By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
According to Country Living, “If the fall season has one undisputed icon, it’s the pumpkin.” Ain’t that the truth! I would throw in the whole gourd family. As I live in a semirural area where the climate is conducive to amazing growing seasons, there is no shortage of pumpkin patches and farms. My sisters and I visited one near our house recently. It was a glorious morning of 68°, low humidity, and clear skies. We were surrounded by the foothills and the smell of produce, hay, and cider wafting through the air. Ahh! Could it be any nicer?
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I especially loved it when my kids were school-aged. There was so much excitement in the air about what costume to wear, decorating the front porch and lawn, and what candy they might haul in on the electrifying day. When we were growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, our moms made our costumes and we used old pillowcases for candy. in the ’90s, my family established a yearly tradition of doing a pumpkin carving evening a couple of days before Halloween. Our children made centerpieces for the table and carefully selected just the right pumpkins from a farmers market or pumpkin patch. My husband Bob, being a foot surgeon, duck decoy carver, gourd designer, and basket weaver, took these carving nights quite seriously. I never carved, only cooked a delicious turkey dinner with all of the fixings.
Many people have wondered: is a pumpkin a gourd or it is the other way around? Pumpkins are pumpkins and gourds are gourds, however; they are both members of the melon family (Cucurbitaceae). Besides melons, cucumbers are also in this family. Gourds are generally not edible. Loofahs are gourds. Yes, loofah sponges are the center of some gourds. These are not to be confused with the ocean organism sponge. Young loofahs are the only edible gourds. They are eaten in India, China, and Vietnam.
When dried, gourds have been used for centuries as tools such as ladles, bowls, dippers, spoons, storage containers, and decorations. Just an aside, my husband has been decorating gourds for years. He wood-burns them, paints, weaves reeds, makes fetishes, and carves wooden tops for the bowls. This is a popular art form all over the country but mostly in the Southwest. Twenty-five years ago, we had the pleasure of visiting the largest gourd show in the world in Delaware, Ohio. It was an extraordinary display of fine art gourds, with gourds of every size and shape. We even saw dipper gourds that were 7’ tall!
Not all pumpkins are created equal.. I love that we are able to get all shapes, colors, and sizes. It seems to be the American Way: no shortage of choices. Frankly, most are for decorative purposes The pie or sugar pumpkin is your best bet for cooking or baking. It has a deep, orange “meaty” flesh that is less stringy than that for carving pumpkins. I tend to choose the smallish ones.
Pumpkin puree is such a versatile ingredient. If you want to cook a fresh pumpkin instead of using canned puree: Cut the pumpkin in half from top to bottom. Scrape out and discard the seeds. Place the pumpkin cut side down on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Roast at 350° until it is fork tender, about 45 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel away the skin. Mash up or puree the cooked flesh.
We’re all accustomed to saving pumpkins for pie at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But it is so delicious in other dishes, such as breads, muffins, rice pudding, creme brûlée, pastas, dips, or roasted as a side vegetable. Consider trying it sometime. Let us know here at The Insider what delicious recipe you have created!
Pumpkin Cookies with White Chocolate and Pecans
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
8 oz. butter or margarine, room temperature
1 1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
2 lg. eggs
1 c. solid pumpkin
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
8 oz. white chocolate chunks or chips
1 c. pecan pieces
Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, allowing the first to be fully incorporated before adding the second. Scrape down sides of bowl. Mix in pumpkin and vanilla. Blend in the flour, soda, and pumpkin pie spice. Fold in white chocolate and pecans. Chill the dough overnight.
Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Measure out cookie dough with a 1/4 cup ice cream scooper into 18 balls. Cut each in half. Roll into balls. Place the dough balls on the cookie sheets @ 2” apart. Gently press the balls to flatten. Bake for @ 15 minutes. When the cookies are set, they’re done. Cool completely. Decorate cookies using a fork so that the icing is striped across the tops.
1 1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
2 Tbs. + 2 tsp. water
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients. If too thick, add more water. If too thin, add more sugar.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.