Most people on this side of the Atlantic Ocean grew up knowing pumpkins in four main ways: as jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween, as blue-ribbon winners at state fairs, as crack-and-spit seed snacks and as the primary ingredient in Thanksgiving pies.
Oh yes, we mustn't forget Cinderella's coach.
Every now and then, a daring soul puts pumpkin soup on the table, but unless diners are properly primed, the proffered bowl is met with, at best, polite skepticism.
As much fun as it is to carve, grow and show pumpkins, there are myriad other uses for our round orange friends: fritters, waffles, muffins, breads, soups, stews, puddings and casseroles.
Georgia Massie, who owns Georgia's Farmers' Market in Plano, Texas, has been proselytizing on behalf of the pumpkin for years.
Ask her about pumpkins and she'll be glad to tell you about them. About the large "Jack O'Lantern" pumpkins popularized in Peanuts cartoons and fairy tales. Or Oz, Baby Pam and New England Pam, the most popular pie varieties. And don't forget orange and white miniatures, good for decorative candleholders, place cards or individual serving bowls for soup.
Not to mention the white Ghost pumpkin; one called Cinderella that is deep orange; Fairy Tale, a rounder, flatter, brownish pumpkin; Storybook, dark green or buff-colored fruit with green markings; Neck, which looks more like a butternut squash; and Indian (or Buckskin). Massie says the smaller varieties are better for cooking and eating because the flesh has more flavor and is less stringy.
"People don't realize there are all these different kinds," she says. "I tell folks all the time, anything you can make with sweet potatoes or squash, you can make with pumpkin."
Back in the '80s, Massie wrote and self-published the cookbook "Fresh Ideas for Vegetable Cooking," which is available at some bookstores. It contains about 365 recipes for squash, including several for pumpkin.
Recipes for pumpkin dishes are more common than might be imagined. They can be found in cookbooks ranging from traditional to regional to ethnic, and even in one dedicated to recipes by jazz musicians.
In a beautiful little book called "Play With Your Pumpkins" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $10.95), French, Indian and Indonesian recipes are interspersed with wonderfully whimsical pumpkin images. There's even a German one for pumpkin pickles.
In her book "The Sephardic Table: The Vibrant Cooking of the Mediterranean Jews" (Houghton Mifflin, $16), author Pamela Grau Twena shares recipes from Middle Eastern cultures. During her stay in Israel, Twena became particularly fond of an Iraqi sweet-and-sour pumpkin soup with meatballs that unites ingredients that might seem strange to the Western palate: pumpkin, apricots, prunes, raisins and lemon juice.
In "Jazz Cooks: Portraits and Recipes of the Greats" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95), saxophonist Oliver Lake tells of growing up in a family of restaurateurs. He makes pumpkin fritters, which he enjoys as an hors d'oeuvre, a side dish or as an accompaniment to roast chicken or fried fish.
When author Angela Shelf Medearis was doing research for "The African-American Kitchen: Cooking From Our Heritage" (Plume, $14.95), she found something called lamb taushe, a stew served throughout Africa. It calls for diced pumpkin, peanut butter, onion and chopped tomato. She even found a recipe for pumpkin meatloaf baked and served inside a pumpkin.
"I think I found the meatloaf recipe in an old slave cookbook, but the lamb stew came from a collection of African recipes published and sold at the 1964 World's Fair," she says. "I did make some modifications, though. A lot of people are going to be leery, but the peanut butter-onion-tomato combination is just wonderful. With a salad and some fresh baked bread, it's a perfect winter dish."
For the adventurous cook who is determined to serve pumpkin pie as a holiday staple, but at the same time is looking for something a little different, there's a recipe for lemon-pumpkin pie in "Preserving Summer's Bounty: A Quick and Easy Guide to Freezing, Canning, Preserving and Drying What You Grow," available in paperback (Rodale Press, $14.95).
Or, you could pick up a copy of "Zucchini, Pumpkins & Squash" (Chronicle Books, $10.95), and choose from among several of author Kathleen Desmond Stang's pumpkin recipes: Pumpkin Ice Cream With Pecan Brittle, Pumpkin-Hazelnut Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting, Corn Chowder in miniature pumpkin shells, or, in a nod to the folks who gave us Thanksgiving, American Indian Pumpkin Pudding.
Caroline Hunt is not sure where her affinity for pumpkins originated, but she also wrote a cookbook devoted to the orange orb. And she and her former husband once owned a fleet of orange-painted helicopters called Pumpkin Air.
Hunt's book, "The Compleat Pumpkin Eater," published in 1980, contains 273 pages of pumpkin lore and recipes that range from an Avocado-Pumpkin Salad to Pumpkin Juleps. Her personal favorite, Pumpkin Bisque, won first prize in a March of Dimes cook-off in Houston a few years ago. The cookbook is out of print; check used-book stores.
If there is one thing that distinguishes European pumpkin recipes from American ones -- other than a variety of cooking options -- it is the use of canned pumpkin.
We pluck it from a shelf; they buy it fresh from the produce market and make a puree that's started from scratch. For best results, Massie suggests using pumpkins weighing no more than 3 or 4 pounds.
If you're cooking with canned pumpkin, make sure you buy the right kind for your recipe. Pure pumpkin contains no added spices or sugar; this would be the right choice for savory dishes such as soup. On the other hand, canned pumpkin pie mix already has salt, sugar, spices and flavoring.
