for pies and custards”).  Hey guys, what happened to pumpkin bread?!!

We didn’t forget the corn, either. After agonizing over the many beautiful varieties, we ultimately settled on ‘Baby Fingers’, a small-eared popcorn in a variety of colors, and ‘Strawberry’, a 2-inch-long heirloom popcorn. (We know we can pop corn, but aren’t sure we could grind our own for flour.)

Now, what to do with those pumpkins once they’ve served their purpose as decorations? Of course, I could use them to make my famous pumpkin bread or curried pumpkin soup (look for these recipes via our search bar at top right). But this many edible pumpkins will make a heck of a lot of roasted, pureed pumpkin. Mercifully, I happen to own among my bazillion cookbooks one called Pumpkin Lovers Cook Book. Here are two recipes I thought looked intriguing from many possibilities in the book:

            Pumpkin Skillet Cornbread

2 cups cornmeal

1 cup cooked pumpkin

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup water

3 tablespoons shortening or oil

1 egg, beaten 

Mix cornmeal and pumpkin. Add baking soda, salt and sugar to buttermilk. Add water and add to cornmeal-pumpkin mixture. Add shortening and egg and mix well. Pour into greased iron skillet and bake in 400 degree F. oven for 35-45 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve hot with butter.

Or try this:

              Pumpkin Spaghetti

1 cup solid pack pumpkin

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 cup softened butter

12 ounces thin spaghetti, cooked and drained

freshly ground black pepper

Mix pumpkin, cream, 1/2 cup cheese, and nutmeg in a small pan. Bring just to simmer over low heat, stirring once or twice. Remove from heat. Add butter to hot drained spaghetti in a large bowl, tossing ’til butter is melted. Pour pumpkin mixture over pasta. Toss. Transfer to serving dish. Serve with remaining cheese and black pepper to taste.

Well, it feels good knowing those pumpkins and holiday corn won’t be going to waste. But what about the pumpkin seeds?! We love roasted pepitos, the salted green pumpkin seeds sold everywhere from health-food stores (where we bet they aren’t salted!) to gas stations (where they definitely are). But since most pumpkin seeds come with a tough, inedible coat, you can’t just scoop them out of the pumpkin and roast them for a delicious snack and salad topping.

To savor the yummy pepitas without having to pry them out of their coats (and if you think getting a garlic clove out of its skin is a trial, wait ’til you attempt this!), you need to buy or grow a pumpkin that produces hulless seeds. Then all you have to do is wash the pulp off the seeds, spread them on a foil-lined cookie sheet, brush them with a little olive oil, salt them, and roast them for an hour at 250 degrees F., stirring every 15 minutes or so to prevent sticking. Yum!!! Some pumpkin varieties with hulless seeds are ‘Snack Jack’, ‘Tricky Jack’, ‘Triple Treat’, ‘Baby Bear’ (semi-hulless), and ‘Trick or Treat’.

Some folks claim that even the pumpkin seeds with the tough hulls can be roasted and eaten. If you’ve ever done this, we’d like to hear about your experience! Meanwhile, we’re sticking with the hulless types. And please, if you have favorite eating pumpkins and recipes, share them with us!

           ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

Smashing pumpkins. October 13, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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‘Tis the season. And sure enough, yesterday our friend Ben and Silence Dogood saw the first smashed pumpkin of the year, lying forlornly in fragments with its guts spilled out along the roadside. What is it about pumpkins that make people want to smash them? And why do they feel compelled to steal other people’s pumpkins and then smash them in a public place?!

We despise vandalism, whatever form it takes. And in a world where people are starving, we hate to see perfectly good food going to waste. Why not donate those pumpkins to a food bank or feed them to your chickens or cows or, say, make a pie or some pumpkin bread, assuming, of course, it was your pumpkin to begin with? Or at least add it to a compost pile so it can enrich someone’s garden.

