Seasons by the Sea: The Enduring Pumpkin

Those who enjoy their pumpkin in pies, bread, cheesecakes, and soup are following a dietary tradition that dates back as far as 5,500 B.C. Morgan McGivern

    A fun destination this time of year is Hank’s Pumpkin Town in Watermill. There are corn mazes, face painting, stuff to climb on, and . . . pumpkins! Most people probably see this as a fun fall activity with children. Me? When I drive by those acres of low-to-the-ground greenery with bright orange orbs by the thousands peeking out, I think food! I see Tunisian sweets, French soups, African stews, and American cheesecakes.
    It’s pumpkin season, folks, and there’s a lot more you can do with these cucurbita pepos besides carving jack-o’-lanterns. You can eat almost every part of them save the stems and their somewhat bland flavor makes them a versatile fruit-vegetable that can be used in sweet or savory dishes. The flesh tends to absorb the flavors of what it’s cooked with, whether garlic and herbs, or apples or plums.
    Pumpkins, along with other members of the cucumber and squash family, have been a dietary staple all over the world since 5500 B.C. There are endless varieties to choose from in every hue from white to red. Some are good for pies, some for seeds, some for soups and stews, and some for baking and stuffing.
    When selecting a pumpkin, choose one that is firm and heavy for its size, and consistently colored throughout. It’s okay if there’s a slightly flattened pale area on one side, this simply means your pumpkin was resting comfortably in the field while growing.
    The tradition of displaying carved pumpkins with candles in them came from Irish immigrants. All Hallow’s Eve, Oct. 31, marked the end of the Celtic calendar year. Hollowed-out rutabagas, turnips, and beets were displayed in windows to ward off evil spirits, welcome home deceased ancestors, and scare away one particular restless soul called Stingy Jack, hence “jack-o’-lantern.”
    Whether you go to Pumpkin Town to play or to buy pumpkins for decorating, keep in mind that those playthings are also a versatile, healthy, inexpensive, and ancient food that is adaptable to many kinds of dishes.
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