Pennsylvania pumpkins are here

Pennsylvania pumpkin growers are once again expecting a good crop of pumpkins for fall decorating. Growing conditions have varied across the state but most growers, like Brian Campbell in Berwick, are expecting at least a good average yield. Campbell said he isn’t expecting a bumper crop, but a good yield nonetheless. Other growers agree with this expectation in the fourth largest pumpkin-growing state in the country.

Growers began harvesting pumpkins and winter squash in September and will continue through October. While many Pennsylvania pumpkins are shipped to other states, many farm markets offer Keystone State consumers the opportunity to pick their own pumpkins right from the field.

As the Halloween and Thanksgiving seasons near, farmers are bringing wagon and truck loads of pumpkins and squash along with other fall ornamental specialties like gourds, squash, Indian corn, corn shocks, mums, ornamental cabbage and kale, and straw bales to the wholesale produce auctions, retail farm markets and garden centers for sale. Pumpkins and their cousins, winter squash, are one of Pennsylvania’s major vegetable crops.

Pennsylvania growers annually plant about 7,100 acres of pumpkins which are worth about $19 million plus 325 acres of winter squash. While the production is centered in the southeast corner of the state, acres of pumpkins and squash are grown all over the state.

Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes. Choosing a pumpkin is mostly a matter of taste as to the shape and size. In general, pumpkins should have a rich orange color indicating full maturity although the shade varies between varieties. For long-term fall displays, it is important to choose a pumpkin which is free of any unhealed skin punctures or soft areas. The stem should be firm also. While pumpkins can withstand frosts in outdoor displays, they will last longer if they are protected from the frost.

While large jack-o’-lantern-type pumpkins can be cooked for pies or other recipes, their flesh is stringy and the eating quality is poor compared to the smaller pie-type pumpkins, often called sugar pumpkins because of their sweetness.

Pumpkin or squash can be cooked a number of different ways. After splitting the fruit and removing the seeds and attached strings, the flesh can be cut out of the rind and cubed. The cubed flesh can then be boiled, steamed or microwaved until tender, drained and then mashed. For the smaller squash varieties, the fruit can be cut in half.

After scooping out the seeds, the halves should be placed cut-side up in a shallow pan with a small amount of water or cut-side down on a baking sheet, covered with foil and baked in a hot oven until the flesh is tender. The halves can also be partially covered and cooked in a microwave oven until tender. The cooked flesh can then be scooped out and mashed for use in recipes. Or for a quick vegetable side dish, put a little butter and brown sugar in the cup of an acorn or small butternut squash cut in half, bake until soft and serve as is.

Pumpkin and squash are both good sources of vitamin A although squash generally have more than pumpkin. They also have good amounts of fiber and help fulfill the weekly recommendation 4 to 6 cups of red or orange vegetables for adults (United States Department of Agriculture at www.

The following recipes for pumpkin and winter squash were entered in the 2012 Pennsylvania Vegetable Recipe Contest and offer some delicious choices for including pumpkin and squash in your menus.

Pumpkin pudding

Serves 10

2 cups flour

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup butter

2 cups chopped walnuts

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cans (29 ounce) canned pumpkin (or about 6 to 7 cups of cooked and mashed pumpkin or squash)

1 pint light cream

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup molasses

4 eggs

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cloves

Combine the first five ingredients (flour, brown sugar, butter, walnuts and cinnamon) to form crumbs for the topping. Combine the remaining ingredients together and pour into a greased 1 gallon casserole. Cover with the topping crumbs and bake, uncovered, at 350F for 90 minutes. Serve chilled.

– Submitted by Wilhelm von Rappold, Altoona.

Rummy baked acorn squash halves

Serves 2

1 small acorn squash

1 tablespoon butter, divided

dash of nutmeg

dash of cinnamon

1 tablespoon rum, divided

1 tablespoon light brown sugar, divided

salt and pepper to taste

Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Turn halves upside-down in microwave-safe baking dish. Microwave on high for 2 to 5 minutes until squash yields slightly when gently squeezed. Let stand 5 minutes. Divide butter, spices, rum, brown sugar, salt and pepper between squash halves. Cover with wax paper and microwave on high for 30 seconds to 1 1/2 minutes until hot. Loosen pulp and mix with seasonings. Serve in squash shells.

– Submitted by Frances Dietz, York.

Squash and red

lentil tangine

Serves 6 to 12

4 teaspoons olive oil

2 large Spanish onions, diced

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoon cumin

1 bag (16 ounce) of red lentils

4 cups water plus 1 cup of water

1 can (28 ounce) diced tomatoes

1 can (28 ounce) tomato puree

2 small or 1 large butternut squash, skinned and cut into 1″ cubes

1 bunch of kale or Swiss chard, rough chopped

In large heavy pot, saute onions in olive oil until tender, then add paprika, cayenne and cumin. Add red lentils, 4 cups of water, diced tomatoes and tomato puree. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add other cup of water and the cubed squash. Continue to cook for another 20 minutes., stirring occasionally. Five minutes before ready to serve, add kale or chard.

This dish is not only delicious but very healthy. Not only is it vegetarian and vegan, but is heart healthy containing no salt, without any compromise to taste.

– Submitted by Harry Miller, Erie.

Spaghetti squash

1 large spaghetti squash

1/2 bag frozen wax beans

1/2 bag frozen green beans

1/2 bag frozen carrots

1/2 bag frozen peas or corn

1/2 bag frozen spinach or 1 cup fresh cut

4 to 6 spears asparagus

1 cup shredded cabbage

1 medium red onion, diced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 pound ground beef or venison

1 pound ground chicken or turkey (organic)

2 jars Del Grosso spaghetti sauce

1 teaspoon sea salt

dash of red pepper

dash of oregano

Wash the spaghetti squash, cut in half, and put in a microwave safe dish with 1/4 cup of water. Cover it with plastic wrap and microwave for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the seeds with a fork. With a fork, scrap the flesh of the squash out of the shell and into a large pan. Add the other vegetables, cover with water and simmer until tender. Puree vegetables in a food processor. Brown meats and add 2 jars of spaghetti sauce. Stir in cut spaghetti squash and pureed vegetables then simmer 20 minutes.

– Submitted by Nancy Wasson, Bellefonte.