So seeing a smashed pumpkin always reminds us of a particularly satisfying story of revenge. Every year, Lennilea Farm Nursery, a wonderful nursery (and working farm) about a half-hour from us, holds a harvest festival, including a biggest pumpkin contest. Naturally, they dress up the place for the festival, including setting pumpkins on top of the fence posts leading to the nursery entrance. For years, vandals would come by at night and smash these pumpkins, making an unholy mess and ruining the display.

Finally, Lennilea’s owners said “Enough!” That year, as usual, they set pumpkins out on the fenceposts. But they weren’t just any pumpkins. They were rotting pumpkins. When a vandal drove by and seized a pumpkin, the trick—and the oozing pumpkin guts—were on him. Word must have spread far and wide, because our friend Ben and Silence haven’t seen a smashed pumpkin on the road to Lennilea for years.

Thinking about this always cheers us up. But what we’d really like is if every person who stole and smashed someone else’s pumpkin were forced to wear a jack-o-lantern made from a real pumpkin over their head every day for a week. (If it was their own pumpkin, but they smashed it on public property, then they’d only have to wear the jack-o-lantern head for a day.) A few hours with your face inside a pumpkin should be enough to teach anyone a little respect for other people’s property. And just think how festive it would be with all those pumpkinheads wandering around. It would certainly help us all get in the Hallowe’en spirit!

Harvest Home: Pumpkins! August 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was thrilled to see that this year’s compost squash vine has actually borne a monster crop of adorable orange pumpkins. Readers with far better memories than our friend Ben’s may recall that last year, an enormous mystery squash vine sprouted from one of our compost bins and turned out to produce an absolute boatload of beautiful Butternut squash. So when another huge squash vine materialized this year from the same bin, I stupidly assumed it was another Butternut.

Wrong! This morning I saw that the leaves had become mottled with tiny yellow dots, even though the plant was still blooming. Concerned, I went over to inspect the giant vine, only to see, nestled in the high grass that’s grown up around it as we skirted it with the mower, at least eight perfect orange pumpkins! Each pumpkin is about six inches tall and wide, and they are beautiful!

Every year, Silence Dogood and I try to assemble a colorful display of red, orange, yellow, pinkish-beige, and white pumpkins for the festive season that runs from Hallowe’en through Thanksgiving. We think of this season as Harvest Home, harking back to the old English harvest festivals. Silence makes beautiful piles of the pumpkins at each side of our front door, supplementing them with blue, grey, and green Hubbard squash and an assortment of colorful gourds. Then she hangs multicolored corn on the door and we enjoy the display for several months.

Since we typically buy pumpkins from farmers’ markets and farm stands throughout the area—our veggie bed space is limited and pumpkin vines take a tremendous amount of space—I’m afraid I have no idea what variety this year’s mystery pumpkin could be. But they sure are cute!

I’m trying to goad Silence into using at least one to make her famous Curried Pumpkin Soup (search for it in our search bar, it’s one of my favorites), rather than using canned pumpkin. But she points out that canned pumpkin is really winter squash, and that its flavor and texture is superior to that of actual pumpkins, so I have a feeling we’ll be enjoying these as decorations and then feeding them to the chickens. For a recipe that really does use homegrown pumpkin, check out Kim’s recipe for Chilled Pumpkin Pie Soup on her blog, The Inadvertent Farmer (http://sweetgrace.typepad.com/the_inadvertent_farmer/).

Meanwhile, of course, our friend Ben is already speculating about whether next year will produce a third mystery squash vine from our compost bin. If it does, I wonder what it will be? Some red, white or yellow pumpkins would certainly be nice…

Plant a Three Sisters garden. January 16, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Want to grow something fun this year? Our friend Ben gets a kick out of theme gardens, and the beauty of a vegetable theme garden is that you can try a new theme every year. You don’t even need three sisters to grow this particular theme garden, because the “Three Sisters” referred to in the title are plants: corn, beans, and squash, the staples of Native American food gardening in what would eventually become the United States. It’s thanks to the Native Americans’ sharing their crops and cooking and growing techniques that the early Colonists were able to survive here, and the reason why corn and pumpkins (which are actually a type of winter squash) remain harvest-season decorations, symbolizing bounty and thankfulness, to this day.

