October 4, 2005 > pique
by Pat Kite
Peter Peter pumpkin eater, Had a wife and couldn't keep her: He put her in a pumpkin shell, and there he kept her very well.
Remember this Mother Goose rhyme? When I was a kid in New York, I thought Peter's wife must be rather tiny, since all I saw was small pumpkins.
Well, given the size of today's award-winning jack-o'-lanterns, one might put both Peter and his spouse within. A recent prize-earner was 1,227 pounds, about the size of a Volkswagen!
This month, children all over the United States are waiting to help carve their homegrown pumpkins, or happily visit a local pumpkin patch. But pumpkins weren't always just an All Hallows Eve or Hallowe'en special.
Long-ago Pilgrims concocted this rhyme: "For pottage and puddings, and custards, and pies, Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies. We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon; If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon."
American Indian tribes grew pumpkins for food long before any European settlers arrived. An Apache pumpkin seed planting ceremony was held every year in the spring. Just as the pumpkin vines came above ground, a small boy was sent to collect juniper berries. On his return, the boy had a blindfold placed over his eyes. Then he was led to the pumpkin patch. Here he threw juniper berries in all directions. Wherever they landed, it was hoped many pumpkins would grow.
Pilgrims from Europe weren't keen on pumpkin at first, but after their first cold, long New England winter, they changed their minds. Among a myriad of concoctions, settlers placed a whole pumpkin in fire ashes. When the pumpkin had been baked until soft, it was cut open. Honey or maple syrup was poured on top, and so was animal fat - very nutritious on a frosty evening. An alternative was scraping out the pumpkin seeds, putting in sliced spiced apples, milk and honey, then putting the top back on. Roasting in fire ashes made the original pumpkin pie.
In the 17th century, pumpkin innards were mashed and used to bulk up bread. By the 19th century, pumpkins were used by poor folk to make their stews thicker. Nor were pumpkin seeds wasted. In the 16th century, pumpkin seeds were pounded in their own juice with oatmeal, and the resultant mush was spread on the face. The concoction was supposed to create a smoother complexion.
When the Irish came to American in the 1800s, they brought the custom of All Hallows Eve with them. Since pumpkins weren't grown in Europe, at home the immigrants had used large turnips for their jack-o'-lanterns. But the American colonists grew more pumpkins than turnips, so now we have the pumpkin jack-o'-lantern with its many fun faces.
If you want to cook with pumpkin, this is a tremendous website: www.pumpkinnook.com/cookbook.htm. Included are recipes for raisin muffins, cookies, soup, waffles, fudge, bread, ice cream, apple butter, pumpkin flour, mousse, milkshake, pumpkin congee from China, Dutch pumpkin soup, Hungarian baked pumpkin, pumpkin marmalade from Italy, and, of course, pumpkin seeds. Enjoy!