To err is human...
but a pumpkin is 'da vine'.
— Hannah Johnson
Jarret Hughes has held numerous cooking positions at cafes, diners, and family restaurants.
He takes a "keep it simple" attitude toward cooking, preferring olive oil to truffle oil.
Jarret strives to inform readers about the history of various foods while offering professional
advice regarding food purchase and preparation.
I learned a lot about cooking from Grandma Grace. I learned a lot about what NOT to do in
the kitchen. You have to understand that my Grandma was a terrible cook. My mother told me
that a childhood disease might have damaged Grandma's taste buds. I don't buy it. Somewhere
along the line, I think my grandma either never learned how to cook or forgot how to do it.
The funny thing is that she LOVED to cook! She insisted on cooking something "grand" for
every special occasion (much to my family's chagrin.) I would always brace myself the week
before my birthday. I knew what was coming. She would exclaim, "It's your birthday next
week and I'm going to cook you something grand!" That "something grand" was always a two-inch
high birthday cake that tasted oddly of dill pickles.
When Grandma turned 70 several Octobers ago, I decided to give her a special birthday present.
I was going to teach her how to cook! Of course, I couldn't tell her this directly or I would
have gotten a swift slap to the back of my head from Grandma's wrinkled hand. I simply planned
a Saturday when we could spend the whole day in MY kitchen (I knew that Grandma's kitchen would
be full of inadequate and/or stale ingredients.) Since apples and pumpkins were in season, I
thought we would keep it simple and make one pie out of each fruit.
When Grandma got to my house, we rolled up our sleeves and got down to business. I suggested
that we start with the piecrusts. My Grandma had always insisted on making everything from
scratch — an admirable quality. I asked Grandma what she used to make her piecrust. She replied,
"Oh, that's easy! All you need is flour and water for that." When I inquired about what type
of shortening she used, she stared at me like I was from outer space. "Oh, you mean fat,"
she finally said. "I don't use that anymore. I hear that stuff isn't good for you, and at
my age I have to watch my weight!" I could tell it was going to be a long day...
I suggested to my Grandma that she could buy a pre-made crust in the freezer section of the supermarket.
She smacked me in the head and exclaimed, "You know I make everything from scratch, boy!"
After making the crusts WITH shortening (Grandma complained about her weight the whole time),
we moved on to the pumpkin pie filling. I knew that Grandma wouldn't want to use canned
pumpkin, so I prepared some pumpkin puree ahead of time (see recipe below.)
I asked Grandma what she does to her pumpkin puree before she puts it in the crust. "It depends what I have
in the cabinet," she replied. "Sometimes I'll add a dash of cinnamon, and sometimes I'll put
a little nutmeg in there." No wonder her pumpkin pie was so bland! I suggested to my Grandma
that she could buy pumpkin in a can that already had the spices included.
She smacked me in the head again.
Needless to say, I don't think my Grandma learned a thing that day. I'll spare you the details
about the apple pie. It involves massive head injuries from multiple smacks to the head.
Despite growing up in a family where NEITHER Grandma could cook worth a hoot (I'll tell you
about Grandma Helen some other time), I did manage to learn a thing or two about cooking with
pumpkins. Fall is my favorite season. The hot weather in on sabbatical, the leaves are turning,
and the fall fruit is ready to be picked. Rather than thinking of apples as the fruit of fall,
consider one of the most prominent members of the gourd family instead.
The word "pumpkin" originated from the Greek word "pepon" which means "large melon." The French
turned "pepon" into "pompon" and the English turned the French version into "pumpion." American
colonists are responsible for the word "pumpkin" as we know it today. Speaking of the colonists,
they were the first to make pumpkin pie filling by putting milk and spices in whole pumpkins
and cooking them near hot coals. When the pumpkin was cooked, they scraped out the pumpkin along
with the milk and spices and voila!
In the United States today, pumpkins are primarily used for pies and a handful of other desserts.
In other parts of the world, however, pumpkins are used more broadly. Pumpkin soup is highly
regarded as a national dish in Jamaica. Other Caribbean and Latin American countries also use
pumpkin on a regular basis.
Pumpkins are part of the gourd family, which also includes squash, melons, and cucumbers. They
are high in fiber and contain a decent amount of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein, and
iron. Unfortunately, pumpkins aren't extremely low in carbohydrates (around 6 grams in a half
cup), making them unsuitable for the early stages of some low-carb programs. However, like its
close relative the butternut squash, pumpkin can be enjoyed in moderation by most low carbers!