If you grew up in the U.S., you doubtless learned the story of how the Native Americans taught the early settlers to grow corn by “planting” a fish in the bottom of each hill before sowing the corn. As the nitrogen-hungry corn grew, the decaying fish provided fertilizer. While our friend Ben wouldn’t recommend dumping dead fish all over the garden (unless—eeewww—you happen to live near a fish-processing plant where the offal is free for the taking), especially if you don’t like the idea of every carnivorous critter for miles around making a beeline to your backyard to dig it all back up, there’s no doubt that the First Americans were on to something.

Corn is wind-pollinated, so it needs to be planted in blocks or clumps to get good pollination, which results in full ears (an unpollinated kernel doesn’t develop, which is why you sometimes get those flat, “blank” spaces in your corn cobs). A lonely row or two just won’t do the trick. The Native Americans got around this by planting corn in “hills”—or, more accurately, around hills, with spaces between each hill. (Just think: the first New World crop circles!) But they didn’t let the space go to waste (or weeds). Instead, they grew pole beans up the tall corn stalks and long-vining squash in the center of each hill. The squash, which, as you know if you’ve ever grown pumpkins or another vining squash, takes up a lot of ground, could enjoy the fish fertilizer under its roots and would keep down weeds with its rampant, ground-eating growth. And the beans would not only have their own cornstalk trellises for greater productivity and easier harvesting, they’d fix nitrogen to add fertility back to the soil. It was a win-win design all ’round.

So why don’t we still grow corn, beans, and squash this way? One word: efficiency. You can get higher yields with solid blocks of a single crop, and tight rows yield better than hills. Our modern tillers make it easier to turn large plots of land, whereas if you’re tilling by hand, the hill system means you only need to prepare the area you’re planting. Also, these days, most home gardeners grow sweet corn, bush snap beans, and bush summer squash (including zucchini), which are harvested considerably earlier than the long-keeping dried corn (including the colorful “Indian” corn, flour corn, and popcorn), dried beans, and winter squash and pumpkins of old. 

 Obviously, you could still plant a modern-day version of a Three Sisters garden, with blocks of sweet corn at either end of a bed oriented East-West, or at the North end of a bed oriented North-South, and alternating blocks of bush beans and bush summer squash between (E-W) or in front (N-S) of the corn. To maximize the space, you could grow a cold-tolerant crop like spinach, leaf lettuce, or arugula and harvest it before planting your modern Sisters, then, after you harvest your corn, squash, and beans and till in or compost the plants, replant the bed with a second crop of greens. 

But our friend Ben thinks that the whole point of a theme garden is that it should be fun, decorative, and educational. If I’m going to plant a Three Sisters garden, I want to grow heirloom varieties in the traditional way. Maybe I’ll just get a few dozen ears of corn, a bag or two of beans, and a half-dozen squash or pumpkins. But I’ll have a fascinating experience, and whatever I harvest can be used for Harvest Home decor throughout September, October, and November, then stored and eaten. That works for me! I’ll still grow my beloved bush beans and summer squash in my raised beds, and buy sweet corn and supplemental beans and squash at my local CSA and farmers’ markets. This is a different thing, more like growing a bed of ornamental annuals with an edible bonus.

Want to try it yourself? These crops all need full sun, so reserve a sunny part of your garden just for them. These are warm-season crops—corn seed will actually rot in wet, cold soil—so wait to plant until at least two weeks past your last predicted frost, when the soil has warmed to between 55 and 65 degrees F. Once you’ve prepared your plot or bed, our friend Ben suggests making hills with ample shovelfuls of compost and/or well-rotted manure, or a generous application of balanced organic fertilizer. We’re not talking about trivial hills here, either—you want a circle 4 or 5 feet across. Pile several inches of soil back over the compost or fertilizer, making a mound or “hill.” If you want to grow several hills, perhaps showcasing different varieties in each, space hills 3 to 4 feet apart and mulch between them.

