I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
The fall colours have been spectacular this year. I am told that the brightest autumn colours occur when dry sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights. We have, indeed, enjoyed wonderful weather this fall. Right up until this week it has been sunny and dry; perfect weather for long walks on Mount Royal and for wandering around Montreal’s markets admiring the bounty of this year’s harvest which included, amazingly enough, beef steak field tomatoes right up until Thanksgiving. Unheard of.
Now, approaching the end of October, the later fall offerings reflect the cooler nights. The hardy carrots, onions and cabbages are still around, joined by sweet potatoes, all manner of squash and, of course, pumpkins.
Pumpkins at Montreal’s Marché Jean Talon (source: daniellelevynutition.com)
Pumpkins are everywhere; this is their month. For many of us, it’s the only time that pumpkins cross our paths. The only pumpkin we eat is in a pie at Thanksgiving and the only pumpkin we buy is to carve, once a year, on Halloween.
That level of neglect does not give pumpkin its due.
The pumpkin is more than simply a decorative gourd; it’s a nutritional superstar. It’s packed with nutrients including potassium, magnesium and vitamins C and E along with the disease-fighting cartenoids alpha- and beta-carotene. And it’s high in fibre to boot.
You’ll find similar properties in carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and orange bell peppers.
You’ll also find a nutritional punch in pumpkin seeds, which are rich in vitamin E, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc and a great plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids.
So while you admire the beauty of the fall markets, think about how to incorporate pumpkin into your diet all year round. One of my favorite ways to use pumpkin throughout the year is in risotto. Here’s a recipe to get you started. Don’t worry, it’s not an exact science and you can play with the flavours, but I do love the addition of sage, which is something I always do — along with the pine nuts. Yum.
A creamy pumpkin risotto (source: food nine msn)
You can make this dish with lovely fresh pumpkin — now — or with good quality canned pumpkin, which is available throughout the year. And, of course, you can always garnish it with pumpkin seeds. Seasoned and roasted they’re crunchy, buttery and delicious.
Try this delicious recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds. Or, using recommended cooking times, season them with anything you like. For example, do something classic with olive oil and salt and pepper, or something a little spicier using pepper, chilli, smoked paprika or garam masalsa. Or go for barbeque flavour with brown sugar, chipotle and ground cumin, or something sweet, tossing the toasted seeds with cinnamon and sugar.
Delicious roasted pumpkin seeds (source: The girl who ate everything)
So this year, when you go out to purchase the perfect pumpkin for your Halloween jack-o-lantern, let it inspire you to think about all the ways that you can honour this powerhouse of a fruit (yes, it’s a fruit, related to the melon — not a vegetable).
And that brings me to the ubiquitous Halloween pumpkin that decorates the stoop for trick-or-treaters.
While we love the classic jack-o-lantern with the triangle eyes and the big toothy grin, we’ve pulled together a few different techniques to help inspire you when you execute your own creation, if you’re looking for something a little different.
When you remove the guts and prepare your pumpkin for carving, don’t forget to save the seeds for roasting.
It has become quite popular in the last few years to forgo a knife and use power tools — notably a drill — to decorate pumpkins. If you’ve never used a drill to decorate your pumpkin before, here’s a great tutorial to get you started. It’ll help you create designs from something simple and graphic yet really effective like these three pumpkins that spell “BOO” to something a little more involved, complicated and artistic such as filigree patterns.
The tutorial covers steps from cleaning and prepping the pumpkin to marking out the design and selecting the right size drill bits to achieve the desired effect. It includes some important tips, like be sure to make the holes large enough that the light radiates out and sufficient air circulates to keep the flame alive inside the pumpkin.
Another departure from a traditional carved pumpkin is to use a stencil to help create an elaborate design. There are lots of stencils available for free on line, from the very tasteful, courtesy of Martha Stewart, to sites like Zombie Pumpkins, which has a huge selection of intricate zombie-related and other classic Halloween-themed stencils.
Once you find a stencil that you like, tape it to the side of the pumpkin. Using a nail, or another transfer tool, start punching holes along the lines designed on the stencil. Punch deep enough through the pumpkin so when it’s time to saw, the lines will make it easier to cut through. Once the whole design is punched out, cut out the pieces of the design using a small carving saw.
Pennywise (source: Zombie Pumpkins)
3. Free-hand art pieces
Some people are so talented that they can create true artistic masterpieces without the help of templates. Maniac Pumpkin Carvers in Brooklyn is home to some of these talented folk. They’re real pros, carving more than 400 unique and elaborate pumpkins every Halloween. In an interview with mental_floss, they shared some useful tips for beginners and experts alike, interested in creating unique and artistic pumpkins. For example, they propose cutting your hole in the back of the pumpkin to keep the stem in tact, rather than the top or the bottom, and they suggest using a wide range of tools from paring knives to lemon zesters, rasps, exacto knives and lino cutting tools.
Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” by Brooklyn’s Maniac Pumpkin Carvers
4. No-carve decorating
If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you can achieve some stunning effects without carving. There are several resources on line that will help inspire you to find original and beautiful decorating ideas that don’t involve cleaning and carving pumpkins.
They won’t work to light your porch for trick-or-treaters, but even the simplest designs can be visually stunning like these “heavy metal” pumpkins. They’re sophisticated and elegant, yet couldn’t be easier to produce. All you need is some metallic spray paint, a damp rag (to clean the pumpkin) and some newspaper to sit the pumpkins on. Make sure you work in a well ventilated space. Spray the pumpkins. Two coats work best. Then let them dry for at least 24 hours.
Heavy metal pumpkins (Source: Real Simple)
You could also choose to something a little more design-oriented like these pumpkins designed with a washi tape plaid pattern. I love washi tape. It’s available in so many patterns and colours, that decorating with it really offers endless possibilities.
Washi tape plaid pumpkins (source: Real Simple)
To create a plaid effect, use a dry erase marker to map out your design. Then mark it out with tape to the pumpkin’s surface. Try using longer strips because piecing together too many short strips will look sloppy. Begin at the stem and run your tape down the side of the pumpkin, erasing the markings as you adhere the strips to the surface. After the vertical stripes have been made, apply tape around the circumference of the pumpkin to complete your pattern.
However you decide to decorate your pumpkin, it will all be over on November 1. It seems like such a shame that the morning after Halloween when all your hard work gets tossed out with the garbage.
It appears as though lots of people feel that way, so in some cities, communities get together to showcase pumpkins from the neighbourhood in a Pumpkin Parade on November 1st. Have a look and see if there’s anything going on where you live.
A Pumpkin Parade in Sorauren Park, Toronto
What’s your favourite way to get pumpkin into your diet throughout the year? How will you decorate your pumpkin this Halloween?