Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

An excerpt from Nothing More Comforting: Canada's Heritage Food by Dorothy Duncan

I light the prairie cornfields Orange and tawny gold clusters And I am
called pumpkins.
Carl Sandburg, "Theme in Yellow"

Pumpkins

Squash is the name we often use in Canada to include a wide variety of vegetables that grow throughout the western hemisphere. They are native to the Americas and were known and grown by the First Nations long before the arrival of explorers from other countries. Evidence of squash dating from 7,000 to 5,500 B.C. has been found at the Ocampa Caves in Mexico, and from there it would have travelled north. In the eastern United States, two-thousandyear- old burial mounds have yielded up similar evidence.

Among many First Nations, squash, beans, and corn were known as the Three Sisters.They were grown together, the corn standing tall and straight, the beans climbing the corn stalks, and the squash spreading out to control the weeds. When they were harvested, they were often eaten together to complement one another.

Early European explorers searching for the treasures of the Indies found instead the culinary treasures of the Americas, including squash. Although usually associated with North American cooking, squash was also carried to other parts of the world. In Great Britain, the common name for squash is vegetable marrow.

There are three well-known categories of squash: summer varieties such as the yellow crookneck and zucchini; autumn and winter squash such as Hubbard, butternut, and acorn; and pumpkins, which are in a category by themselves. Pumpkins are differentiated from squash by having rougher, woodier, squarish stems; squash stems by contrast are rounder and tenderer.A newcomer to the squash family is the spaghetti squash or vegetable spaghetti — its stringy flesh is often served with pasta sauces.Another new arrival from Latin America is the calabaza, a very large squash often sold in large wedges. It is very versatile and can be used in any recipe that calls for pumpkin. Sweet potato squash, meanwhile, has a mottled dark green and cream-coloured skin and, as the name suggests, a sweet, mellow flavour.

The appearance of freshly harvested winter squash at stores, markets, and roadside stands is a sure sign that autumn has arrived. Because squash is more readily available and less expensive in the fall than at any other time of the year, it is the perfect opportunity to experiment with this versatile vegetable. It can be enjoyed in a variety of different ways: as a dish in its own right or in soups, breads, puddings, and pies. It can also be decorative: scooped out and used to serve soup or arranged in groups for autumn centerpieces. There is no shortage of ways you can put squash, with its long and honourable history, on your table, so perk up fall menus with these savoury recipes.

Book Cover Nothing More Comforting

Hearty Pumpkin Soup
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups chicken broth (either homemade or canned)
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 16-ounce can pumpkin or 2 cups fresh puréed
pumpkin
2 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 pint whipping cream

Using a large saucepan on medium heat, sauté chopped onion in hot butter. Add chicken broth and heat. Add vegetables and cook over low heat until vegetables are tender (about 12 to 15 minutes). Add pumpkin and a little salt and pepper to taste. Heat just to boiling, cover, and reduce heat to simmer for at least 5 minutes. Stir in cream and heat through. Serve in bowls, from a soup tureen, or from a fresh, seeded pumpkin. Serves about 6. If you have other favourite vegetables you want to add to this soup, go ahead and experiment — they will also stretch the recipe to
more servings.

Honey and Hazelnut Filling
2 1-pound acorn squash, cut in half lengthwise
and seeded
1/4 cup hazelnuts with skins removed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 teaspoons honey

Bake squash for about 45 minutes at 350ºF until tender. Meanwhile, toast hazelnuts separately for about 10 minutes until they begin to smell fragrant. Chop well. Melt butter and divide among the squash cavities, add hazelnuts and honey evenly to each. Sprinkle with salt to taste and return to the oven for about 12 minutes or until the mixture in the cavity begins to bubble. Makes 4 generous servings. Serve hot.

Squash Casserole
6 cups cooked squash
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
dash pepper

Peel squash, remove seeds, cut into pieces, and steam or boil until soft. Drain carefully and mash. Add other ingredients and mix well. Spoon into a greased casserole dish to serve or store in the refrigerator to reheat and serve later. Serves 8. This is an excellent make-ahead dish if you know you will be pressed for time.

Squash Pie
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed aniseed
3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups winter squash, cooked and mashed
1 cup milk
pastry for 1-crust 9-inch pie

Combine the first six ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat in eggs. Stir in squash and milk. Turn into 9- inch pie plate lined with pastry. Bake in preheated 400ºF oven for 40 to 50 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Cool before serving. Serves 6 to 8. Squash pie can be served plain or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Roasted Seeds
seeds from squash or pumpkin
3 tablespoons butter
salt, garlic salt, or seasoning salt

Remove seeds from squash or pumpkin and clean by removing all excess fibres. Rinse and lay on a paper towel to dry. Melt butter in shallow pan. Stir in seeds, sprinkle with your favourite salt, and bake at 300ºF until brown and crisp. Stir once or twice while toasting.

Squash Blossoms
1 1/2 cups squash blossom buds
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper

Wash and dry blossom buds. Heat butter in frying pan or chafing dish, add blossoms, and turn gently. Most of them will burst into blossom as they cook. Watch the heat and do not let them brown. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Baked Squash
Cut an acorn squash in half and scoop out seeds and fibres. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Bake at 350ºF for 1 hour or until tender. There are numerous variations on this recipe that call for different fillings: try maple syrup instead of brown sugar; bacon crisply fried and combined with maple syrup; or a stuffing made of onions, bread crumbs, and seasonings (such as you would make for fowl), or Honey and Hazelnut Filling.

Zucchini Bread
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup zucchini, washed, unpeeled, grated
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Beat eggs well, add oil, sugar, zucchini, and vanilla. Mix remaining five ingredients in separate bowl and add to zucchini mixture. Stir well. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake in 350ºF oven 50 to 60 minutes. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes, then turn out on rack to cool. Wrap well. Store in a cool place.

From the book Nothing More Comforting: Canada's Heritage Food, © 2012, by Dorothy Duncan. Published in 2012 by Dundurn. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

October 5, 2012
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