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Warming spices will make delightful pumpkin dishes

Last week, Halloween pumpkins gathered at the La Plata County Fairgrounds with the purpose of giving life from their wilting remains. Livestock throughout the county will soon be feasting on fodder rich in beta-carotene (vitamin A precursor), potassium, fiber and vitamins C and E. And they’re not alone.

In a few weeks’ time, tables across the country will be showcasing pumpkins. The burnt orange fruit, with its haphazard attempt at being round, will not only decorate, but also delight the palate. Of course, you can eat it plain, as our four-legged friends will do, but why? With the gift of thumbs, we can do so much more with this versatile fruit. From sweet to savory, and flesh to seed – the biggest challenge will be deciding what not to do with it.

As for myself, and apparently a majority of Americans, pumpkin pie tops the list of things to do with this member of the gourd family. The creamy texture paired with warming spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, vanilla, ginger, cloves and allspice, almost compensate for the chill brought on by old man winter. Almost.

If you’re a fan of pumpkin pie, consider making pumpkin butter. Roasted pumpkin, peeled from the skin and pureed with warming spices, apple juice and sweetener is baked at a low temperature (about 275 degrees) long enough to thicken into a butter. Even if you don’t like the taste, you’ll love the smell that fills your home. Given the average size of a pumpkin (7 to 11 pounds) expect to end up with a decent-sized batch of butter. Leave some in the fridge for immediate enjoyment, and bag the rest to be frozen. Note: The National Center for Home Food Preservation does not recommend pressure canning pumpkin butter. The density of this product will not allow for safe home food preservation.

Beyond pie, butter, bread and overnight oats – all of which feature sweet warming spices, don’t be afraid to step outside of your usual recipe box. Savory seasoning is well suited not only for pumpkin flesh, but also the seeds. And while we think of pumpkin as a traditional Thanksgiving dish, rooted in American culture, there’s no reason to exclude flavors from around the world. What a novel way to truly represent America.

Consider the spice mix Ras el Hanout (Arabic for “top shelf”) as a stepping stone from sweet to savory. The familiar flavors of cinnamon, clove, allspice and ginger are joined with black pepper, cayenne and coriander for a new level of spice perfect for roasted pumpkin. Similarly, Chinese five spice blends clove, cinnamon, fennel, anise, coriander and black pepper. Try this blend in pumpkin soup, or in lieu of pumpkin spice for your pie. If you still have room for a savory version of pumpkin, add a little garam masala to pumpkin hash (or curry) topped with tamari-roasted pumpkin seeds.

Perhaps this is too much pumpkin for one sitting? Not to worry, unlike your pumpkin pie, which you’ll want to store in the fridge, whole pumpkins will last for months when stored properly. Pie goes in the fridge because it contains ingredients (i.e. milk and eggs) that at room temperature offer a feast for food-borne pathogens. Store whole pumpkins in a dark, cool place. When the urge to relive Thanksgiving strikes months later, your pumpkins will be waiting for you.

Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at nicole.clark@colostate.edu or 382-6461.

Nicole Clark