Story last updated at 10/28/2009 - 12:17 pm
Orange, hollow orbs dot our grocery stores and doorsteps come October each year. Some are given faces and some are turned to soup.
Pumpkins can act as a principal or supplemental ingredient in hundreds of sweet or savory dishes. But many of the pumpkins sold in stores this time of year won't be eaten at all. Rather, they will be painted and carved to serve as decoration.
Next to carrots, liver and yams, pumpkins - especially in their cooked form - are one of the richest food sources of beta-carotene. This antioxidant is converted to vitamin A in the body, aiding vision function, maintaining skin health and supplementing a variety of other important bodily activities.
Even pumpkins that will primarily be used ornamentally can still satisfy the stomach. Pumpkin seeds, which are usually scraped out and scrapped, can be rinsed and roasted for a protein and fiber-rich snack.
Pumpkins thrive in sunny spots with healthy, well-draining soil. The soggy summers of Southeast Alaska aren't exactly ideal for the plant, which prefers to keep its roots on the dry side in order to produce optimum results. Growers in the state's Southcentral region, which tends to see less rainfall and constant summer sunlight, have just the right conditions for premium plants. Still, most of the pumpkins sold in Juneau were grown in Washington.
In 2006, J.D. Megchelsen of Nikiski grew a prize-winning pumpkin that tipped the scales at 1,019 pounds. The fruit of his labor set a state record that year at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. Megchelsen gave out as many chunks of the giant as he could, and the leftovers made it to his compost heap to become fertilizer for the next year's crop.
Pumpkin Curry: A Thai Twist
This meal is simple to execute and open to personalization. Any variety of vegetables or proteins can be added to the base of coconut milk and curry paste. This dish can easily be made gluten-free or vegan - just be sure the curry paste you choose is free of gluten or fish product.
1 can coconut milk
2-3 tbsp red, yellow or green curry paste to taste
1-2 cups cubed pumpkin meat
½ to 1 cup each vegetables of your choice (e.g. red bell pepper, onion, green peas or broccoli)
(optional) 2-3 tbsp fish sauce to taste
(optional) 1 ½ cups pre-cooked protein of your choice (e.g. shrimp, tofu or edamame)
(optional) 2-4 chopped chili peppers for some extra kick
Bake pumpkin at 350F until slightly golden and soft. Meanwhile, bring coconut milk, curry paste and fish sauce to a boil. Reduce heat and add your choice of vegetables, protein, pumpkin and chili peppers. Simmer until vegetables are soft. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
This curry may even be served inside of a small pumpkin. Slice off the top of the pumpkin and save. Scoop out the inside and brush the shell with a light coating of oil. Bake at 350F until golden and soft. Pour curry inside to have your bowl and eat it, too.
Pumpkin Pie: Juneau Style
Chef Andres Aquíno Cadíente fed thousands of mouths in Juneau from the 1940s until his death in 2002. He cooked for many years on vessels in the Alaska Marine Highway System's fleet, as well as in the kitchen at the Baranof Hotel and a number of local cafes. In his 1974 cookbook, "El Mundo: International Menu-Cookbook & Bakers Manual & Facts," he includes the following two pumpkin pie recipes, which received the approval of former Alaska Governor William A. Egan. Egan called Cadíente "an intense and intriguing person on the subjects of food and of life in general."
New Pumpkin Pie Method
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp ginger powder
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
2 pints vanilla ice cream.
Blend ingredients together well. Stir in one pint of vanilla ice cream (softened).
Wheat Germ-Gingersnap Crust
¾ cup fine gingersnap crumbs
½ cup wheat germ
¼ cup butter, melted
2 tbsp sugar
Save ¼ cup gingersnap crumbs for top of pie. Combine other ingredients and mix well. Press crumb mixture into bottom of nine-inch pie pan. Bake at 350F in oven for five to eight minutes. Cool.
Spread one pint of softened vanilla ice cream in pie shell. Freeze for one hour. Spoon pumpkin ice cream filling on ice cream layer. Sprinkle crumbs saved for pie top. Freeze until firm, about 3 hours. Remove from freezer for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
Spicy Pumpkin Pie
6 cups mashed cooked or canned pumpkin
5 cups evaporated milk
2 cups sugar
4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
3 tbsp melted butter
2 tsp ginger
½ tsp ground cloves
Mix all ingredients and fill a pastry lined pie tin nine by eleven inches. Bake in 375F oven for 40-45 minutes.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Rinse seeds and pick out the pulp. Place seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet. Coat seeds with a thin layer of oil or coat with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and spices of your choice and bake at 325F until toasted, for 10-25 minutes. Cool and serve.