xx Wednesday, October 21, 1998

Play with your pumpkins

By VENA EATON -- Toronto Sun

Tired of that same old haunted face for Halloween?

Ditch that triangle nose and put some pizzazz into pumpkin carving this scary season.

Transform an ordinary jack-o-lantern into an imaginative work of art by using the pumpkin's stem as the nose.

This oversized veggie not only makes a great art piece, but its insides are the key ingredient to some tasty dishes. The pulp is delicious fried, baked or pureed.

According to pumpkin expert Bill Riddelmeier, of Southbrook Farms in Richmond Hill, "Look for firm pumpkins with no soft spots or cracks."

Smaller pumpkins are great for cooking while the bigger, weirder-shaped ones are perfect for carving or decorating.

"For best results, carve your pumpkin the day before the spookiest night of the year," Riddelmeier adds.

"Just remember, don't cook a pumpkin after a candle has burned inside of it," warns Riddelmeier.

Pumpkins rot quickly in the backyard compost, "or you can return them to our farm after Halloween and we'll add them our compost heap," he adds.

With Halloween just a week and a half away, plan now to bring this orange blob to life. It's loaded with character and fun for Joost Elffers and Saxton Freymann, authors of Play With Your Pumpkins (Stewart, Tabori and Change).

They use the stem for a nose and recommend determining the mood or emotion on the pumpkin's face by the lines running down from the stem. Happy or sad? Playful or menacing?

Take your pick and play with your pumpkin. And when you're through, scare up some tasty treats with the following recipes.


How to puree pumpkin
The best way to cook a pumpkin is to grill, bake or steam it. Boiling dilutes the taste. From Play With Your Pumpkins.

1. Cut the pumpkin in half and put it cut side down on a slightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350F until tender. (Depending on size, 30 to 90 minutes.)

2. Let it cool, remove fibres and seeds. Scoop out the meat and blend to make a puree. Drain the cooked pumpkin thoroughly before proceeding with any recipe.

Pumpkin seeds
Roasted pumpkin seeds are a tasty and nutritious snack.

1. Clean seeds by rinsing and removing the strings. Spread the seeds in one layer on newspaper and let them dry for at least 6 hours. Hull the seeds and toss with a little vegetable oil. Spread them on a baking sheet.

2. Bake in 350F oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes so they roast evenly. Salt and pepper to taste, let cool and keep in closed jars.

Pumpkin cranberry bread
Now is the time to bake this "beginner-friendly" recipe from Beyond The Moon Cookbook (HarperCollins Publishers).
2 large eggs
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. grated orange peel
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmet
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9-x 5-inch loaf pan.

2. In medium-size bowl, beat eggs with honey, oil, butter, vanilla, orange peel and pumpkin puree.

3. In another bowl, stir together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix just until combined. Fold in the cranberries and 1/2 cup of the walnuts.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and sprinkle with the remaining walnuts.

6. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the bread comes out clean. Cool on a rack for about 10 minutes before removing from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This bread freezes well and will stay moist when wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for a few days.

Serves 10 to 12.

Easy pumpkin bisque
This is an easy-to-prepare soup whether you are using canned or fresh pumpkin puree. Be sure not to confuse pumpkin puree with pumpkin pie filling, which has added spices and flavourings. From 365 Great Soups And Stews cookbook.
1.5 cups pumpkin puree
2 141/2-oz. cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. grated or ground nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
1 cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese

1. In a large saucepan, whisk together pumpkin puree, chicken broth, flour, ginger and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes.

2. Stir cream into soup and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, stirring constantly, or until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in cheese and serve.

Serves 4 to 6.

Pumpkin biscuits
These melt-in-your-mouth biscuits are a lovely accompaniment to a family meal. From Independent Pumpkin Farmers of America.
11/2 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/3 cup butter, cold
3/4 cup pureed pumpkin (cooked or canned)
3/4 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 450 F.

2. Sift flour into mixing bowl. Stir in remaining dry ingredients. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly.

3. Stir in pumpkin and milk to form a soft dough. Roll out on floured surface to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut out biscuits with biscuit cutter.

4. Place on greased baking sheet. Bake at 450 F for 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes 24 to 30 biscuits, depending on dough texture and cutter size.

Pumpkin marmalade
This is a convenient way to make use of pumpkin pulp. From Rose Murray's Canadian Christmas Cooking (McGraw-Hill, $10.99).
1 medium-large pumpkin
8 cups granulated sugar
3 oranges
3 lemons

1. Remove rind and seeds from pumpkin. Cut flesh into 1/2-inch cubes. Mix pumpkin and sugar together in a large preserving kettle. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Cover and let sit overnight.

2. Next morning, remove pumpkin from juice with slotted spoon and set aside. Cook pot of juice over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-high and boil gently, uncovered, for 20 minutes to reduce liquid.

3. Meanwhile, remove thin outer rind (zest) of oranges and lemons, and set zest aside. Remove all bitter white membrane underneath and discard. Grind zest and fruits into a grinder with a medium blade, or in a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

4. Add pumpkin, citrus fruits and rind to boiling juice. Gently boil everything together for 11/2 to 2 hours, uncovered, until marmalade thickens and pumpkin is translucent. Marmalade will be a rich golden-brown colour. Stir frequently.

5. Remove from heat. Let marmalade cool very slightly while you skim off any foam from top with a metal spoon. (This will prevent fruit from floating to the tops of jars.)

6. Ladle into hot sterilized jars and seal with thin layer of melted wax.

Yields 10 8-oz. jars.