Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Pumpkin Power

As quickly as it came, the summer is over for most of us, and the witching hour will soon be upon us. Pumpkin Jack is back and Halloween is around the corner. Here’s how to use your pumpkins for more than just making a lantern.

Pumpkins have been used for thousands of years, by many civilisations. The first European settlers in North America filled them with milk, honey and spices and baked them in ash fires. This was the original pumpkin pie. Pumpkins are a source of real goodness. Just to carve them out and bin the contents is a complete waste. It’s the beta-carotene, an essential source of vitamin A, which gives them their rich orange colour. A lack of this vitamin can cause night blindness, among other ailments.

The seeds, sometimes known as ‘pepitas’, can be dried and eaten as a snack and are extremely good as a preventative for certain types of cancer. They are rich in vitamin E, zinc, iron, potassium and magnesium, which is why pumpkin seed oil is often found in health food shops. This oil is made by pressing the roasted skinless seeds: it has a dark, golden colour and a warm, nutty flavour, and makes a wonderful dressing for a roast pumpkin salad. I think the best way
to retain some of that summer warmth, however, is by serving up some freshly baked pumpkin bread, so why not have a go at the recipe.

A Halloween Tale
Of course, you now have an empty pumpkin, and a chance to demonstrate more of your artistic skills. So what’s with the whole ‘spooky’ pumpkin malarkey anyway? It’s an interesting story to read while you wait for your bread to bake. So light your lantern, pour yourself a glass and enjoy…

The Jack-o-Lantern tradition comes from an old Irish myth about a man called Stingy Jack. He once encouraged the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, though, he didn’t want to pay for it. Knowing the Devil to be just as stingy, he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin, to cover the cost. But then Jack decided to pocket the cash instead. He put the coin in his pocket along with a silver cross to stop the Devil from changing back to his original form.

Stingy Jack then made a deal with the Devil that should he die, his soul would not be taken – as long as he freed the Devil. The Devil agreed, but after gaining his liberty, he got his revenge by convincing Jack to eat an apple – just like Eve of The Bible fame! As Jack was only a short fellow, he couldn’t reach the apple, and the Devil had to climb the tree to get it. Meanwhile, down below, Jack carved a cross into the trunk so that the Devil could not climb back down…

Shortly after this, Jack died. Of course, God refused him entry to heaven on account of his mischief. Trouble was, the Devil was still bound not to take his soul either, so his soul was sent out into the night, with just a piece of glowing charcoal to light his way. Jack put the charcoal into a turnip and carried it with him as his lantern, so becoming Jack-o-Lantern. When Irish migrants reached the US, they found that pumpkins made a much better lantern.

Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin Bread
Serves 8

500 g pumpkin flesh, diced into small pieces (any
type of pumpkin can be used)
One tablespoon olive oil
A good hand full of chopped fresh rosemary
260 g self-raising flour
125 g polenta
40 g grated parmesan cheese
Two eggs
300 g crème fraîche
55 g pumpkin seeds

• Pre-heat your oven to 200°C.
• Oil a 14 cm x 21 cm loaf tin and line with
baking paper.
• Place the pumpkin flesh and some of the rosemary
on a tray and roast for about 20 minutes until tender
enough for mashing.
• Spread the mash on a tray and leave to cool
• Reduce the oven to 180°C.
• Stir the sieved flour, polenta, parmesan cheese and
the rest of the rosemary into the pumpkin mash.
• Whisk the eggs and crème fraîche together and
fold into the mixture until just combined.
• Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin, sprinkle
over the pumpkin seeds, cover with more baking
paper and bake in the centre of the oven for about
20-25 minutes.
• Leave to stand for a good five minutes, then turn
out onto a wire rack.
• Serve whilst still warm.

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