Now, time to plant. Sow squash or pumpkin seed 1 to 2 inches deep in the center of your hill, 2 seeds per hill. (Tip: Soaking squash seed in compost tea for 15 minutes before planting will help prevent disease.) Plant your corn seed 1/2 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart around the perimeter of the hill. Once the corn germinates and grows 3 to 4 inches tall, you can thin it to a foot apart. Then sow bean seeds around each corn stalk, planting them 1 to 2 inches deep; thin to one plant per corn stalk once they’ve emerged and are growing strongly. Make sure your Three Sisters receive an inch of water from rain or irrigation each week while they’re growing. Remember that corn and squash are hungry crops, so side-dress them with compost, kelp meal, or balanced organic fertilizer and/or spray the foliage of your corn and squash plants with compost tea or liquid seaweed once a month while they’re growing and the crop is maturing. Once corn and squash are mature, stop fertilizing and cut back on the water so your crops can cure, i.e., dry down for harvest.

As noted, our friend Ben would hate to waste all this effort on ordinary garden-variety crops. If I’m going to plant a Three Sisters garden with a Native American theme, I’d like to grow some colorful Native American crops in it. Here are just some of the options: ‘Hopi Blue’, ‘Hopi Pink Flour’, ‘Hopi Chinmark’, ‘Anasazi’, ‘Taos Pueblo Blue’, ‘Parching Lavender Mandan’, ‘Parching Red Mandan’, ‘Supai’, ‘Oaxacan Green’, ‘Black Aztec’, ‘Dakota Black Popcorn’, ‘Rainbow Sweet Inca’, ‘Seneca Mini Indian’, ‘Escondida Blue’ corn. ‘Hopi Pale Grey’, ‘Seminole Pumpkin’, ‘Hopi Cushaw’, ‘Tohono O’odham “Ha:I”‘,  ‘Taos’, ‘Navajo Hubbard’, ‘Pacheco Pumpkin’, ‘Pipian from Tuxpan’, ‘Silver Edged’ winter squash and pumpkins. ‘Chaco Canyon’, ‘Scarlet Runner’, ‘White Dwarf Aztec’ runner, ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’, ‘Tarahumara Dark Purple’, ‘Hopi Yellow’ lima, ‘Christmas Pole Lima’ bean. Go for color and history, I say! You can find these heirlooms and many others at seed sources like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com), Native Seeds/SEARCH (www.nativeseeds.org), and Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org).

Want to make your Three Sisters garden even more fun for kids? Reserve a corner and grow a bean teepee. “Plant” stripped, unbranched saplings or tall, sturdy bamboo poles in a circle, teepee-fashion, leaving a foot between each pole and a 3-foot opening in front for a “door.” Tie the poles together at the top or use one of the plastic circles with pre-punched holes that makes creating a teepee-style trellis easier. Then plant ornamental bean vines up each pole.

Here are some of our friend Ben’s top choices for a bean teepee: ‘Scarlet Runner’ beans produce gorgeous scarlet sweet-pea-type blossoms and edible beans, and one runner bean, ‘Painted Lady’, has bicolored red-and-white flowers. ‘Christmas Lima’ has gorgeous red-and-white lima beans, but the plant itself is not as decorative as a runner bean, so if you grow them, you might mix in one or two for the “bean factor.”

Or go for the gorgeous and plant purple-flowered hyacinth beans (Lablab purpureus, aka Dolichos lablab), which also have purplish leaves and stunning bright purple pods. ‘Moonshadow’ is a classic cultivar. You can tell the kids that Thomas Jefferson grew hyacinth beans in his garden at Monticello! (Don’t eat this one, though. While young pods are considered edible, older pods and mature beans may be poisonous. Better safe than sorry!)

Another option: Give the kids the thrill of a lifetime and plant some yard-long beans. ‘Chinese Red Noodle’, ‘Taiwan Black Seeded’, and ‘Red-Seeded Asparagus’ are just three of the amazingly long-podded (up to 3 feet, as their name implies) varieties to choose from, and ‘Chinese Red Noodle’ has brilliant red pods! The tender pods are great when stir-fried.

