Dealing with My Garden Guilt
As I step into the backyard, it looks different. Sure, the kids are still there playing on the swings. The balls, hula hoops, and sand toys are scattered around the yard, and the weeds are overtaking the few patches of grass. But as I look to my left, the summer garden is gone. The tomatoes have been pulled, the strawberries are no longer popping up, the beanstalks and peppers are missing, and the apples have stopped falling off the tree.
But all is not lost. Lonely in the corner of the bed, the pumpkin vine still grows strong and 5 medium-sized pumpkins are still hanging on.
In the kitchen, I have pears in the freezer, one last cucumber in the crisper, and a bucket filled with green tomatoes that has yet to ripen. We have truly enjoyed the abundance from our first-ever backyard garden, but I have to admit that it has been a challenge to keep up with the bounty – to use what it produced before it went bad
To help us deal with some of our over-abundance, we filled a box with pears and left it in the teachers’ lounge. With hundreds more, we traded pears at the backyard exchange, distributed to local food shelters, made them into pear pocket pies, pear tarts, and created a delicious pear and gorgonzola pizza. Yet there, next to the door, sat a bucket of fully ripe pears beckoning me to do something with them. When I finally got around to it, I was too late, the bees took over and the pears had already become a soft mess.
The same was true for the tomatoes – We sat waiting and waiting for the tomatoes to arrive. When they did (late this season), we couldn’t keep up with them. We picked baskets full each day. I made tomato sauce, tomato soup, sautéed them up for dinner, baked and drizzled with balsamic and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Our friends looked at us wearily when we offered some beautiful heirlooms for their family, “No thanks,” they would say with an apologetic smile, “but our neighbors just gave us a bunch.”
I was determined to use them all, so I searched online for more recipes, and in an attempt to get the kids to eat more, I made a big deal at the dinner table, “Oh remember when you planted these seeds in the Spring? I guess these are your tomatoes, Keely. Go ahead, try them!”
Still it wasn’t enough.
I felt a hurt in my heart when something turned bad, because after all our effort (OK, mostly Greg’s efforts) I allowed something to rot, to mold right there on the counter, unused, and unloved.
But I still have one more chance . . . the pumpkins!
We grew some. We bought some. We carved some. We still have some.
The carved pumpkins have already melted into a pile of mold, but there remains a handful sitting on the table, keeping a bit of the Fall spirit in the home until we need to make way for our Christmas decorations.
I can’t let these pumpkins - nurtured from tiny seeds and protected from the neighborhood deer - reach the same fate that the carved ones did; the same fate that some of the tomatoes reached . . . moldy, unused and tossed in the garbage.
So, I’m ready to get cooking.
All varieties of pumpkins are edible, but the Sweet (pie) pumpkin is the one that is the most flavorful for cooking. These cooking varieties have shallower fluting and more spherical. They have thicker walls and are generally smaller than carving pumpkins. When comparing same-sized pumpkins, cooking pumpkins feel heavier than common carving pumpkins. They have a deeper flavor and added sweetness.
Cooking a pumpkin isn’t something that I often do, so I pull out my much-referred-to Melissa’s Great Book of Produce by Cathy Thomas (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) in search of pumpkin cooking tips. Here’s what I found:
“To cook flesh, cut off stem end with a sturdy knife. Scoop out membranes and seeds with a sturdy spoon (reserve seeds for roasting). If not baking whole, but pumpkin into wedges, then peel and cut into chunks.
To cook flesh, boil or braise trimmed chunks in a small amount of water or broth, or steam trimmed chunks. Puree, if desired. Pumpkin chunks can be brushed with a vegetable oil or olive oil, then grilled.
To use as a container, scoop out the seeds and membranes. Use raw or bake on a sturdy, rimmed baking sheet at 325 degrees F until the flesh is tender.”
Yes, I know, buying canned pumpkin is so much easier, but I guess my decision to use our homegrown pumpkins to make something delicious is part of the process of alleviating some of my garden guilt.
Next year, perhaps my garden guilt therapy should include a bit of canning. Until then, I’m off to enjoy some Pumpkin and Parsley Risotto Cakes, straight from the garden.
Pumpkin and Parsley Risotto Cakes
When preparing risotto for risotto cakes, ensure the mixture is slightly drier than when you serve it as a main course. To serve traditionally, as a wet dish, increase stock by ½ cup.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups risotto rice
½ cup white wine
3 cups hot chicken stock
1 cup grated raw pumpkin, skin and seeds removed
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and ground black pepper
2 tbsp corn meal
Heat oil in a medium-sized pot. Add onion and garlic and cook gently for 5 minutes. Stir in rice.
Increase heat and add wine. Allow wine to evaporate then add stock, pumpkin and a little salt. Once stock boils, reduce heat to lowest setting, cover and cook for 15-17 minutes, stirring until rice is tender and creamy. Mix in parsley and cheese and adjust seasoning to taste.
Spoon mixture into greased muffin pans or shallow oiled tray. Flatten top evenly, scatter corn meal on top of risotto and lightly pat down. Chill for at least 5 hours.
When ready to serve take mixture out of muffin pans or, if it is on a tray, cut into small shapes. Heat oven to 400 degrees F, and brush or spray risotto cakes with a little oil. Place on an oven tray and cook for 10 minutes or pan fry for 5 minutes.
Makes about 24 cakes
Source: Savour Italy: A Discovery of Taste by Annabel Langbein, Graphic Arts Center Publishing.
For more delicious pumpkin recipes, visit Family Eats.