Sweeter than pumpkin pie

Published 3:45 am Tuesday, November 2, 2010

By the time we hit the stands not only will the frost be on the pumpkins, but there will be only a couple of days to pick up your pumpkins to carve for Halloween. There is still time to visit Pumpkins Galore, where you can find a wide variety of the golden orbs and much more.

Owner Gary Zilke and his wife Betty are no strangers to the pumpkin business. According to Betty’s daughter, Patty Parks, “Gary worked the pumpkins when he was just a kid.”

The pumpkins grown on the Zilke farm weigh in from one to 100 pounds.  Varieties of pumpkins include: fairytale pumpkins (think Cinderella’s carriage), white pumpkins, Long Island Cheese pumpkins, the well-known pie pumpkins and blue pumpkins. They also offer red and worthy acorn and butternut squash, Turbin corn stalks (great for fall decorations), Indian corn and a variety of decorated produce perfect for gift giving.

Zilke’s Pumpkins Galore at M-140 at Danneffel Road, Watervliet, is a small family farm operation that sells top quality produce to its customers.

Bring your children and your camera. It is handicap accessible and will remain open until Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Once the holiday is over you will want to be sure to puree some pumpkin in order to enjoy its great nutritional benefits and flavor long after the snow begins to fly. Although many enjoy canned pumpkin, you just can’t beat pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread or candy made from a fresh pumpkin.

Pie pumpkins are normally smaller and sweeter than the usual carving pumpkins. Any of pumpkins at Zilke’s farm however are all fine for cooking and baking. Parks suggests that the fairytale pumpkin is the most like squash in flavor — not so sweet; this is a great alternative for those who prefer a more subtle taste.

If you choose the pie pumpkin you will want to look for one that is firm with no bruises or soft spots and that has a good orange color. Pie pumpkins are small, usually only 6 inches in diameter. You can usually obtain about 2 or 3 cups or puree per pumpkin.

If you go to www.pumpkinpatchesandmore.org you will find these suggestions:

• Wash the exterior of the pumpkin in cool or warm water, no soap. Cut the pumpkin in half. A serrated knife and a sawing motion works best — a smooth knife is more likely to slip and hurt you.

• Scoop out the seeds and the stringy portions of the pumpkin using an ice cream scoop. You might want to save the seeds to roast for a very nutritious snack.

• Remove the stem, and put the pumpkin into microwaveable bowl. The fewer the number of pieces you cut the pumpkin into, the easier it will be to scoop out the cooked pumpkin afterward.

• Put a couple of inches of water in the bowl, cover it and put in the microwave.

• Cook for 15 minutes on high, check to see if it is soft, then repeat in smaller increments of time until it is soft enough to scoop out. Normally it takes 20 or 30 minutes in total. Note that it takes about twice as much time to cook it on your stovetop.

• Using a broad, smooth spoon to gently lift and scoop the cooked pumpkin out of the skin. It should separate easily into fairly large chucks, if the pumpkin is cooked enough.

• Using a hand-blender you will have puree in approximately 2-3 minutes ready to pop in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to use it in a wide variety of recipes.

• Whether in soups, cookies, breads or candies, you can reap the benefits of pumpkin all year round. Pumpkins are packed with all sorts of disease fighting nutrients. Pumpkin is low in fat and calories and rich in disease-fighting nutrients such as alpha-carotene; beta-carotene; fiber; vitamins C and E; potassium; magnesium and pantothenic acid.

The alpha-carotene and beta-carotene are potent antioxidants found in pumpkin and are pro-vitamin A carotenoids, meaning the body converts them to vitamin A. Vitamin A promotes healthy vision and ensures proper immune function.

The beta-carotene in pumpkin may also reverse skin damage caused by the sun and act as an anti-inflammatory. Alpha-carotene is also thought to slow the aging process and reduce the risk of developing cataracts and prevent tumor growth. Carotenoids boost immunity and lessen the risk of heart disease.

Think of all the reasons to get the pumpkins fresh from the farms. It’s a great excuse for planning a wonderful family outing and to enjoy the fresh autumn air. Maybe you will even decide to go for a roll in the leaves!