Thursday, April 26, 2018
Cooking

Can you eat a jack-o’-lantern? And other thoughts on cooking with whole pumpkins

The pumpkin is sweating, and so am I.

Iíve got my knife an inch into the watermelon-sized orb, which is staring at me all like, "Iím too cute to be dinner!"

It is adorable, deep orange and perfectly ridged, sitting just slightly lopsided with a stem jutting out the top. It conjures pumpkin patches and spooky front porches on Halloween night. It seems a little out of place next to my stove.

I raise my elbow, angle the knife downward, and plunge it further into the flesh.

ē ē ē

Letís start with this: You can eat your jack-oí-lantern.

Roasted, pureed, cubed ó technically, all pumpkins are edible. But there are important distinctions to make when you set out to cook with whole pumpkins, like I did on one recent 95-degree October day.

The pumpkins most suitable for carving into fun Halloween decorations are typically grown specifically for that purpose, bred to be larger and more hollow. They are not ideal for cooking, more watery and less tasty than smaller, sweeter varieties. (I also canít vouch for the safety of all pumpkins sold in stores that are not labeled for cooking.) In Florida, the recipe-friendly varieties are mainly sugar or pie pumpkins, those smaller, 4- to 6-pound cuties you see at most grocery stores this time of year.

Carving pumpkins are harder to cook with, like a stubborn sweet potato but 10 times bigger. But I had to know: If it could be done, could I do it? And what would it taste like?

ē ē ē

I cleave the pumpkin clean in half. It takes some extra muscle and I am afraid of cutting my hand off, but itís not impossible.

A familiar odor wafts up, one that yanks me back to messy childhood pumpkin carving sessions and that musky, slightly moldy smell. This is a bit softer than that, but still, it is there, reminding me that this is a pumpkin, and that pumpkins do not come ready to be jammed into steamy lattes.

I scoop stringy innards out with a spoon and, at one point, my hand. It is an annoying amount of work, and kind of gross, too. I glance longingly at the can of pumpkin puree in my pantry, sitting there mocking me for getting involved with this big squashy mess.

ē ē ē

I put one half of the pumpkin, skin and everything, on a baking sheet and carefully ó that sucker is heavy ó place it in the oven. Pumpkin innards require heat to be turned into much of anything. And making puree is probably the easiest way to transform a whole pumpkin into something you can eat, so thatís what I do.

After some time in the oven, the flesh of a pumpkin can easily be scooped out and worked into various dishes. This will most closely resemble the canned pumpkin that is called for in most recipes.

But there are advantages whole pumpkins have over the canned stuff.

Similar to their squash cousins butternut, acorn and spaghetti, pumpkins can be used both for their insides and their shells. A half pumpkin is a perfect vessel for rice or quinoa mixtures, and even easier to work with than those other oddly shaped squash. Smaller pumpkins tend to be perfectly round.

You can also chunk up a whole pumpkin, dicing the innards into small pieces that can stand in admirably for something like sweet potato. And theyíre cheap. I found sugar pumpkins at the store for less than 99 cents a pound recently; 10- to 12-pound carving pumpkins generally hover between $5 and $10 during October.

ē ē ē

I cook the pumpkin halves one at a time, and when theyíre done, begin to scoop out flesh. Itís bright orange, and not as smooth or scoopable as I expect. And even though the ratio of edible pumpkin to outer skin is smaller than in a sugar pumpkin, there is still a lot to contend with. It doesnít smell great, either.

I taste some, unseasoned except for a bit of salt and pepper. It tastes a bit like, oh, whatís the term: hot baby food.

I scoop it immediately into a big pot, smother it with chicken broth, some coconut milk and practically my whole salt shaker. Simmer, simmer, simmer. More salt. Pepper. Immersion blender to create a more pleasing texture.

An hour later, itís soup. Itís fine. Itís edible.

But I think that pumpkin would have been better on my porch.

Contact Michelle Stark at [email protected] Follow @mstark17.

     
   
Comments
Seared tuna salad is quite a catch

Seared tuna salad is quite a catch

A satisfying salad of tuna and beans is a Mediterranean favorite, often served as a meal in warm weather. In my favorite version, the main ingredients ó rich tuna and creamy beans ó are accented with red wine vinegar, tomato and onion, finished with ...
Published: 04/25/18
Drunk in love with banana bread

Drunk in love with banana bread

I have a thing about bananas. They have to be perfectly yellow, with a light hint of green. And they absolutely cannot have a spot of brown on them. At all. Brown bananas make me gag. My window of tasty opportunity is small, so I love to bake with ov...
Published: 04/24/18
Cooking Challenge: Making a stovetop steak for the first time

Cooking Challenge: Making a stovetop steak for the first time

Raw meat terrifies me. Growing up, I was the kid who avoided cookie dough because it could give me salmonella poisoning. Just imagine how I feel about a slab of bloody steak. So for my latest cooking challenge, Iím diving into the deep end and making...
Published: 04/24/18
Taste test: vanilla wafers

Taste test: vanilla wafers

When it comes to cookies, our judges are all in. When it comes to vanilla wafers, most of them admitted to reaching for the familiar Nilla Wafers in the bright yellow box. Surprisingly, they liked the well-known brand least of the seven wafers sample...
Published: 04/23/18
A taste test for drinking water? They can be surprisingly different

A taste test for drinking water? They can be surprisingly different

BROOKSVILLEThey brought it in glass carboys, in jars, in 2-liter bottles. It stacked up at the entrance to the auditorium, some of it just slightly murky but most of it crystal clear.Water. For more than 15 years the members of Region IV Florida Sect...
Published: 04/18/18
Five ideas for travel-friendly snacks

Five ideas for travel-friendly snacks

Whenever I fly, I pay way too much for food. Iíve stumbled jet-lagged into fancy wine booths and nearly bankrupted myself with cheese plates. Iíve purchased granola bars that cost more than my plane ticket (okay, maybe it just felt that way). If youí...
Published: 04/18/18
Enjoy a slice of sunshine with Tangerine, Ginger and Chocolate Tart

Enjoy a slice of sunshine with Tangerine, Ginger and Chocolate Tart

There are chocolate people, and there are vanilla people. I am a lemon person.Show me a dessert menu, and Iíll choose whatever is flavored with puckery lemon or any of her citrus sisters ó lime, tangerine, kumquat, yuzu. Even as a kid, I went for lem...
Published: 04/17/18
Recipe for 30-Minute Spaghetti and Meatballs

Recipe for 30-Minute Spaghetti and Meatballs

As the name suggests, 30-Minute Spaghetti and Meatballs is no substitute for the kind of meatballs simmered for hours in your nonnaís Sunday gravy. Strangely enough, the recipe doesnít even include oregano or basil or a dry Chianti. And yet I think t...
Published: 04/17/18
Re-create that fancy spa water at home

Re-create that fancy spa water at home

It was lunchtime in the middle of the workday, so although I sat at the bar at downtown St. Petersburgís Asie Pan-Asian, I opted for a water. The bartender poured a glass and I took an unknowing sip.Cucumber. It was definitely cucumber. Iím not the b...
Published: 04/17/18
Taste test: citrus-flavored sparkling water

Taste test: citrus-flavored sparkling water

Many years ago, I took a trip to Rome and learned enough Italian to find directions and order dinner from menus. I learned very quickly that if I didnít make it clear, I would get sparkling water rather than still water at every restaurant. My husban...
Published: 04/16/18