Pumpkin-bashing may be fantastic sport after Halloween, and indeed it can create great compost with the right follow-through, but I’m in the camp of those waste-not-want-not folks who enjoy pumpkins and squashes for their wholesome flavors and vibrant nutrition (not to mention their esthetic colors and sculptural forms–see last month’s post). Tia Marta here, delighting in the diversity of our Southwestern heirloom pumpkins and sharing some diverse ways to enjoy them.
Pumpkins are easy and fun to grow over the summer if you have a nice sunny space where the vines can sprawl, a little plot of good deep soil for the roots, and consistent water.
[Do you think that the word squash has a bad rap? You’ll notice that I prefer to use the word pumpkin for many of the squash group within the Cucurbit family that mature with a harder shell and an be saved for longer periods.] Pumpkins can actually take many forms–not just the carve-able Halloween type. I think of squash as the early, thin-skinned stage of several different pumpkin relatives in the Cucurbitaceae family. There are four different species of pumpkins that Southwestern Native People have created into a diversity of successfully adapted crops over the centuries. You can plant seed of all 4 species in one garden as they will not easily cross-pollinate. Dig into the NativeSeeds/SEARCH website http://www.nativeseeds.org to explore the wide realm of Southwest indigenous squashes.
Now for the fun of “internalizing” these colorful and nutritious foods– Look what happens when you open one up!
My Tohono O’odham teacher and mentor Juanita Ahil told how, when she was young, her family would take a whole TO ha:l on long trips in their wagon. When they rested the horses they’d make a fire, roast the ha:l whole on the coals, and when done cut and serve chunks in the shell communally with the family. That was dinner–easy, packable, nutritious, sumptuous, no mess to clean up, just toss the shell.
Carrying the stir-fry of heirloom pumpkin to the next level, try it in a stir-fry one-dish meal with meat. Here I have sautéed ground turkey before adding it to the Mayo Blusher and onion stir-fry. Add fresh diced green peppers or diced I’itoi’s onions for color and flavor–or if you have a picante palate, dice a jalapeño into the entire dish, gradually testing it to your own level of “heat.” This is an innovative use of left-over turkey a few days after Thanksgiving.
Many hard-shelled winter squashes/pumpkins have the helpful attribute of storability without refrigeration. I kept a whole Tohono O’odham Ha:l in the shade of my back porch all winter long until March when I cooked it up. Its weight was getting lighter but it had lost no flavor! Steamed or roasted pumpkin leftovers can be stored frozen ready for quick defrosting, a more effective use of space than storing whole pumpkins.
Honoring those ancient Southwestern farmers through the ages (and those who still grow traditional squashes and pumpkins), let’s rejoice in their agricultural creativity and plant a seed next summer. Meanwhile, with heirlooms from farmers’ markets, we can reap the benefits of their beautiful culinary contributions. Enjoy a pumpkin served in new and delightful ways this holiday season!