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Jessica’s Garden: ‘Think Fall, Think Pumpkins’

Homemade Roasted Pumpkin
Homemade Roasted Pumpkin

Nostalgia [no-stal-juh]; n. A sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.  Or in other words–Fall bonfires.  On my way home this evening, I was graced with one of the strongest ties to my sensory memory. I love the smell of a campfire.  It brings me back to almost three decades of backyard bonfires at my parent’s home and camping with family and friends at Greenbrier State Park; where the main entertainment is a balance of great company and the mesmerizing and dancing flames.

Grayson at Swallow Falls in Deep Creek Lake

This weekend past, my family spent a weekend get-away at Deep Creek Lake with my parent’s best friends and my oldest and first friend. Beneath the twinkling stars and enveloped in the crisp Fall evening, we had a campfire and roasted marshmallows;  prefaced by a delicious homemade supper accompanied by homemade pumpkin pie. No flavor elicits Fall quite like pumpkin in its various preparations.

Honeycrisp Apple
Honeycrisp Apple

No need to wait until Thanksgiving to break into baking and chobbling on pumpkin pie.  Before we left for the weekend, we stopped by Larriland Farm and picked up a few autumn necessities; Honeycrisp Apples and Sugar Pumpkins.

It is very easy and cost effective to prepare your own pumpkin meat for baking versus store-bought.  I paid less than $3 for a sugar pumpkin that yielded enough pureed pumpkin for two pies.  Sugar pumpkins are higher in sugar and are not as fibrous as a carving pumpkin.   Most of the winter squash that are available for Fall and Halloween decorating are also edible.

For instance, Cinderella, Blue Hubbard, Boston Marrow,  Long Island Cheese, and Cushaw squashes, to name only a few, are wonderful pumpkin substitutions. They can be grown or purchased for decoration, and once enjoyed, roasted and repurposed into edible treats. Pureed pumpkin also freezes well for later use.  I usually measure 2 cups of puree into freezer bags for batch appropriate servings.

To Roast: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   Remove seeds and cut squash into consistently sized chunks (about 2”).  Lightly coat chunks in olive oil to prevent sticking and burning.  Turn onto a jelly roll sheet or roasting pan, skin side down, and cover with foil.  Roast covered until fork tender; about 25-35 minutes.  Skipping the foil will result in unpleasantly dry and fibrous roasted pumpkin.  Once cool enough to handle, remove the skins.  In food processor, add roasted pumpkin with a touch of water and pulse until smooth.  If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could also mash through a mesh sieve or run through a food mill to remove any possible missed bits.

For my super secret pumpkin pie recipe, I actually use the recipe on the back of Libby’s canned pumpkin, but substitute the homemade stuff.

Pumpkin Pie

¾ C Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Cinnamon
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Ground Ginger
¼ tsp Ground Cloves
15 Oz (Approx 2 C) Pumpkin Puree
1 (12 oz) Can Evaporated Milk
9” Pie Crust

In small bowl, mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves.  In large bowl, beat eggs and stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mix.  Gradually incorporate the evaporated milk and pour into pie shell.  Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce temperature to 350 degrees for 40-50 mins until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool for 2 hours and serve with a dollop of whipped cream (optional).

Sugar Pumpkin and Sweet and Smokey Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

I also like to roast the pumpkin seeds for a healthy and guilt-free snack.  They are quick, easy and a great way to use a part of the fruit that is often tossed out.  I also saved a few seeds for drying so I can attempt growing my own next year.  Roasted Pumpkin Seeds:  Clean pumpkin seeds of any remaining fibers or pumpkin meat.  Coat generously in 1-2 Tbsp Olive Oil.  Season with your favorite dry rub.  Roast in 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, checking and turning every 5 minutes to roast evenly and prevent burning.  As a lifelong Marylander, I made Old Bay pumpkin seeds and also a batch seasoned with a sweet and smoky dry rub.  Be cautious of using a rub that contains a lot of sugar; this can burn very quickly and ruin the seeds.

Drying Lemongrass Stalks

In terms of dirt therapy this week, my pineapple sage and lemongrass are really thriving so I harvested another large bouquet from each plant.  The pineapple sage is also in bloom.  They flower an edible and brilliant crimson red flower spike. Both the leaves and blooms can be dried for teas or fresh leaves and flowers can be bruised to infuse and flavor iced  beverages. I made jelly last year from pineapple sage, which admittedly was not my favorite use of the herb.  I cut the stalks from the lemongrass leaves and hung the leaves for drying. The stalks were cut into 5” segments which I dried in a 225 degree oven, rotating and turning every 30 minutes until all moisture was removed.  I stored them in sealed mason jars for infusing soups, rice and quinoa this Winter.

Dilly Pickled Cherry Tomatoes

I also hopefully canned the last tomato product I want to see this season.  I pickled a final batch of Cherry Tomatoes, pictured in last week’s entry.  This time I canned the ripe, under-ripe and green fruit, rather than solely the ripe, and pickled them in a dill brine rather than a rosemary brine, hoping they taste more like dill pickles.

Upcycled Oil Print

With the garden tasks at a minimum this week, I’ve had some extra time to dedicate to my up-cycling passion.  I am a scourer of yard sales and sides-of-roads for diamonds in the rough in need of some TLC.  This week I finished converting an old and tired oil painting into a bold and functional corkboard.  By popping out the oil print and giving the vintage frame a facelift, I’ve now got a fun and funky piece for the farmhouse.  And no need for concern, no oil paintings were harmed during production.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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