Makes 4 9-inch waffles
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 eggs, separated
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup melted shortening
1/2 cup cooked, pureed pumpkin
3/4 cup chopped pecans
Sift together dry ingredients; beat egg yolks. Combine with milk, shortening and pumpkin. Add to dry ingredients. Beat egg whites stiff; fold into batter. Pour onto hot waffle iron. Sprinkle each with 3 tablespoons of nuts.
Per waffle: 736 calories (59 percent fat); 49 grams fat (11 grams saturated); 5 grams fiber; 174 milligrams cholesterol; 1,172 milligrams sodium; 61 grams carbohydrates; 447 milligrams calcium
-- From "The Compleat Pumpkin Eater"
Indian Pumpkin Pudding
2 cups whole or skim milk
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
2 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
dash of ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
1 tablespoon molasses
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Butter a 1-quart baking dish; set aside. Combine the milk and cornmeal in a large, heavy saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture is creamy, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add butter and stir until melted.
In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Stir into the milk mixture. Add pumpkin puree and molasses. Pour into the dish. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
Per serving: 566 calories (15 percent fat); 9 grams fat (5 grams saturated); 3 grams fiber; 18 milligrams cholesterol; 213 milligrams sodium; 111 grams carbohydrates; 238 milligrams calcium
-- From "Zucchini, Pumpkins & Squash"
1 cup grated raw pumpkin (see note)
1 large egg
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt
1/4 cup raisins (optional)
vegetable oil for deep-frying
brown sugar (optional)
In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, egg, flour, sugar, vanilla and salt. Blend in the raisins (if using). Form the batter into approximately 20 loosely packed 1- to 1 1/4-inch balls. In a large skillet, heat 1 inch of oil to about 350 degrees to 375 degrees. Drop the fritters into the oil, being careful not to crowd, and brown well on all sides. Drain the fritters on paper towels and, if desired, sprinkle with brown sugar.
Note: If using canned pumpkin, the dish will take on a completely different character, lacking the crunchy texture that comes from fresh pumpkin.
Per serving: 494 calories (52 percent fat); 29 grams fat (4 grams saturated); 2 grams fiber; 53 milligrams cholesterol; 86 milligrams sodium; 56 grams carbohydrates; 23 milligrams calcium
-- From "Jazz Cooks: Portraits and Recipes of the Greats"
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless stew lamb
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 large onion, diced
4 scallions, chopped
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
2 cups water
1 1/4 cups (about 1 pound) diced pumpkin meat
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 pound fresh spinach, washed and shredded
In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil until it is hot but not smoking. Brown the lamb. Add the tomato, salt, onion, scallions, pepper and water. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add the pumpkin and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add the peanut butter and spinach, and simmer for an additional 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
Per serving: 481 calories (59 percent fat); 31 grams fat (8 grams saturated); 3 grams fiber; 132 milligrams cholesterol; 540 milligrams sodium; 8 grams carbohydrates; 90 milligrams calcium
-- From "The African-American Kitchen: Cooking From Our Heritage"
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
3/4 cup egg substitute
3/4 cup evaporated skim milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick spray; set aside. In a large bowl, beat together the pumpkin, egg substitute, milk, syrup, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Pour into the pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice and lemon rind. Spread on top of the pie. Chill.
Per serving: 95 calories (5 percent fat); trace fat; 1 gram fiber; 1 milligram cholesterol; 83 milligrams sodium; 18 grams carbohydrates; 158 milligrams calcium
-- From "Preserving Summer's Bounty: A Quick and Easy Guide to Freezing, Canning, Preserving and Drying What You Grow"
Smoky Pumpkin Soup
6 slices bacon, diced, cooked crisp, fat reserved
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
6 cups peeled cut-up pumpkin (1-inch pieces)
6 cups beef stock
1/2 cup Marsala wine
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat bacon fat and butter in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add pumpkin and saute for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the stock and simmer, covered, until the pumpkin is very tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Add Marsala, thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Process the soup in batches in a blender until smooth. Return to the stockpot. Add the bacon. Simmer 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 334 calories (80 percent fat); 30 grams fat (14 grams saturated); 1 gram fiber; 45 milligrams cholesterol; 887 milligrams sodium; 8 grams carbohydrates; 43 milligrams calcium
-- From "The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook," by Julee Rosso, Sarah Leah Chase and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing Co. Inc., 1985)
Making pumpkin puree
To make pumpkin puree for use in recipes, you first must cook the pumpkin meat. This can be done with a standard oven or a microwave oven:
Oven method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the pumpkin in half, remove seeds and fibers (save seeds for toasting). Place halves cut-side down on a slightly greased cooking sheet. Bake for 30 to 90 minutes, depending on pumpkin's size, until tender. Let cool.
Drain off any liquid and scoop out tender pumpkin meat from skins. Puree the pulp in a food processor or blender, pulsing on and off until smooth. Or mash thoroughly with a potato masher or put through a food mill. Place the puree in a strainer and allow it to drain for at least 30 minutes. Puree can be refrigerated (covered) for up to 2 days, or frozen (well-wrapped) for several months. The most convenient size container is 1/2 cup. A 4 1/2-pound pumpkin yields about 4 cups of puree.
Microwave method: Cut a pumpkin in half, and then cut the halves into 1-inch slices or 1/4-pound chunks. Peel if desired. Place, cut-side down, in a microwave-safe dish. Cover dish with its lid or vented heavy-duty plastic wrap. Cook on high (100 percent power) for 15 minutes, or until the meat is fork-tender, rearranging the pumpkin once. In general, allow 7 to 10 minutes microwaving time per pound. Let cool. Continue as above to make puree.
-- From "Zucchini, Pumpkins & Squash"