What to plant around your teepee? How about some colorful native New World flowers like nasturtiums, zinnias, marigolds, nicotiana, petunias, and/or dwarf sunflowers? These cheerful annuals will enjoy the full-sun conditions every bit as much as your beans, even if the kids need to take some shade breaks inside the teepee. Since some of the older nasturtium varieties are vining, you can even grow them up the poles with your beans for a doubly colorful effect, along with those other native Americans, morning glories. Don’t forget that you can harvest nasturtium buds, leaves, and flowers for salads, too, if you can bring yourself to reduce the floral show!

Speaking of pumpkins. October 3, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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As I’m sure you all realize, we try to maintain certain standards of taste here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. But sometimes, we just have to say “to hell with that!” If you all love Hallowe’en, pumpkins, and creativity, you have to head over to Aunt Debbi’s Garden (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/) and check out her latest post, “When pumpkins drink.” Just don’t be drinking—or eating!—yourself when you check it out, or trust us, you’ll be sorry, unless someone’s there to perform the Heimlich maneuver when you start laughing and choke…

The pumpkin book. October 3, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Maybe it’s the temperatures dropping down to the 40s here at night, the crackly cornfields, the geese migrating overhead. Maybe it’s all you Hallowe’en fanatics posting about your scary seasonal treasures (are you reading this, Joy?!). Maybe it’s my quest for the elusive ‘One Too Many’ pumpkin. (See my earlier post “One too many?” for more on this.) Or maybe it was just that the blinding headache that crashed down on me last night was giving me hallucinations.

Whatever the case, or cause, the headache inspired me to decide that a 9:30 bedtime was a really good idea. And the last thing I do before lights-out is wind up my bedside clock. Yes, you read that right. Our friend Ben and I feel strongly that our awareness of time should not be dependent on electricity or batteries. As a result, we’re always on the lookout for the increasingly hard-to-find wind-up watches and clocks. (Two favorite catalogs, The Vermont Country Store—see our earlier post, “A catalog takes a stand,” for more on them—and Lehman’s Non-Electric Catalog both carry wind-up watches and clocks, in case you’re looking for them.)

Unlike the silent battery-operated models, wind-up clocks and watches tick. And some of them are louder than others. I’d say our current model, a Baby Ben (I can never resist these for some reason), has a comparatively quiet tick. Usually, I find its ticking soothing. But last night, I’d no sooner turned off the light and composed myself for sleep than I heard, not “tick… tick…” or even “tick-tock,” but “the pumpkin book… the pumpkin book… the pumpkin book…” and on, and on, and on.

The pumpkin book?!! Good grief. Try though I might to ignore it, to convince myself that the clock was really just ticking, I kept hearing it proclaim “the pumpkin book” as though it expected me to do something about it. I began reviewing the pumpkin books I was aware of: Tasha Tudor’s very first book, Pumpkin Moonshine; a few pumpkin- and gourd-crafting books; a cookbook I’d been unable to resist, the Pumpkin Lovers Cook Book

By this morning, the headache was better but the memory of the pumpkin book remained. I went on over to Amazon to see what they had in the way of pumpkin books. There were, of course, children’s books of all types and stripes, ranging from Tasha’s classic Pumpkin Moonshine to Charles Schulz’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown to a beautifully photographed picture book called Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden. There were a wide range of imaginative pumpkin-carving books, from Jost Eiffers’s benign Play with Your Pumpkins (if you haven’t seen his Play with Your Food, you must find it immediately) and Great Pumpkins: Crafty Carvings for Hallowe’en to a whole series of Extreme Pumpkins books, the first of which gives the flavor of its creations in the subtitle: Diabolical Do-It-Yourself Designs to Amuse Your Friends and Scare Your Neighbors. For those who don’t want to get out your knives, there was also Pumpkin Painting.

