Jack-O-Lantern time

This seems to be the season for fog…in fact, this morning, when I drove to church, it was foggy, but I could still see. When it was time to come home, rather than lifting, it had gotten a lot thicker and I was glad I didn’t have very far to drive! Friday and Saturday were just as bad, but it was like Sam always used to say: “By 10:00, it will all be burned off”, and it has been true all three mornings. The sun is out and you would never know just how bad it was a couple of hours ago. What scares me is that both turns I make, to get to church and to come home have to be left turns with clearing one way, but a hill you can’t see over in the other direction and oil trucks traveling 70MPH either way! As weeks go, this past one wasn’t too bad, my sister came home for a few days and we got to spend time together Saturday going shopping in Victoria. Her husband has health problems and has been in San Antonio, either in a hospital or a rehab hospital for the past month and she has been with him 24/7 the whole time. We enjoyed our day together very much and had a good time.
This seems to be the perfect time of year to write about pumpkins. Not only do they seem to be a harbinger of the fall season, they make a most colorful decoration that can be put out now and left out until Thanksgiving! Several years ago, my daughter, Mother and I went to Luling, TX to see the pumpkins. There had been ads in all the local papers about the pumpkins in Luling, so we decided a little day trip was in order! When we got to Luling, we found pumpkins everywhere we looked, in people’s front yards, in small stands around the town, on both sides of the railroad tracks that bisect the town. Back then (2006), there was a little shop, by the name of Natal’s that had an extremely large variety of pumpkins, gourds, and squash. In fact, his was the largest display we found. We saw pumpkins in colors ranging from what was called “blue” to white, and almost any shade of orange you can think of, including some that were almost red. They ranged in size from about two inches in diameter and two to three ounces to giants that weighed over one hundred pounds. We were told that they had been harvested in west Texas and brought to Luling.
The set-up was really neat, with large boxes, like the ones used for watermelons and pumpkins in grocery stores, with a different type in each box. There were at least eight or ten of them and all were full. It was set up very similar to the old-time vegetable stalls in the market place in San Antonio, with parts of the display under a lean-to and others out in the open on hay or in the boxes. We saw shiny, green gourds that looked as if they were made of plastic and while the plastic was still wet, someone stuck their fingers on them and pulled out, making points all around, some in a variety that I think is called “Turks turban” or a name of that type. They are about the size of a lunch plate and the stem half is a deep, almost red orange and the blossom end has from two to five egg-shaped, striped bumps on it. They are very unusual looking to say the least!
Pumpkins, squash, gourds, muskmelons and watermelons are all members of the vine crop called “Curcubits”. Their name is derived from their genus classification, which is “Curcurbita.” The name pumpkin originated from “pepon” – the Greek word for “large melon”.
In case you decide to buy a real pumpkin for decoration, I’ve included the recipe for the Pumpkin Candy that is on display at many Mexican restaurants. It is an acquired taste and some of my kids liked it while others didn’t. I like it fine, but only one or two small pieces as it is very sweet and a little goes a long way. As long as you don’t cut into the pumpkin, it will still be useable after the Thanksgiving holidays. (Once you’ve made your Jack-O-Lantern, it will not be useable for anything else!) If you cut off the top and clean out the insides, you can insert a vase and it makes a beautiful container for a flower arrangement.
Many people buy them, use them for decoration and then cut them up and use them for pies or even to cook and serve. In our part of Texas, it is not as common to serve cooked pumpkin as it is in other areas.
Pumpkin facts: Pumpkin seeds can be roasted as a snack; pumpkins contain potassium and Vitamin A; pumpkins are used for feed for animals; pumpkin flowers are edible; pumpkins are used to make soups, pies, breads and cakes; in early Colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling; pumpkins are a fruit; pumpkins are 90 percent water; eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October; colonists sliced off pumpkin tops; removed the seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. This was baked in hot ashes and is the origin of pumpkin pie.
