Halloween is just around the corner and the pumpkins are rich, heavy, and ripe for the pickin'.
The place to find the perfect sugar pumpkin or choose a soon-to-be Jack-o-lantern in Portsmouth is Quonset View Farm at 895 Middle Road.
Quonset View Farm is owned by David and William Cotta and has been in their family since 1915. They also grow gorgeous, creamy potatoes, summer strawberries, and Christmas trees on their 140 acres.
You can pick your own pumpkins on the weekends all through October between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., but it's a good idea to call ahead to be sure their stand is open: (401) 683-1254.
Pumpkins are one of my favorite fruits (yes, they are technically a fruit because of their seeds), but they taste and cook up more like a winter squash. They can be intimidating to cook from scratch, especially if you aren't confident in the kitchen. But over the last year we've been in the throes of a national canned pumpkin shortage, and many locals have made the leap rather than give up their traditional pumpkin pie.
Last fall, the Nestle Co., which produces nearly 85 percent of all canned pumpkin in this country, had more than double their typical rainfall and most of the crop rotted in the fields. Though other brands, including Walnut Acres organic (sold at the Green Grocer) were still available, those precious few cans were usually scooped off of the shelves almost as soon as they landed.
One of the grocers from Clement's Market told me last week that he saw six cans for sale on eBay for $40 last year! The canned pumpkin shortage was declared officially over at the end of September, and you should see more of it on the shelves.
Though you will be able to find canned again soon, it's going to be more expensive (about 20 cents a can), and the quality and flavor of fresh cooked pumpkin is worth the added labor.
Sugar pumpkins make great cooking pumpkins because they are lightly sweet and creamy, and in the small-to-medium size range (about three to five pounds). Look for a deep orange color and firm, unmarred flesh. It should feel heavy in your hand.
Try this recipe for a luscious, satisfying soup. It's loaded with seasonal ingredients that are rich in anti-aging compounds. Garlic lowers blood pressure; onions lower the risk of cancer; pumpkin seeds with their calcium and magnesium are great for the bones; and apples help fight inflammation.
This creamy sweet soup is also low-calorie and all vegetable. In the cold season and especially over the holidays, it's natural to crave something warming and sweet.
If you incorporate naturally sweet, dense foods like pumpkin into your regular meals, they can help to satisfy and calm those cravings. A bowl of this delicious soup is healthy and satisfying, and can help you resist the urge for a big slice of conventional pie. And don't forget the seeds! Enjoy.
Fresh Pumpkin Apple Ginger Soup
4 pound sugar pumpkin (about 1 medium)
4 cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 medium Vidalia onion, diced
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
Juice of 1/2 lemon
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon salt
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Seeds from pumpkin
1 teaspoon Dr. Bragg's Liquid Aminos or low-sodium tamari sauce
Wash the pumpkin and remove the stem.
Using a heavy knife, cut pumpkin vertically down the middle.
Using a heavy spoon, scrape out all seeds and fibers, reserving the seeds.
Lay each half face down on the cutting board and cut away the peels.
Quarter each half of the peeled pumpkin.
Combine all soup ingredients in slow cooker and cook for 7 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high (or until tender).
Puree until smooth with immersion blender or, once slightly cooled, in batches in food processor or blender. Be careful when blending hot soups.
Preheat oven to 200°.
Remove all vegetable fibers from the seeds and rinse.
Bring a couple of inches of water to boil in a small saucepan and add the seeds.
Boil for 10 minutes to soften hulls.
Remove seeds, drain well and pat dry with clean dish towel.
Toss with Dr. Bragg's or tamari in small bowl until seeds are lightly coated.
Spread seeds into a single layer on a non-stick cookie sheet (or use parchment paper on a regular cookie sheet).
Bake seeds for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very lightly browned (do not burn!).
Sprinkle pumpkin seeds to taste on top of individual bowls of soup and serve.
Yield: about 6 cups