Monday, October 28, 2013

Pumpkins for Halloween and After

Pumpkins for Halloween and After

Halloween is upon us again and there will be lots of dressing up going on – princesses, witches, ghosts, skeletons, you name it. Even pumpkins get a chance to join in with carved or painted faces, decorative decals, wigs, fake ears, googly eyes and expressions that range from funny to frightening.

I prefer to keep my pumpkin uncarved until after the holiday because I have post-Halloween plans for it and don’t want it to spoil; it is food, after all. So, after the big day/night, if you have a pumpkin you might want to use in a different way, one that nourishes and delights without the scary element to it, here are some suggestions:

Remember eating pumpkin seeds as a kid? This is where they came from. Cut off the top of the pumpkin, roll up your sleeves, and dig right in. It’s wet and stringy inside but getting the seeds out is worth it. This is a great job for kids where they can be messy with permission. You can rinse off the seeds or not, your choice. Lay them out on a sheet pan and drizzle them with oil (and salt if you like salty seeds). Bake them in a 225-250 degree oven for about an hour, stirring them occasionally. Check on them periodically. If they seem dry or are beginning to brown, take them out. Cool them down before eating.

Peeling off the skin isn’t easy but it is less difficult when the pumpkin is soft. Cut the pumpkin in half. Scrape out the seeds (if you haven’t already), and turn the halves cut side down on a flat sheet with sides. Add a layer of water to the pan and bake at about 350 degrees for 45 minutes or more (it depends on the size of the pumpkin). When a fork is easily inserted into the skin, remove from the oven and cool. The skin should come off easier now. Mash the pumpkin and use in your favorite recipe.

You may want to use smaller, sweet pumpkins for your recipes instead of the Jack o’ Lantern size. I have used both – and butternut squash as well. The puree from any of them can be used in soups, smoothies, cakes, pies, pancakes, waffles, muffins. If the cooked pumpkin insides are too moist, let the excess moisture drain off in a sieve.

Pumpkin pieces can be baked, steamed, boiled, and microwaved. Use the method that most suits you. I plan to make pumpkin soup, as I do each year. What I don’t use, I freeze, to be used another day, in another way. Enjoy your pumpkin and…


Here are some great ways to use your pumpkin:

For some lower-sugar, delicious-sounding recipes:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Palisades in Autumn

The Palisades in Autumn

My backyard extended a little further this past week as I traveled up the Palisades parkway along the New Jersey side of the Hudson River on the way to Massachussetts. The trees were dressing the cliffs with fall colors and the roads were crunchy with fallen leaves. It is autumn, at last. The temperatures here are still a tad warmer than is typical but that should be changing soon; I heard that tomorrow will only be in the mid-fifties.

Autumn is usually such a lovely time of year in the northeast. It provides a palette of reds and golds as the trees begin their resting period. It is a gradual transition from the intensity of summer into the extremes of winter. While each season has its typical characteristics, I find the edges between them most interesting. It helps the land and the animals prepare for what is coming. It signals migrating birds to fly.

I think it helps people, too, to anticipate the next phase of the year. We get clues on how to dress, what foods are best to eat, what activities are appropriate to engage in. I’m glad that I live in a four-seasons area even though in the midst of winter I sometimes wonder about a warmer climate. But then I would miss the snow. When the seasons change, it feels like I have finished reading one book and am ready, eager, to start on another. 

Wherever we live, whatever the weather, each season has its holidays, its plant cycles, and its own personality, its individual charisma, all there for us to enjoy.

A look at the Palisades and activities available:

And a look at the characteristics of the seasons:

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pumpkin Patch Near Home

Pumpkin Patch Near Home

I was out on a pumpkin hunt with my grandson, seeing how many pumpkins we could find around the neighborhood. They seemed to be everywhere this time of year, bright symbols of autumn and reminders of Halloween. We found pumpkins on porches, on the steps of the local elementary school, peeking out of windows. And then we came upon a pumpkin patch, in front of a house right in the middle of a block!

I mostly think of a pumpkin patch as being in a farm field, certainly not in a housing development. But there it was, in a space more apt to have small clumps of flowers or seasonal plantings of mums than a pumpkin crop, green vines bearing yellow flowers and orange fruit (yes, a pumpkin is a fruit). 

I asked the owners about it. It seems that they had left a pumpkin outside to feed the rabbits that happened by. The seeds that weren’t eaten planted themselves and now were happily growing. That got me thinking about how life has a way of supporting itself. The plot the pumpkins were growing in wasn’t ideal for the length of the vines but they were thriving nonetheless, a symbol of life’s determination to express itself. We live in a tough world yet the seeds of hope survive, even in the most difficult situations.

The pumpkin patch was a joyful surprise for me and added quite a few pumpkins on my grandson’s hunt. 

(The final count: 61).

This site has just about everything to know about pumpkins, from planting to harvesting to eating. Enjoy!

What’s a fruit, what’s a vegetable?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Our Tulip Tree as Harbinger?

Our Tulip Tree as Harbinger?

Our Tulip tree is finally shedding its leaves. I say finally because it usually starts the process in August, turning its leaves golden well before the other neighborhood trees begin changing and by the end of the month, its limbs are bare – a hint of Autumn before the season officially changes. So here it is, early October, and the tree is only beginning to lose its foliage. What is going on?

Tulip leaves are sensitive to water. When the weather is dry, the typical condition in August, the tree feels water stress and the leaves tend to lose their viability. But this year, according to the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist at Rutgers University, while we had a rather warm July, we also had the wettest June on record and the second wettest summer so the tree had less stress and stayed leafy.

It was nice to have the tree so green for so long but this was not usual summer weather. Will this be what summer is like from now on? Anything that alters weather shifts what we can expect from the vegetation. With so much information coming out about how the climate is changing worldwide, it may seem like a little thing to be concerned about individual plants. Yet weather conditions affect all things, be it the soil, plants, insects, animals, humans. I know that weather goes in cycles. I also know that we have changed the atmosphere through our activities on earth. Perhaps the Tulip tree is one of the harbingers of change, of what will be the new normal. As my father used to say when I asked a question he couldn’t answer, “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

From The Washington Post Health and Science section:

Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist at Rutgers University rain statistics: