2017-10-19 / From The Garden

Pumpkin Time is Now

By Cynthia Gibson

Pumpkins are popping up in grocery stores, shop windows and on front steps. If you buy your pumpkin now, while it is still in the field, you can pick your own. Everyone wants the perfect pumpkin, and if you like turning the fruit of the garden into art, this is the perfect time of year.

The Celts invented Halloween 2,000 years ago. It is a pagan holiday when the dead supposedly come back to life. Robert Burns wrote a fabulous poem in 1785 titled, “Halloween.” Due to the Scottish brogue, I had to find a translation to understand it. What I discovered is that Oct. 31 was not only a night of pranks and pumpkins, but one for romance. There were many Halloween parties for young teens. They would write the name of their potential girlfriend or boyfriend on a green acorn. When they arrived at the party, all the teens would gather around the fireplace and toss their acorns into the fire. The first acorn to explode from the heat of the flames meant that teen’s dream of true love would become reality.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Not only were the youth tossing acorns into fireplaces, they were running around haystacks in the moonlight, and carving pumpkins and turnips into small lanterns to light their way.

Since the holiday involved spooks and other terrors of the night, they would leave treats on their doorsteps to appease the demons, devils, evil fairies and zombies. They could sleep peacefully as the creatures were distracted by eating the treats in front of their houses.

We all know that pumpkins are the main fruit for Halloween. Pumpkins can be used for various purposes, such as eating, carving, making pies and toasting the seeds.

Pumpkins for carving should be large and mature. Maturity makes the skin and the walls of the pumpkin thick. They are stringy inside and have tons of seeds. You will need a large, sharp knife for carving, so that part of the pumpkin fun is for adults only.

The top of your pumpkin might have some of the vine still on the top, but never use it as a handle. As the pumpkin ages, the vine dries and the handle will snap off, leaving you with a pumpkin mess on the floor.

Once your pumpkin is carved, leave it on the front porch where it is cool. Light the candle in it for a few days before Halloween and on Halloween night. Then, dispose of the pumpkin. Never cook with a pumpkin you have carved. The inside of your pumpkin will be filled with germs, because once you cut into the pumpkin, it is slowly rotting.

Supermarket pumpkins are large to medium in size and great for carving. But you can carve any type of pumpkin. If you go off the beaten path to a nursery, you will find a grand selection of pumpkins of different sizes, in colors from deep red and orange to pink-beige and white, some with warts, some without, some even in the shape of Cinderella’s carriage. The mini pumpkins are great for display.

For cooking, the smaller the pumpkin, the better. Large pumpkins have more water content due to their size, with little sugar. Small pumpkins have concentrated sugar and are very tasty. Sugar pumpkins and sugar pie pumpkins are the two favorites for cooking.

A great hint for making a homemade pumpkin pie is to bake your pumpkin instead of boiling it. Remove the seeds and strings from the inside of the pumpkin, cut it in half, and put the pumpkin on a baking sheet with the inside of the pumpkin facing down.

Depending on the size, bake your pumpkin for at least one hour at 375 degrees. Test it for doneness by poking it with a fork; if the fork goes into the pumpkin easily, it is done. Let it cool, then remove the skin, puree the inside, and turn it into holiday treats, such as a pumpkin pie, cupcakes, pound cake or ice cream.

Give it a whirl, for this is the time of year for pumpkins to literally shine.

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