Spicy Pumpkin Pound Cake
2½ cups cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
4 eggs, at room temperature, separate
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon Bourbon whiskey or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree, canned or fresh
Powdered sugar for dusting the cake
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Position rack in lower third of oven. Spray a 10-inch tube pan or a 12-cup Bundt cake pan with vegetable spray and set aside.
In large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. Set aside.
Separate eggs. Place yolks in a small bowl and whites in a large mixing bowl.
In another bowl, beat the butter until smooth. Add the brown sugar a half-cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in Bourbon whiskey or vanilla and continue beating for about 3 minutes.
Beat the yolks with a fork then add to sugar mixture, one-third at a time. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down sides of bowl as you mix.
Add pumpkin puree and beat until smooth. With a wooden spoon, stir in 1/3 of the flour mixture. Beat just until dry ingredients are incorporated. Continue adding flour in two batches. Set aside.
Add cream of tartar to egg whites and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold whites into pumpkin batter.
Spoon batter into prepared pan. Gently spread batter evenly around pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cake plate. Allow to completely cool and dust with powdered sugar.
A very good friend who used to live in Devine gave me this recipe for pumpkin bars. She and her husband had owned a bakery in Michigan and it was a recipe they had used in their business. When I visited her, she would serve these with a cup of coffee while we talked!
Pumpkin Bars
4 eggs
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin (1 can 15-oz size)
Mix eggs, oil, sugar and pumpkin together and set aside.
In separate bowl combine the following:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon EACH cloves, nutmeg and ginger
Stir together and add to first mixture, mixing well. Pour into 9×12 pan and bake until done at 350ºF. Frost with your favorite cream cheese frosting if desired.
Some of my family members love pumpkin pie and others not so much; I belong to the ‘others’. One small slice each year is plenty for me, while some of my grandsons could eat the whole pie! With me it’s a ‘texture’ thing, as I have the same problem with the old time baked custard, as well as with cottage cheese. There are probably as many different recipes for pumpkin pie as there are cooks, but the best I’ve ever found is on the can of Libby’s pumpkin for pie. This is solid pack pumpkin and is the same as what is used in the bars and cake above. Do not use pumpkin pie filling as this is something totally different.
Mexican Pumpkin Candy
Select a round pumpkin that can be cut into uniform slices.
Cut pumpkin in half, remove seeds and membranes, and cut into pieces (try to cut them into as uniform size as possible) and peel. The outer skin is tough, so be careful. You will have to use a sharp knife to do this. Place pieces into a large glass or plastic bowl, and cover with a solution of 1-tablespoon quick lime (available in canning aisle at stores or possible at drug store), to each quart of water needed to cover pumpkin. Mix well and pour over pumpkin, allowing to set overnight.
Next morning: remove pumpkin from lime water and wash three or more times in clear water, place in large pot.
Cover pumpkin with warm water; slowly bring to boiling point and boil exactly five minutes, no longer.
Wash pumpkin two times in clear cold water and allow to drain for one hour. Pierce each piece several times with a fork so the syrup can penetrate.
Weigh pumpkin; use equal weight of sugar as pumpkin.
Using a very clean, large pot, place pumpkin in pot, cover with sugar, cook over very low heat until pumpkin is crystallized, this usually takes several hours. While cooking, carefully move pieces around so that all pieces cook evenly.
When pumpkin pieces are crystallized and tender, drain from syrup onto waxed paper.
The following recipe is delicious and uses a baking mix as the base. The recommended baking mix is Pioneer brand.
Hearty Harvest Pumpkin Pie
1 cup Pioneer Biscuit & Baking Mix
1 cup old fashioned oats
½ cup butter or margarine, melted
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1 can (15-oz) pumpkin
1 can (5-oz) evaporated milk (2/3 cup)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup chopped pecans
Stir together crust ingredients; reserve ¼ cup of the crumbs. Press remaining crumbs in bottom and up sides of an 11-inch tart pan; set aside. Combine filling ingredients except pecans; pour into crust. Stir together reserved crumbs and pecans. Sprinkle over filling. Bake at 350ºF for 45 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Serve with dollops of sour cream or whipped cream if desired. Makes 8 servings.