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Crop Spot: Pumpkins

Each year, I look for the Great Pumpkin at every farm stand, at every grocery store, and in every field. I love to collect different varieties of these joyful gourds. They find their way into recipes and onto my doorstep, and spark so much joy. So what should we know about the Cucurbitaceae family of vegetables?

In the Medicine Cabinet: 

Pumpkins are heavy hitters in fiber and Vitamin A. Fiber is the stuff that makes our digestive system function smoothly, and makes us feel full. Vitamin A helps you see in the dark better, and helps with our immune health. 

In the Garden: 

Pumpkin comes in a huge array of varieties, but there are some that are best for eating. There is the classic edible pie variety, which can be found in groceries as well as farm stands, but see if you can find the Long Island Cheese, which is famed for its flavor, or the blue Jarrahdale, which has a creamy texture. 

To grow your own, pumpkin seeds should be planted in the late Spring or early Summer, with a four week incubation period. They can be harvested in September and October. Pruning your plant of excess fruit buds will create a larger pumpkin in the fall. Make sure to cure your pumpkins by placing them in the sun for about a week after harvesting to ensure a longer shelf life! 

In the Kitchen:

Pumpkins are a great storage vegetable in an unheated basement or garage, especially when placed in a single layer on a porous surface (think cardboard) to help draw away any excess moisture or humidity. Make sure that your stem is intact before attempting to store your pumpkin long-term, and if it isn’t, make plans to add it to your week’s meal plan. An improperly harvested pumpkin will not store long-term. 

Headed out for some fall camping? Bring a pumpkin along and some great cheese, and make a fondue for a warm and memorable evening! Pumpkins roast well in the coals, and make a great vessel for melting cheese. 

Campfire Pumpkin Fondue

1 Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, approximately 3-5lbs (I bought mine at Farmer White’s in Williamsburg) 
½ pound Emmentaler 
½ pound Gruyere 
¼ pound Raclette 
1 shallot, minced
⅔ cup white wine (I used Chardonnay) 
½ cup heavy cream 

Items needed:
Fire-proof gloves
Heavy aluminum foil, if necessary

While still at home, prepare your ingredients. Mince your shallot, and remove rinds from your cheese. Carve your pumpkin by creating an opening at the top, the wider the better, and remove any “guts.” Be sure to save your seeds to make pepitas for snacking by the fire! 

Once at your fire pit, build a roaring fire using untreated wood and bring it down to hot coals (you will know they are ready once they are mostly white.) Then, place the minced shallot and white wine inside your pumpkin and place directly on the coals, with the top placed back on. Shovel some coals near your pumpkin, and let cook until almost tender, about 20 minutes. 

At this point, it may be smart to check the bottom of your pumpkin, and make sure it is sound. If looking like you may have a break-through, wrap your pumpkin in aluminum foil for the remainder of the cooking time. 

Open the top and place hunks of your cheese into the cavity of the pumpkin, finishing with the heavy cream. Stir constantly until you reach a melted cheese consistency, and using fire-proof gloves, lift the pumpkin from the fire and place on a heat-proof surface, like a slate cheese board or glass baking dish. Garnish with dipping accoutrements and fondue skewers. My choices included foil-baked campfire potatoes, radishes and bread cubes from 9 Bean Rows, and gherkins. 

Claire Butler is the Communications and Outreach Intern for Taste the Local Difference. She is a current culinary student at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute. Contact her at claire@localdifference.org

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