Pump it up
The sun may be shining and the chiggers still biting, but when the hard squashes start to show up at City Market, get ready for the curtain to fall on the summertime show. While it’s true that squash will store over the winter (ideally at a dry cellar temperature of about 55 degrees), they are easiest to prepare within a few weeks of harvest; as their rinds dry out and become difficult to penetrate, the seed cavities also become bigger and the flesh tougher.
The pumpkin is October’s leading squash. Most pumpkins are harvested long before Halloween, and sit in fields (or refrigerated warehouses) waiting to be adopted. For culinary use, look for a pumpkin that is slightly yielding to the touch (indicating it has not started to dry out yet). The young rind is edible, especially if slathered in olive oil and cooked in a moist environment, like braised with wine or broth or roasted in a covered pan with apple cider and hazelnut oil. Eating this gourd is a wonderful way to celebrate the season, and practicing your pumpkin massacre and preparations now will prepare you for the dead of winter, when hard squash is the only thing still hanging around.—Lisa Reeder
The only equipment equal to the task of squash slaughter is the chef’s knife. The pointed tip serves to incise; the length provides leverage and the reach necessary to attack even the largest gourds. However, longer is not always better, especially for folks who are less than tall. When standing at your cutting board, you should be able to stand your chef’s knife on its point and have your forearm parallel to the counter, elbow at a 90-degree bend. The 8" chef’s knife is long enough for most tasks, except perhaps the largest gourds, melons and onions; a longer knife is more likely to cause wrist fatigue or to feel unwieldy during everyday use.
When it comes to your chef’s knife, longer is not always better.
Chef’s knives should be washed by hand, stored away from other utensils (to protect the user and the knife both) and kept sharp and clean. When shopping for a knife, ask to hold it and examine the craftsmanship; best quality knives are a single piece of metal with a handle crafted around one end. Salespeople will be helpful in determining the proper size, recommending brands, and passing on tips for sharpening and care.—L.R.
HotCakes’ Lisa McEwan gave us this coveted recipe a while back, along with instructions to bake the muffins in “very well greased” brioche tins, plus this feel-good info: “One muffin has a full day’s supply of Vitamin A.”
3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil (soy or canola)
2 cups canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup golden raisins
3 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in the first group above. Sift together all the dry ingredients in the second group. Mix wet ingredients into sifted dry ingredients. Bake in greased brioche tins, or muffin tins lined with papers. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the muffins spring back when touched lightly. Makes two dozen (recipe can be halved).