DULUTH — A few years ago, we toured the Styrian region of Austria during the fall. We immediately noticed that there was a link between fall holidays there and here in North America. Pumpkins take center stage both places, but for different reasons.
Driving through the province of Styria, we noticed expansive fields of pumpkins. There were women sitting on benches, cracking the pumpkins open and scooping out the seeds. Styrian pumpkins are not grown for their flesh, but for their seeds, which are pressed into oil touted for its health benefits. Each field had a small shack where they pressed the oil from the pumpkin seeds into bottles that were showcased on tables so people driving by could stop and buy the oil.
Here at home, I have found Austrian pumpkin seed oil in gourmet shops, health food stores, at the Whole Foods Co-op, and even online. It isn’t cheap, but it keeps well, and a little goes a long way. The oil has an intense, nutty flavor and is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, is great in salad dressings and when sparingly spooned over vanilla ice cream, it adds a nutty flavor.
My brother, Alvin Luoma, who loves to grow things, plants these special pumpkins on his hobby farm in northern Cloquet, Minn., using seeds that were purchased in Austria. The pumpkins are unique because of a single mutation that occurred in the 19th century. They don't turn dark orange, but are pale green and orange striped when they are ripe. The flesh is pale, but the seeds are dark green and when toasted make a delicious snack, as opposed to typical jack-o’-lantern seeds, which have tough, almost woody, shells. Alvin cooks the pumpkin itself into a puree, but in Austria, they just leave the pumpkins in the field to be plowed under. It's a practice that I had trouble accepting; being a farm girl, we consumed every bit of produce we could grow.
If you buy pumpkin seed oil, use it by the spoonful to add a nutty flavor to salad dressings, marinades, pasta, dips, pastries and fillings. Some people consume it by the spoonful for its healthful benefits, as it is reported to be high in minerals such as zinc. Austrian men claim it is good for their prostate health.
Curried Pumpkin Soup
You can cook your Halloween pumpkin to make this soup as long as the interior looks fresh. Just cut it into pieces and steam or bake until the flesh is soft and mashable. Otherwise, you can use canned pumpkin. Either way, the soup is quite delicious topped with a dollop of sour cream or whipped cream.
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, shredded
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups pureed pumpkin (or one 15 ounce can unsweetened pumpkin)
2 cups light cream or half and half
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream or whipped cream for topping
Toasted sunflower seeds for serving
In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the curry powder, onion and carrot. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Add the chicken broth, pumpkin, cream, salt and pepper. Place over medium heat and heat to serving temperature. Scoop into serving bowls and top with sour cream or whipped cream and sunflower seeds.
To cook fresh pumpkin, split a pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and fiber. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Place the pumpkin halves cut side down on the pan. Bake for 1 hour or until pumpkin is tender enough to pierce with a fork. Makes six servings.
Pumpkin Pecan Waffles
How about this for your Thanksgiving breakfast? Serve with pure maple syrup.
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, separated
1½ cups milk
½ cup pureed pumpkin
½ cup (1 stick butter) melted
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Preheat a waffle iron. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, spice and salt. In a medium bowl mix the egg yolks, milk, pumpkin and butter. In another bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff. Fold the whites into the batter and stir in the pecans. Spoon the batter into the preheated waffle iron and cook about 5 minutes until golden. Makes about 20 waffles, 4 inches in diameter.
Glazed Pumpkin Cookies
These are soft and chewy cookies with a cinnamon-pumpkin glaze.
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1½ cups packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla
2½ cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
1½ cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons soft butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons pureed pumpkin
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cover 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl cream the butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs, pumpkin and vanilla. Stir the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice and nuts together and add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the walnuts. Shape the cookie dough, spoonfuls at a time onto the cookie sheets. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookies feel firm when touched in the center. Mix the glaze ingredients together until smooth and spread onto the cookies while still warm. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks.