Pumpkin, sweet and savory
Tough year in the field, but gourds are still tasty
By Angel Roy firstname.lastname@example.org
One can only assume that Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater, the questionable husband of nursery rhyme fame, favored sugar pumpkins, as farm staff and local chefs say those are best for cooking. Hopefully he kept his wife in one as well, as their hearty, thick, rot-resistant skin would have kept her warm in the winter months.
Four types of pumpkins — including sugar — grow in patches at Charmingfare Farm, 774 High St., Candia. Baby Bears, Champion and Racer pumpkins are the other gourd varieties offered at Charmingfare. “Sugar, mini, big and really big,” said Charmingfare manager Briana Donovan of the farm’s selection.
This was not a great year for pumpkin production, Donovan said, as the weather was inconsistent.
“It was either too wet or too dry,” Donovan said, adding that the weather had in essence stunted the gourds’ growth. Pumpkins grow best in warm weather, but they struggle if the soil is too soggy. “They will last in the cold, but if they get wet they can start to rot on the outside,” Donovan said. The sugar and Baby Bear pumpkins fared better than others because of their heartiness, she said. The largest pumpkin grown at the farm this season tipped the scale at 15 pounds.
“When they are too big they are not easy to carve,” Donovan said. Sugar pumpkins, Donovan said, can be carved but not very intricately because of their size.
Pumpkins at Charmingfare are grown in parallel beds on a 150-by-300-foot field of rototilled soil. Plant vines begin to show a couple of weeks after the seeds are planted, Donovan said. Once the vines are grown in, the pumpkins do not need much minding, as the plants crowd out the weeds. The plants start dying, and the pumpkins begin to turn from green to orange, in late September and early October. When the plants start to die, the pumpkins are exposed to more sunlight, which brightens their orange hue.
On average, it takes a team of five people three hours to pick the pumpkin crop at Charmingfare by hand, Donovan said.
“There is no mechanical method to pick them,” she said. “They grow wherever they want to grow and in every possible direction.”
When pumpkins are misshapen, Donovan said, it is because an object was under the pumpkin as it grew. “Landscape plays a huge role,” she said.
Pumpkin seeds can be saved for growing and planted after they have been dried or dehydrated. Wet seeds will rot, Donovan said. Grown pumpkins can be more susceptible to rot, should they be held by their handle instead of their body: “If the handle breaks, it causes almost like a scab and because there is no skin there it will rot faster,” Donovan said.
While the Champion and Racer pumpkins are best for carving, the Baby Bears as decoration and the sugar pumpkins (which boast a sweeter taster and higher sugar content than others) for eating, Donovan noted that all are edible.
Donovan’s mother often uses pumpkins for pie, mousse, cookies and muffins. “A lot of times you can substitute pumpkin puree for applesauce in recipes,” Donovan said. Before cooking with the gourd, Donovan said, pumpkins must first be skinned and their seeds removed. “You can boil or bake the pumpkin with the skin on and use a butter knife to peel the skin right off,” she said.
Fall has become a favorite cooking season for Jeffrey Paige at his restaurant, Cotton, 75 Arms St. in Manchester. “The food becomes a little … heartier,” Paige said.
Paige mainly uses sugar pumpkins for his creations, which include corn and pumpkin chowder, apple cider pumpkin soup, roast pork topped with wild mushroom pumpkin gravy, pumpkin risotto with pan-seared scallops and truffle oil and pumpkin cheesecake. Paige uses toasted pumpkin seeds to top one of his fall salads, in lieu of croutons. Paige’s pumpkin creations will appear on the restaurant’s annual pumpkin weekend menu Oct. 29 through Oct. 31.
Paige has been able to work the gourd into the eatery’s cocktail offerings by infusing vodka with vanilla beans and roasted pumpkin with a little cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and clove. The house infused vodka is then served martini style with Kahlua and Bailey’s Caramel Irish Cream. Last season, Cotton offered a pumpkin spiced White Russian.
Sergio Metes, executive chef at Unums, 49 East Pearl St. in Nashua, uses pumpkin for pie, soup and as a component dish. “Even if you just swirl it on the bottom of a plate, you see the color, the great smell, flavor,” Metes said.
Metes said he uses a “standard pumpkin” for cooking, and then traditionally adds lavender, ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg or lemon zest. Pureed pumpkin is Metes’ preferred form to cook with, as it is the easiest. He likened the pureeing process to squash preparation as he adds touch of cream, butter, salt and pepper to roasted pumpkin before pureeing it. Metes uses his cinnamon pumpkin puree in his pumpkin ravioli, which was recently added to the Unums menu, served with candied pecans and spinach cream sauce.
After Thanksgiving, Michelle Moulin said, she and her staff at Michelle’s Gourmet Pastry & Deli, 819 Union St., Manchester, are tired of pumpkins. Moulin uses canned pumpkin — to ensure a consistent product — for a plethora of seasonal offerings at her bakery, including pumpkin whoopie pies (filled with cream seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg), pumpkin bread, pumpkin cheesecake squares, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin scones, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread loaves and, closer to Turkey Day, pumpkin cannoli.
“Obviously we have pumpkin pie too, but that sort of gets lost,” Moulin said.