Friday, October 27, 2006

Cooking with Pumpkins

Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.
Pumpkins are not just for carving. Pumpkins, which are a member of the gourd family (related to squash, melons and cucumbers), are actually a fruit. They are native to Central America and can be grown on every continent except Antarctica. The word pumpkin is derived from the Greek word for large melon, pepõn.

Native American Indians had many uses for pumpkins, from eating to using dried strips to weave into floor mats. The Pilgrims were introduced to pumpkins when they arrived to North America and they became a staple in their diet as well. Today, we have moved away from eating pumpkin, except in the Thanksgiving standard – pumpkin pie.

Pumpkins are very nutritious, being rich in Vitamins A & C, beta-carotene, calcium, potassium and fiber. Pumpkins are 90 percent water. They are also low in sodium and fat, making them a great choice for those watching their weight.
Their orange flesh is mild and sweet. Pumpkin can be substituted for squash, such as butternut or acorn squash, in recipes. When purchasing a pumpkin, choose smaller ones, not the large ones used for Jack-o-lanterns or really small ones for decorating. Most frequently sugar pumpkins are what we find in markets for cooking, which are darker in color and rounder than the carving versions.

When purchasing a pumpkin, choose one that is heavy for its size and free of nicks, bruises or cuts. Make sure the flesh is firm, with no soft spots and the color is uniform. If you pick find a pumpkin that is still green (meaning it was picked too early), you can put it in a dark room for several days to finish the ripening process. Another important point is to make sure the stem is still intact. Because of the high sugar content, organisms will begin to decompose the pumpkin at the stem if the stem has been removed.

The most common way to cook a pumpkin is to simply roast it. Divide the pumpkin in half, removing the seeds and stringy pulp. Place the halves, cut side down on a baking sheet and bake for about one hour in a preheated 350° F oven, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Spoon the flesh out of the shell and use it in recipes. Cooking pumpkin at very high temperatures can cause the flesh to become stringy.

Pumpkin puree can be purchased in the market, usually with the other canned vegetables. It is convenient and you will give you a consistent taste and texture. Make sure to read the label and make sure you are getting 100% pumpkin. There are two types of canned pumpkin – unseasoned cooked pumpkin and pumpkin pie filling that has been seasoned with sugar and spices.

Link to recipes
Over 50 recipes at
Half dozen or so main course recipes at Pumpkin Nook with dessert, snack and international recipes as well

Saturday, October 14, 2006

October 14

Today is National Chocolate Covered Insect Day
Ants, scorpions, crickets, grasshoppers, worms - all are available for your distinguished palate! boasts the largest selection of edible insects if you are interested. I have never in my life considering eating an insect. But since it is national chocolate covered insect day I, well, honestly am still not considering it. I expect them to be crunchy and do not think I can get past that part. But I guess I shouldn't knock it 'til I try it....

More importantly, October 14, 1834, Henry Blair received a patent for the seed planter. He is often cited as the first African-American to be granted a patent. Not much is known about Mr. Blair, but it has been presumed that he had been freed from slavery since slaves were not permitted to apply for patents. He signed his name on the patent with an "X" because he could not write.

So who was the first African-American to be granted a patent? In 1821, Thomas L Jennings received a patent for the invention of the dry cleaning process. Can you imagine life today without either? Bravo gentlemen!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

October in Michigan

As the days get shorter, the first frost hits, the tomatoes stop coming and the leaves begin to fall, Michigan's apple season begins. Apples are a great fruit to add to cooking and baking. Besides pie, cobbler and all the great fall inspired desserts, apples are great to add to our entrées and side dishes.

The pork tenderloin previously posted is a great example of this. Like Peter Brady said “Pork chops and applesauce” – they are a great combination. Ann B. Davis’s (Alice) Pork Chop and Apple Sauce Recipe

Apple compliments bacon, cheese (especially bleu cheese), dried fruits (currants, dates, plums, raisins), fresh fruits (cranberries, lemons, oranges, pears), nuts (almonds, chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts), pork and sausages. Spices that compliment apples are cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, honey, nutmeg, rosemary and vanilla. When making a sauce, consider using as a foundation of brandy, cider, cognac, Grand Marnier, Madeira, rum, sherry, vermouth or red wine.

Presto! offers some great apple dishes, like:
Apple Meatloaf with diced apple inside and a great apple glaze
Chicken with Roasted Apples topped with an apple-allspice sauce
Apple-Curry Pork Tenderloin – slow cooked and mouth watering

Visit the Apple Butter Festival at Fenner Nature Center (corner of Aurelius and Mt. Hope) this Saturday or Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm.

Like the old saying goes…