Adapted from Creativity
With Pumpkins; It's Beyond Pies by Patricia Brooks
For many years, pumpkins were the object of benign neglect in the North American kitchen,
making appearances in the fall as Halloween decorations and, especially at Thanksgiving,
as pumpkin pie. In recent times, however, as part of the growing creativity in American
cooking, pumpkins have been playing a more prominent role. Creative recipes involving the
large orange-yellow fruit include pumpkin, sage, chestnut and bacon risotto; pumpkin pots
de crème with amaretti-ginger crunch; pumpkin, white bean and kale ragout; and aromatic
pumpkin and chickpea hotpot. But old favorites remain, often in inventive variations:
many kinds of pumpkin pie; pumpkin pancakes; pumpkin soup.
By early American accounts, pumpkins (often called pompions in Colonial cookbooks) and
corn kept the early European settlers in North America alive over the long hard New
England winters. The settlers, taught by American Indians how to cultivate this New World
crop, baked the wholesome, thick-skinned pumpkins in the ashes, stewed them, made
puddings and pies of the meat and even pickled the rind.
The pumpkin was probably cultivated in prehistoric times by Indians of both North and
South America. Not only was it a staple of their diet, but they also used the shells as
cooking pots and serving bowls.
Christopher Columbus on his first voyage wrote that in the eastern end of Cuba, he found
vast fields planted with calebazzas (pumpkins and squashes). Another Spanish explorer,
Cabeza de Vaca, observed pumpkins growing near Tampa Bay in Florida in 1528, and Hernando
De Soto called the pumpkins of western Florida ''better and more flavorful than those of
Spain,'' though he was probably confusing our pumpkins with gourds (a different species)
grown in Europe.
In 1883, in ''Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cook Book,'' there is not a single pumpkin recipe.
Under a recipe for squash pie is the note, like an afterthought, ''Pumpkin pies are made
in the same way.'' But the pumpkin has long had a much bigger role and greater
versatility in other parts of the Americas. In Brazil, home cooks make pumpkin soufflés,
custards and a variety of candies (often combined with coconut). Puerto Rican cookbooks
have recipes for pumpkin cakes, fritters and puddings.
But nowhere in the Americas is the pumpkin more a part of the cuisine than in Mexico,
where virtually every bit of the vegetable is used. The seeds are featured in dips, in
moles (complex spicy sauces), as snacks and ground into sauces for pork and shrimp
dishes. Pumpkin blossoms are used in soups and are also stuffed, pumpkin meat is made
into soups and soufflés, and the rind is often candied or pickled.
It's good news that innovative cooks in the United States have gotten more into the
spirit of the great pumpkin. The cheery round vegetable brightens up fall hallways, walks
and front porches, and is also served at the dining table.