Tohono O’odham Ha:l “TO pumpkin” –a striped cushaw winter squashes with their corky peduncle attachments–and bright orange Tarahumara pumpkins (a NativeSeeds/SEARCH harvest) MABurgess photo
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.
An assortment of Dineh Hubbard-type pumpkins from a Navajo community in northeastern Arizona (MABurgess photo)
The so-called “Magdalena Big Cheese squash” from Sonora, shaped like an ancestral jackolantern, has a glorious color inside and great flavor, here pictured at Mission Garden grown from NativeSeeds/SEARCH seed. (MABurgess photo)
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.
Three different pumpkin lineages–the light green “Mayo Blusher”(Cucurbita maxima), the striped “TO ha:l” (C. argyrosperma), and golden-orange “Magdalena Big Cheese” (C.moschata). Surprisingly, they can all be grown together and remain pure because the different species will not easily cross.
Now for the fun of “internalizing” these colorful and nutritious foods– Look what happens when you open one up!
Rich orange betacarotenes of Mayo Blusher pumpkin can brighten many a meal– and a nutrition panel! After de-seeding you can roast a half pumpkin turned open-side-down in the oven or solar oven. Served with melted butter, there isn’t anything finer nor simpler to prepare! (MABurgess photo)
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.
Winter Pumpkin stir-fry–Skin and dice fresh Mayo Blusher (or any hefty heirloom winter squash) into chunks to stir-fry with onion or garlic. Enjoy as is, or add herbs and other veggies as desired. Don’t be hesitant to even try adding curry to this stir-fry for a healthy pizzaz. Yum! (MABurgess photo)
A delectable one-dish meal with stir-fry pumpkin: Mayo Blusher turkey-skillet–the perfect way to use turkey left-overs! You can use TO Ha:l, Magdalena Big Cheese, Dineh pumpkin, or any other winter squash (or other meats). to achieve flavor-filled variations on this wonderful dish. (MABurgess photo)
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.
With roasted or steamed Mayo Blusher (or other pumpkin heirloom) you can make a slightly sweet dish pleasing to a younger palate. Add agave nectar to taste, pine nuts and/or pumpkin seeds to add crunchy texture. (MABurgess photo)
After steaming or roasting your pumpkin (here I”ve used Mayo Blusher again as we had a bumper crop), add 1 cup of mashed pumpkin as a substitute for the wet ingredients in any coffeecake recipe. It will add flavor, color, and nutrition. (MABurgess photo)
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.
Shiny Mayo Blusher (Cucurbita maxima) seeds washed, dried, ready to save for planting–or to roast as a healthy snack
Tohono O’odham Ha:l seed saved from a pumpkin, cleaned & saved for summer planting or winter snacking
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!