The Story of the Great Pumpkin and Other Harvest-time Fun

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Question: When is a pumpkin not a pumpkin?

1. When it’s been turned into a coach for Cinderella.

2. When it’s one of the main ingredients for beef stew.

3. When it rises up out of the pumpkin patch and carries presents to all the good little boys and girls who’ve been singing pumpkin carols.

4. When it’s packed in a carton labeled “Squash, do not crush.”

5. When it’s whipped into a delightful chiffon, or boiled into a steamy (or creamy) soup.

6. When it’s carved from the outside in instead of the inside out.

7. All of the above. (Well, most of them, anyway.)

Pumpkins are a traditional symbol of the harvest season. In the U.S. and Canada, Thanksgiving Day couldn’t be Thanksgiving Day without a slice of pumpkin pie. In many other countries, like England, for example, pumpkins, corn, squash, apples, and other symbols of the earth’s bounty are placed in churches as an expression of thankfulness to God for the food the earth provides. In parts of South America pumpkins are also included in celebrations at the end of the growing season, although they play only a minor part. In France and other European countries, although there is no particular holiday with which pumpkins are associated, fall is the normal season for eating pumpkin soups.

But in North America, fall means Halloween, and Halloween means jack-o’-lanterns. Once harbingers of evil omens or fright-inducing pranks, the carved pumpkins are now an accepted part of Halloween decor and can be created with an emphasis on the happy and positive—a symbol of the warmth of the home, the friendship therein, and the fun of working together on a family project. Somehow, it seems more friendly being greeted by a smiling, carved pumpkin than by a scowling jack-o’-lantern.

One junior high school class in Salt Lake City goes even a step further. Their teacher, Richard Bailey, has his students learn about facial proportions by sculpturing pumpkins instead of just carving them. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are just two of the famous faces Brother Bailey has immortalized in pumpkin by peeling away the outside skin and carefully trimming the white pulp that remains.

He advises using knives without serrated edges. A long, thin-bladed one, used with a potato peeler, will strip away the orange rind. Then cut off the top and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Figure out facial dimensions by looking at your own face in the mirror, and then transfer them to the pumpkin. Use a paring knife to rough in and finish the sculpture. Be careful not to cut too deep or you’ll go through the pumpkin! Also, always cut away from yourself, and avoid prying with the knife. This will help prevent accidents.

Other suggestions: Thump pumpkins and lift them to find the heaviest and thickest one. Make sure it has the proper shape. Use squash, carrots, or other vegetables to decorate the outside, or save pieces of pumpkin and carve them to fit the face you’ve designed. Attach these extra pieces with toothpicks. Gallon cans or cardboard boxes can be fastened together to make a body for the jack-o’-lantern head.

It would be impractical to fill the whole house with pumpkins, but it is fun to have a few around. Besides, in addition to decorations and displays, there are plenty of ways to use the vegetable in recipes that reinforce the mood of the season.

Pilgrims braving harsh winters on America’s eastern seaboard didn’t have the benefit of recipes like those given here. Struggling to live, they often ate what they could. One wrote in his journal something similar to this: “Pumpkins for breakfast, pumpkins for supper, pumpkins for dinner. And we were mighty glad for them, too!” More than likely he had eaten his pumpkin boiled and mashed, or maybe he munched on some dried seeds.

He and his fellow colonists might be amazed if they could see the traditions surrounding harvest time throughout the world today, though they would certainly empathize with the underlying emotion of gratitude to God. No doubt they would rejoice to see the bounty in the land they helped to establish, and they would certainly rejoice at the well-being of relatives in other countries. It seems logical, also, to assume that they would agree wholeheartedly to seeing even a small place of honor accorded to pumpkins, for they were indeed “mighty glad” to have the everyday squash when they needed it to see them through.

Fruited Pumpkin Bread

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup canned (or fresh, cooked) pumpkin

2 cups flour

1/2 cup candied fruit, chopped

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/2 cup milk

Cream butter; gradually add brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in pumpkin. Mix 1/2 cup flour with fruit, raisins, and walnuts. Set aside. Sift together remaining flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and spices. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk. Stir in fruit mixture. Pour into a greased and waxed-paper-lined 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about one hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove to cool completely.

Pumpkin Beef Stew

2 pounds beef stew meat

2 medium onions, sliced

1/4 cup of butter

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 potatoes

3 carrots

3 cups cubed pumpkin

1 can (16-ounce) tomatoes

2 ears of corn, cut from the cob

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup flour

Brown the beef and onions in a kettle; add butter, salt, and pepper and cook slowly for 1 1/2 hours until the meat is tender. Add the vegetables and cook for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove the meat and vegetables from the kettle into a bowl. Combine the flour with 1/2 cup of cold water, then boil until thick. Pour over the meat and vegetables and serve in a hollowed-out pumpkin.

Nutty Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

1 baked pie shell, 9-inch

1 tablespoon gelatin

1/4 cup cold water

3 egg yolks, slightly beaten

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/4 cups cooked pumpkin

1/2 cup cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Soak gelatin in water. Beat egg yolks slightly. Add brown sugar, pumpkin, cream, salt, cinnamon. Cook in a double boiler (cook over water) until thick. Stir in soaked gelatin until dissolved. Chill. Whip the egg whites until stiff but not dry. When the pumpkin mixture begins to set, stir in 1/2 cup sugar, the walnuts, and then fold in the egg whites. Fill the pie shell. Chill to set. Serve topped with whipping cream.

Green Pepper Soup (served in the pumpkin shell)

2 tablespoons butter

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 small onions, chopped

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon salt

3 large tomatoes, cut up

2 stalks celery, finely sliced

2 cans diced green chili peppers (chile verde), 7-ounce cans

2 pounds pork meat

2 quarts water

1 large pumpkin with insides removed

Brown the garlic and onions in the butter. Add pepper, salt, tomatoes, celery, chili peppers. Cook about five minutes, until it looks like stew (the vegetables will give off liquid). Add the meat and water, then cook about an hour, or until the meat is tender. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place hollowed-out pumpkin in a large pan, then pour soup into it. Bake until pumpkin is tender (about 50 minutes). Serve from the pumpkin, eating the pumpkin with the soup.

New England Apple-stuffed Pumpkin

1 small to medium pumpkin

2 teaspoons butter, melted

Salt

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 cups sliced apples

2 cups raisins

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

Clean out pumpkin. Brush insides with butter; sprinkle with salt and 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar. Add other ingredients, replace lid and bake at 375 degrees for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until pumpkin is tender. Scrape pumpkin from sides to go with apple mixture when serving.

[photos] Photos by Richard M. Romney, Laird Roberts, and Marilyn Erd

[illustrations] Illustrated by Elaine Hultgren