Sugar pumpkins (also called pie pumpkins) are most suitable for cooking. Look for sugar pumpkins
that are no bigger than three pounds. These are the ones that are sweetest and least stringy. The
other common type of pumpkin is the larger "field" pumpkin that is used for jack-o-lanterns. While
this type of pumpkin is also edible, it is often less sweet and more stringy.
There are three main criteria for selecting a pumpkin:
Weight: Pick a peck of pumpkins that are particularly porcine for their size. In other
words, pick the ones that feel heavy despite their small size. You'll pay a little more, but
this will ensure that you are buying a fresh pumpkin that is fully hydrated. A healthy pumpkin
is around 90% water!
Blemishes: Search for a pumpkin that has as few blemishes as possible. Avoid all pumpkins
that have been punctured or cut. Also, take a close look at the top and bottom of the pumpkin. Do
you see any cracks with white, fuzzy material growing around them? If so, move on to the next
Rind: Before you select a pumpkin, be sure to feel the outside. You are looking for one
with a hard rind and no soft spots. Whenever possible, consider buying your produce from local
farmers. You will often get the freshest fruits and vegetables that way.
So what the heck do you do with a pumpkin once you buy (or grow) it? Here are some basic recipes
that any pumpkin would be proud to be a part of!
This is even better than the canned stuff! Homemade pumpkin puree is completely unprocessed and
you won't have to worry about that tinny taste. Remember that pumpkin is mostly water. If you want
to make the puree thicker, place it in a cheesecloth for several hours.
One or more 2 to 3 pound sugar pumpkins
Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut the top off of the pumpkin and scoop out the "guts" as if you were
making a jack-o-lantern. Be sure to get all of the seeds and stringy parts. Go ahead and toss the
seeds in oil and bake them if you like (we won't be making a crunchy version of pumpkin puree!).
Very carefully cut the pumpkin in half, starting at the opening you just made and going all the way
around. Neatness doesn't count - don't worry if your halves are uneven! Make quarters out of the
pumpkin by cutting the halves in half.
Place the pumpkin quarters on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Bake the pumpkin, skin side up, at
400°F for 1 hour or until a knife slides in easily. Err on the side of cooking it too much
rather than too little.
Remove pumpkin quarters from oven and let cool until the pumpkin is easy to handle. Scoop the
"meat" from the skin. Discard the skin and place the scooped out pumpkin in a food processor or
blender (and you always wondered what that puree button was for!) Process or blend the pumpkin
until it looks smooth and not chunky.
A 2 1/2 pound sugar pumpkin will yield approximately 1 1/2 cups of puree (depending on the water
content of the pumpkin). It freezes well for up to a year.
Cream of Pumpkin Soup
This is a creamy, rich soup with the flavor of spicy pumpkin pie. Normally, cream soups are made
from a Béchamel sauce (milk and roux) or a Velouté sauce (white stock and roux). Since the primary
ingredient in a roux is white flour, the following recipe has been formulated with the low carber
Mini pumpkins make great serving dishes for this pumpkin soup (or for any fall soup). Simply cut
the tops off of the mini pumpkins and scoop out the innards before adding the soup.
Bring broth, onion, spices, and baking soda to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and
continue to cook until onion is tender and translucent (about 10 minutes), stirring
- 14 oz chicken broth
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups pumpkin puree
- 2 cups half and half
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cinnamon or nutmeg (for garnish)
Pour the mixture into a blender or food processor. Blend on LOW speed until
smooth. Be very careful when blending hot liquids! Always use low speeds and remove the
lid partially so hot steam can escape!
Pour blended mixture back into pot. Add half and half, pumpkin puree, and butter.
Simmer for 10 more minutes.
Serve with a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg on top.
Variation: If you don't want your soup smooth, you don't have to blend it. Simply skip
that step. It won't be as creamy, but it will still taste good.
Makes approximately 8 servings. Per serving: 7.2g effective carbohydrate.
Italian Style Roasted Pumpkin
This dish is a great compliment to a cool weather beef or pork roast! It also adds
some zing to Thanksgiving dinner.|
Preheat oven to 375°F. Use a sharp peeler to remove the skin from the entire pumpkin.
Remove the top from the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and stringy parts. Carefully cut
pumpkin into one-inch pieces.
- 3 pound sugar pumpkin
- 1 clove minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons fresh basil, roughly chopped
(You can use 1 to 2 tsp dried basil instead)
- 2 tablespoons oil olive
- Fresh parsley or basil (for garnish)
Place pumpkin in a bowl and toss with olive oil, garlic, and
basil. Spread out on a cookie sheet.
Bake, tossing occasionally to prevent sticking, for
25 minutes or until pumpkin is tender but not mushy. Garnish with fresh basil, parsley,
or other herbs of your choice.
Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 7g carbohydrate, 3g fiber.