by Tara Davis

October is official!  Everything is pumpkin spiced. Though the Celts hollowed out giant turnips to celebrate their Halloween festivals, the practice of Jack-O-Lanterns originates from an Irish myth about “Stingy Jack,” a clever drunk who fooled the Devil himself, only to eventually be banished to purgatory.  The Irish used any vegetables available to carve lanterns to place in doors and windows to ward off both Stingy Jack and Lucifer.  The tradition made it over to us, where pumpkins were abundant in autumn, and our tradition became firmly entrenched in its great orange glory.  From old school plastic orange candy buckets to The Great Pumpkin to Jack Skellington, it wouldn’t be Halloween without them.

Let’s tackle a question on…well, some people’s minds.  What is the difference between pumpkins and gourds?

They belong in the same family, and are both from bushy vining plants easily grown all over North America.  Gourds are most often used as vessels, containers or musical instruments.  Pumpkins of all varieties are edible when ripe, whereas most gourds are not.   Pumpkins are essentially just a fall squash. Gourds are pretty much less fleshy, far less tasty squashes, but they are perfectly safe to eat.  It is more advisable to do so when they are young and soft, as they toughen with maturity.  Should you venture into cooking gourds, they require a little more work. But the seeds of both plants are tasty snacks!

Let’s start there in our recipe journey today –

Roasted pumpkin or gourd seeds:  Cut the top off one pumpkin or gourd of any size.  Scoop out the seeds (save that vegetable!) and wash them thoroughly. Spread seeds on paper towels to dry.  When dry, spread seeds on a baking sheet. Evenly coat with oil, season to taste with salt and pepper.  Bake at 375 degrees 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool completely to serve.

What to do with your pumpkin now? Assuming it isn’t warding off mischief or evil, a couple of things to try:

Pumpkin Spice Mousse- in a medium sauce pan, combine 15 oz pumpkin (roasted or boiled until tender OR canned, if you prefer), 1 tsp fresh grated ginger, ¼ tsp cinnamon, and a pinch of kosher salt. Cook about 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring regularly until darker and thinker. Remove from heat and stir in 3 oz diced cream cheese, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 cup sweetened condensed milk. Let cool completely. Whip 2 cups heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Fold into pumpkin mixture, the spoon into 4 oz jars or dessert dishes. Chill until ready to serve. Serve with crumbled ginger snaps.

Pumpkin Corn Bread – Mix together 2 cups all purpose flour, 2 cups corn meal, 1,5 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 cup whole milk, 15 oz pumpkin, 2 tbsp honey, ½ stick unsalted butter (melted). Pour mixture into a buttered, preheated skillet. Top with ½ red onion, sliced, and ½ cup pumpkin seeds. Bake at 375 degrees 25-30 minutes.

Pumpkin protein pancakes – Mix together 4 eggs whites, 1 cup pureed pumpkin, 2 cups whey protein powder (I like vanilla flavored), ½ tsp each cinnamon and ginger and 1 tsp baking powder.  Toppings suggestions: pumpkin seeds, chopped pecans, maple syrup, or shredded coconut.