Pumpkin cooking 101: first you scrape out the seeds and all the stringy stuff, right? Well…that’s what every recipe I have read says, with the exception of one. A few years back my sister gave me a book originally printed in 1833, The American Frugal Housewife. I love reading old cookbooks; even if the recipes are not uniformly good, (and they’re not) they are almost always interesting. And every once in a while I stumble onto a little snippet that goes against everything I’ve learned about cooking. In this case the author, Mrs. Child (no relation, I presume to Julia) specified an unexpected protocol for preparing pumpkins: “Take out the seeds, and pare the pumpkin, or squash, before you stew it; but do not scrape the inside; the part nearest the seed is the sweetest part of the squash”. Was it possible that I had been throwing out the best part of the squash? After a few quick taste tests I can personally confirm that Mrs. Child had it right. That innermost stringy part of the squash is the most flavorful. The same holds true for melons. Now when I cut melons, I save the pulp that I scrape out, strain it and add the flavorful juice back to the cut melon. With pumpkin it’s a bit trickier. Depending on the variety you can have quite a bit of stringy pulp, and if you aren’t stewing them this isn’t a very desirable texture.
I worked out a way to salvage most of that tasty (if stringy) flesh. You can even use this method for pumpkins that you are carving, not eating. First pour boiling water over your scraped seeds and pumpkin and you’ll gently soften the flesh. A quick whisk with a fork will help break down the flesh, then just strain the mixture and you’ve got a flavorful pumpkin juice. Freeze the juice and you can whip up a tasty smoothie in a minute or two. You could also add it to sauces, soups, or juices; anything that you want to have a big pumpkiny flavor. If you toast and salt the seeds and compost the skin, you can make use of every last part of the pumpkin.
The scrapings from the inside of a pumpkin/orange squash
1 c. milk, soy milk or yogurt
⅓ c. pumpkin juice
1-3 T sugar or agave nectar
1 T. grated fresh ginger
a few pinch of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice mix
Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Scrape the seeds and stringy fibers out of the inside of your pumpkin. Place scrapings (including seeds) in a heat-resistant bowl.
Pour boiling water over your pumpkin scrapings– use just enough water to cover them. Let sit for 5 minutes. Using a fork, whisk the mixture to break up the pumpkin flesh. Strain through a mesh strainer. If there seems like there is still a lot of pumpkin flesh mixed in with the seeds, you can repeat the soaking and whisking once more.
Pour pumpkin juice into an ice cube tray and freeze. After it has frozen solid, you can remove the cubes into a freezer-safe plastic bag. Stored this way, they will keep indefinitely.
Place milk, frozen pumpkin juice (⅓ c. is about 3 ice cubes), ginger and honey in a blender. Blend and adjust the sweetness to taste*. For a breakfast, I like to use yogurt and just a little honey to sweeten. For dessert, I add some more spices and top the whole thing with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg.
*Hint: start out with less sugar– you can always add more to taste later.