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xx Monday, October 26, 1998

When is a pumpkin not a pumpkin? When it's a gourd

By JUDY CREIGHTON -- The Canadian Press

Clayton Mann, 20, holds Cinderella Fairytale pumpkins he grew at his family farm in Flamborough, Ont. The pumpkins are reminiscent of the pumpkin used for Cinderella's coach. (CP PHOTO)
 While searching out this year's great pumpkin for Halloween, you might want to buy two or three -- not to carve but to cook.

 The cuisine of practically every country has a unique way of preparing pumpkin, ranging from simple cooking methods like baking, frying or roasting to more complicated dishes.

 To add to its appeal, pumpkin contains high levels of the vitamins C and E and carotenes which are strongly linked to a lower risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and cataracts.

 Irena Chalmers, author of The Great Food Almanac (Collins) writes that of all the canned fruits and vegetables, pumpkin is the best source of vitamin A, which aids vision, growth and the normal development of tissues.

 But don't be tricked by imposters. Not everything that appears to be a pumpkin actually is a pumpkin.

 Pointing to his field, Bill Mann, a vegetable grower in Flamborough, Ont., says that some big orange globes for carving aren't really pumpkins at all, but gourds.

 However, there are plenty of pumpkins that do make good eating.

 His son Clayton, 20, has been experimenting with different seeds and this year discovered a new strain from Stokes Seed Co. It's a hybrid called Fairytale and looks remarkably like the pumpkin used in Cinderella's coach.

 It's not unlike a wood carving and has a tan tinge with hints of blue, making it almost mystical in appearance. The deep orange flesh is similar to that of a Hubbard squash.

 In their newly-released book Play with your Pumpkins, (General Publishing, $17.95) Joost Elffers and Saxton Freymann write that the pumpkin is so versatile it can be used as a vegetable, a main entree, a gratin, as muffins, breads, pickles, pies, tarts, puddings and soups.

 When choosing pumpkins (or winter squash) look for those that are firm and smooth. Because they are hard skinned they will keep for months in a cool location.

 Don't toss the seeds out after carving the Halloween pumpkin. Hulled and salted, the seeds make a healthy and nourishing snack.

 Clean them by rinsing them and removing the strings. Then dry on newspaper in one layer for at least six hours. Hull them and then toss seeds with a little canola oil and spread on a baking sheet. Bake in a moderate 175 C (350 F) oven until they are golden brown (30 minutes), stirring them every five to 10 minutes to toast them evenly. Salt and pepper to taste, let cool and keep in closed jars.

 Having trouble cutting into the pumpkin because of its tough skin?

 Their soft spot is where the stem is. First cut off the stem, then pierce the pumpkin there and start cutting down the side.

 To make cutting easier, prick the skin of the pumpkin in a few places and heat on high for one to two minutes in the microwave. (Piercing the skin first in a few places prevents the pumpkin or any other vegetable from bursting or even exploding.)



 Quick tips on what to do next:

  • If you want to prepare a pumpkin well in advance of Halloween night, spray a little rubbing alcohol or antiseptic inside and outside to kill any germs that may live there. Your pumpkin will stay fresh much longer. But be sure to keep away any fire until the fluids have evaporated.

  • When making a thick pumpkin soup or sauce, let cooked pumpkin drain thoroughly before proceeding; the cooking liquid will spoil the taste of the cooked pumpkin meat. With gratins it is even more essential as the cooking liquid will drown the dish.

  • Pumpkin should not be boiled as it dilutes the taste. Instead, cut in half, get rid of fibres and seeds, and put it cut side down on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in oven until tender. Let it cool, then scoop out flesh for use in recipes.

  • To make an ideal soup tureen out of a pumpkin, cut around stalk at the top, making a lid with a handle. Scrape seeds and fibres from centre with a spoon and replace with croutons, grated cheese and cream and put it in the oven for two hours or more depending on the size at 175 C (350 F).

     Source: Play With Your Pumpkins by Joost Elffers and Saxton Freymann (General Publishing, $17.95).