Saturday, September 26, 2009

Processing Pumpkins

Happy October the Season of Pumpkins!  I am amazed at how many people buy pumpkins to carve for Jack-o-lanterns and then throw them away!  Raised on the practice of an annual pumpkin processing day for the Thanksgiving pies, it is a custom that I continue to this day.  I do not mind treats made from canned pumpkin, it is just a different taste.  Once you learn to cook and bake with fresh pumpkin, you will see just how easy it is – and how much better it tastes!

I tried something different this year; researching Latte recipes inspired me to make my own Pumpkin Spiced Simple Syrup.  This syrup, used for the famous Pumpkin Lattes is also very yummy on ice-cream, waffles and even in my oatmeal.  My motive for this recipe? - to use the freshest ingredients.

The cutting of the first pumpkin of the season deserves some ceremony.  It marks the beginning of a new season.  The shift in weather invites the steamy boiling and baking and the accompanied wonderful smells drifting through out the house from the kitchen.  I like to set aside a Saturday morning to start this project.

First, I open the pumpkin, cutting it in half.  Then a large spoon is useful for scooping out the insides.  The seeds I plop into a colander for rinsing and cleaning off the “guts” of the pumpkin.  Thin slices of about one third of this pumpkin are set aside for my syrup, the rest I will cut into thick slices for baking – the pulp later used for other recipes.

Gathering spices for my recipe, I thinly slice fresh ginger root into about four slices and shave off small pieces of a whole nutmeg.  Six whole cloves and four large cinnamon sticks complete the spice choices while adding a couple of pieces of whole vanilla bean to the assortment of ingredients.

I assemble 3 cups of sugar (stored in a mason jar with whole vanilla beans for one month), 21/2 cups of water, the pumpkin slices and the spices into a big heavy saucepan and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes.

While the syrup is boiling, I rinse the pumpkin seeds and I add about 2 cups of water and 1/3 cup of sea-salt in a small saucepan to the clean seeds.  This mixture needs to boil and then simmer for about 20 – 25 minutes.  The larger pumpkin pieces I place side down in a shallow Pyrex baking pan to bake for about an hour at 325 degrees.  This pumpkin I will scoop out of the shell when cooled and loosely pack into mason jars for freezing.
The syrup bubbles through the simmer time and it takes a long time for it to cool before straining the liquid into bottles.  Once cooled, I remove the slices of pumpkin and ginger and place them on a shallow baking pan.  The syrup will keep about 1 month in the refrigerator.  The sugary slices dry in an oven at 175 degrees for about 3 to 4 hours and the result will be "candied" pumpkin and ginger slices to use as garnish or just to eat as a sweet treat.

The pumpkin seeds are done simmering and I drain the saltwater off and pour the seeds into a shallow baking pan, scattering them into a single layer.  They will slow roast in a 200-degree oven for about 21/2 hours.

At the end of my day, I have processed my pumpkins 4 ways.  I am ready for Fall!