When I was in Monterey last week with my camera club (Photographic Society of Orange County), I stopped by the Earthbound Farm farmstand for an organic, vegetarian lunch at their salad bar. Earthbound Farms was at the forefront of the large-scale, commercial organic produce movement in the early 1980s. They started out with 2.5 acres of organic raspberries and are now the largest growers of organic produce in the US, with 33,000 acres farmed by 150 different farmers. But their little farm stand in Carmel Valley still retains the feel of a family farm roadside outlet.
Many fascinating varieties of heirloom pumpkins waited for someone to choose them and take them home: Queensland Blues, Jarrahdales, Rouge Vif d’Etampes, Fairy, Long Island Cheese, Kabocha, and of course the standard orange Connecticut Field pumpkins. Surfaces ranged from smooth to warty, with various degrees of ridging, and colors ran a rainbow from pale buff to orange to deep red and even to blues, grays and greens. Shapes varied from round to oblong to flat.
But how many of those pumpkins are going to just get tossed after Halloween? They’re FOOD, for heaven’s sake. The seeds can be salted, roasted and eaten, put out for the birds, or saved for next summer’s garden.
The flesh is what goes into pumpkin pies. I cut my pumpkins in half and bake them, scoop out the flesh and put it through a ricer. I freeze what doesn’t get used right away for pies or soup. At the very least, pumpkins can go into the compost bin instead of the trash can.
Each variety seems to have its own taste. I don’t care for the flavor of the white pumpkins. Too anemic in flavor as well as color. I think the taste of the Long Island Cheese or Fairy pumpkins is inferior to the Sugar or New England Pie pumpkins, but taste is a personal thing. Connecticut Field and Howden pumpkins can be too fibrous, although the flavor is fine. Queensland Blues are wonderful to eat, but you need military-grade equipment to cut into their hard shell. I cut my last Queensland Blue into cubes and cooked it in the crockpot along with chunks of grass-fed bison hump from our local farmer’s market, plus potatoes, onions and red wine.
If we get our community garden operational by next summer, I finally should have room to grow pumpkins. I’ve been saving seed from Halloween pumpkins for a couple of years now. They’ll last about five years. I also have some seeds of Amish Pie pumpkins from Ferry Morse seed company that I want try. And then I discovered the offerings at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They have a lot of unusual varieties from southeast Asia that could go into soups, stews, pies, risotto, tempura and stir-fries. So many pumpkins varieties, so little space, and only so many summers.
(To read more of Lou Murray’s environmental writing, see her weekly column, Natural Perspectives, in the Huntington Beach Independent at www.hbindependent.com, under columnists. This week’s column is on urban chickens! See it at http://www.hbindependent.com/articles/2009/10/29/blogs_and_columns/natural_perspectives/hbi-natural102909.txt/ It should remain online for 5 weeks.)