There were books devoted to pumpkin decor: For the Love of Pumpkins: A Visual Guide to Fall Decorating with Pumpkins and Ornamentals, and our favorite pretentious pumpkin book, Country Living Pumpkin Chic: Decorating with Pumpkins & Gourds. (“Pumpkin chic”?!! Oh, please.) There were books on growing pumpkins, including The Perfect Pumpkin: Growing/Cooking/Carving, by the ever-competent Gail Damerow, and a paean to extreme gardening, Backyard Giants: The Passionate, Heartbreaking, and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever. (Passionate? Okay. Heartbreaking and glorious?! Get over it. You could grow a whole garden of healthful, life-sustaining food with the amount of fertilizer and water you lavish on that one inedible pumpkin.) And of course there were books on the world and music of the group the Smashing Pumpkins.

Finally, there were cookbooks. The Great Little Pumpkin Cookbook. The beautiful and enticing Harvest of Pumpkins and Squash. The #1 book on the pumpkin book list, Pumpkin, a Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year. Ugh. What kind of title is that?! Yuck, I don’t want to eat pumpkin during the warm months. Keep your pumpkin smoothies and lattes, your pumpkin-watermelon salads, your pumpkin picnic sandwiches to yourself, thank you.

Clicking the link to investigate, I was still not convinced. Pumpkin Pizza with Gorgonzola Cheese, Pork Tenderloin with Red Wine Pumpkin Sauce, and Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins all sound like a stretch to me. I think I’ll stick to my beloved Curried Pumpkin Soup (search the site for my post “Of presidents and pumpkins” for this luscious, easy, warming recipe if you’ve missed it), pumpkin bread, pumpkin roll, and pumpkin cheesecake. (Note: Do not make an all-pumpkin cheesecake! For the most luscious cheesecake ever, use your favorite vanilla—not lemon—cheesecake recipe and swirl canned pumpkin pie filling or home-baked and pureed pumpkin, sweetened and spiced with ground cinnamon and cloves, into the cheesecake before baking for a marbleized effect and a truly amazing cheesecake.)

The pumpkin book. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll have to write one of my own, perhaps a children’s book about my search for the ‘One Too Many’ pumpkin and all my misadventures along the way, with, of course, my favorite pumpkin-bread recipe included as a bonus. Meanwhile, do you have a favorite pumpkin book or recipe? If so, I’d love to hear about it! And, come to think of it, I think I’ll move that wretched alarm clock over to our friend Ben’s side of the bed…

          ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

One too many? September 29, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
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Silence Dogood here. Lest you assume that the title of this post refers to our outdoor cat population, let me assure you that we have taken the necessary steps to ensure that no further additions are made to the feline contingent. Until, of course, some immoral jackass decides to drop their “problem child” (almost certainly a pregnant female) on our rural doorstep yet again. Grrrrrr. But I digress.

Actually, I’m talking about pumpkins. If you live as our friend Ben and I do in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, where pumpkins are an important fall crop, you might think that local farmers would fear that they’d grown far more than one too many. The stunning autumn pumpkin fields—a glorious sight that has to be seen to be fully appreciated—and massive mounds of pumpkins at every farm stand, garden center, and farmers’ market would tend to support this conclusion.

But I’m not talking about the pumpkin population any more than I’m discussing the population of outdoor cats. In fact, I’m talking about one particular kind of pumpkin, a kind our friend Ben and I encountered last year for the very first time.

Now, our friend Ben and I are fans of all kinds of pumpkins. We love to make autumnal tableaux of large, medium, and small, round and flattened, red, green, grey, white, gold, and orange pumpkins. We think that pumpkins are the ultimate symbols of Harvest Home. And we love the harvest season so much that this year, we decided to prolong the pleasure as much as possible by buying just one new addition to our autmnal bounty display each week when we shopped at our local farmers’ market. A pumpkin or gourd, a chrysanthemum, a cluster of colorful ears of dried popcorn—week by week, our display will build to its glorious Thanksgiving culmination. The anticipation!

