Gardening and Food

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FallI don’t want to preach to the choir, but food and gardening go hand in hand. It’s warming up a little here in Canada, the garden centres are open, planters are starting to sprout. Too early for veggie gardens yet, but I’ve already bought one 8 pack of kohlrabi denizens for my garden. I’ve never grown kohlrabi before, and that’s the point. Every year, I look at what’s out there to see if there’s something I haven’t tried. This year it will be kohlrabi. They’re a tasty vegetable, but then, I’m told I like strange things, like broccoli and artichokes.  Kohlrabi does look like it comes from Mars, or Jupiter, if those places could grow plants.   

Are all my experiments successful? No. Eggplant and peppers are not prime candidates, although a few did manage to form last year. Tomatoes are my mainstay:  They usually manage to do well, as does cucumbers, lettuce and squash. Might try the stuffed squash flowers this year. Pumpkins tend to take over, but that’s normal and I get a chuckle out of their shenanigans as they meander around the yard. Not so the other half, as he has to mow around them. I think he’d actually like to mow “over” them. I hang them on strings and things to keep them corralled and not tempt fate. 

Part of growing one’s veggies involves knowing what to do with one’s veggies. The tomatoes, and there are usually several varieties growing for different purposes, are eaten raw in salads, or the Roma types are cooked, pureed, de-seeded and de-skinned, then frozen to be made into tomato sauce over the winter. The pumpkins are all pie pumpkins, but I have been tempted to grow the monster ones, that get 200 lbs., just to see my husband’s reaction. I’m sure I’d get interrogated about the Frankenkin by the side of the house. He might even suspect me of ulterior motives. A lot of people have told me they don’t know what to do with a real live pumpkin (sort of like when I learned how to filet a fish), so while pumpkin season is a ways off, you have to make the plunge on whether to put them in your garden now. Here’s the main reason you might consider growing your own pie pumpkins:  The end product that would end up in you freezer is far superior than the insipid looking, and more importantly, bland tasting canned stuff called pumpkin in the supermarket. The recipe is simple, and there are multiple ways to do it. Incidentally, you can use Jack O Lantern pumpkins, but I don’t think they taste quite as good, but they’re certainly fine to eat, as I have used them as well. Just don’t use one that’s already been turned into a Jack 0 Lantern. Being larger (don’t use the Frankenkin for this) you may have to cut into pieces and use your oven. So if you want a product that has bright yellow to orange colour, with actual flavor, here goes:

Pumpkin Puree

2  6-8” pie pumpkins 

Attack said pumpkins with weapon of choice, be it a meat cleaver, sharp chef’s knife, or whatever you choose. Cut them into halves, and place in a baking dish or cookie sheet, depending on which appliance you want to use. If using the microwave—easy, but may require a lot of microwaving—put two cut halves cut side down in a pie plate or similar glass dish that will hold them. Cover with wax paper and microwave until tender. Sometimes not all of the pumpkin gets tender. But 90% will. Start with 5 minutes on high, then check to see how the progress is going. You will need more time. Microwaving them is probably the most energy efficient method. Also, different pumpkins have different moisture levels in them, which I think causes some parts to not cook. If using your oven, use the same method, but put the cut side down on a cookie sheet and bake at about 350 F until fork tender. To hasten cooking, you can cover with foil. Check at about 30 minutes, but expect to go even double that. If you’re doing more than two pumpkins at a time, this is probably the most time efficient way. Or, you can boil them until tender, but I feel this method causes a lot of the vitamins and minerals to go into the water. Cool.

When all your pumpkin is tender and cooled, scrape out the flesh, and run it through a food processor or blender (blender is slower, because it doesn’t hold as much) until smooth. Voila, you now have pumpkin ready for pumpkin bread or pie, two of my favourites, or, muffins, soup, and cookies. Measure just like normal, even though it is sometimes a little thinner than the canned stuff. If you’re not using your puree right away, pack into freezer containers and freeze. Use within a year for best results. I can guarantee you will never miss the can again.

Photo by Bob VanSlooten