Prior to encountering this particular pumpkin, I’d given my heart to the round white pumpkins, the strange grey-green and blue-grey pumpkins, and above all, the brilliant red, flattened pumpkins, with plenty of other pumpkins, gourds, and winter squash playing supporting roles. But when I saw this one, it supplanted all others in my fickle heart. It was a large, imposing pumpkin, with a cream-white background covered by a lacy fretwork of red-orange veining. The effect was spectacular beyond words. Our friend Ben and I spent exactly one speechless second staring at the pile of this miraculous new pumpkin before rushing forward to grab one.

This year, too, the red/orange-over-cream/white pumpkin was the first item to appear on our doorstep to kick off this year’s Harvest Home display. I was so excited to see them at our local farmers’ market. Of course, they were unlabeled, but this didn’t bother us; we have no room for pumpkin vines here at Hawk’s Haven, so we’d have to buy them, anyway. It was only after our dear friend Sarah passed through here this past weekend that my interest in the pumpkin’s identity sharpened to a need to know after Ben and I sent our precious pumpkin home with her. (We know we can pick up another one at the market this week, after all, and, like us the year before, Sarah had never seen one of these before and was instantly smitten.)

A consultation with our good friend Google revealed that the most likely contender is a pumpkin with the outrageously inappropriate name of ‘One Too Many’. No way!!! There could never be one too many of these amazing pumpkins. Mind you, the ‘One Too Many’ pumpkins in the photos we saw did not exactly resemble the pumpkins we find here. The picture-perfect ‘One Too Manys’ were too heavily coated with the red-orange filigree veining, too round, and too perfectly ribbed. But they’re the only pumpkins we’ve seen that have even come close to our ideal of pumpkin perfection. Unless one of you tells us otherwise, we’re going to assume that ‘One Too Many’ is indeed our dream pumpkin. 

Can you bake with ‘One Too Many’? If so, how does it taste? Is it a good keeping pumpkin? Clearly, we have much more research ahead. But I can tell you one thing: We’re counting the days until Friday’s farmers’ market, when we can get another ‘One Too Many’ for our front stoop. Maybe we’ll get a second one for the back deck. There will never be too many of these glorious pumpkins for us!

            ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

Pumpkin moon. July 19, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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5 comments

Last night, we had a full orange moon over our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, in the scenic middle of nowhere, PA. It was a typical hot summer night, with lightning bugs like sparks rising leisurely above the corn in the field across the road. (Have you ever noticed that distinction, city streets but country roads?) We’re still months from harvest season, when an orange moon might be anticipated. Why was there one last night?

Seeing the magic of that distant jack o’lantern glowing orange over the cornfields, sparks ascending, it’s hard for our friend Ben to believe that pollution was responsible for its orange color. (Meteorologists attribute orange moons, like spectacular red sunsets, to atmospheric pollution. Damn them.) First of all, because the moon was high in the sky, not just cresting the horizon where our pollution could tint it. And secondly, because we really are out in the middle of nowhere, as opposed to, say, Los Angeles or New York or even Philly.

If our friend Ben had been born in a more primitive age, I’d have seen some sort of portent in a full orange moon in mid-July. Perhaps a promise of abundant, or simply early, harvest, since the harvest moon was visiting us so early. (Apparently the scientific explanation for the orange harvest moon is that, at harvest time, plows throw so much dust into the air that the dust—also atmospheric pollution, though not, mercifully, of industrial origin—colors the moon.) But being born in this age, when science has an explanation for everything, I’ll just have to accept the data while still appreciating the magic. I refuse to surrender my sense of wonder and appreciation of beauty to science and pollution. As the song says, “They can’t take that away from me.”

Seeing the pumpkin-colored moon eventually brought our friend Ben’s thoughts around to pumpkins themselves. For the first time, it occurred to me that perhaps the original jack o’lanterns were carved to represent the man in the moon in his orange guise. Since pumpkins are also symbols of the harvest, and they’re round and orange like a harvest moon, maybe they started out as symbols of abundance rather than fear, and only acquired their creepy connotations, their Hallowe’en connection, later. I’d like to think so, anyway.

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