Monday, October 20, 2008

of pumpkins…(part trois) ~ pumpkins and Halloween

The origin of Halloween dates back at least 3,000 years to the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-ain). The festival was held starting at sundown on October 31st and lasted until sundown on November 1st. It was similar to the modern practice of the New Years celebration.

On this magical night, glowing jack-o-lanterns, carved from turnips or gourds, were set on porches and in windows to welcome deceased loved ones, but also to act as protection against malevolent spirits. Burning lumps of coal were used inside as a source of light, later to be replaced by candles.

Samhain was not the name of a Lord of the Dead, no historical evidence has ever been found to back this up, it was simply the name of the festival and meant Summer's End.
It was believed that the souls of the dead were closest to this world and was the best time to contact them to say good bye or ask for assistance. It was also a celebration of the harvest.
It is still treated as such today by those who practice Wicca or other nature based religions.
It has absolutely nothing to do with Satan, who was a creation of the Christian church.

When European settlers, particularly the Irish, arrived in America they found the native pumpkin to be larger, easier to carve and seemed the perfect choice for jack-o-lanterns. Halloween didn't really catch on big in this country until the late 1800's and has been celebrated in many ways ever since.

The Rouge Vif d'Estampes is bright red French pumpkin,
which means vivid red. It is shaped looking like rather a red cheese wheel is deep red-orange, and heavily sutured.

The moderately sweet, orange flesh is suited for pumpkin or squash pie.
Also known as the Cinderella pumpkin, as it was the prototype for
Walt Disney’s Cinderella's pumpkin carriage...

A very old French heirloom, this was the most common pumpkin in the marché Les Halles or Central Market in Paris back in the 1880’s.
The flesh is tasty in pies or baked.
This one can also be picked small, like summer squash, and fried.

I love this one to carve as it has such an unusual bright orange and a lovely textured exterior that sets it apart from the other Jack-o-lanterns on the street…
This heirloom pumpkin as most has lovely green seeds that can be toasted and salted in the conventional manner.

I have just once undertaken the laborious process of shelling raw pumpkin seeds for the following seasonal and yummy recipe that follows…yikes.
Since then I have purchased raw pepitas no shell pumpkin seeds from this online source.

Pumpkin Seed Brittle
(recipe courtesy of Alton Brown)

1 teaspoon vegetable oil, plus additional for coating

7 ounces hulled pumpkin seeds (these are the green ones)

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound 6 ounces granulated sugar

12 ounces water


Place the oil and seeds into a 10-inch sauté pan and set over medium-high heat.
Toast the seeds while constantly moving the pan.
You will smell their aroma and hear some of them begin to crackle when they are toasted, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a small mixing bowl, add the cayenne, cinnamon and salt and stir to combine.

Line a half sheet pan with a silicone (Silpat mat) baking mat.
Place a 3-quart saucier inside a large cast iron skillet.
Add the sugar and water to the saucepan, and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it comes to a boil. Stop stirring, cover and cook for 3 minutes.

Uncover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until the sugar is a light amber color, approximately 25 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the pumpkin seed mixture. This will greatly reduce the temperature of the sugar, so work quickly.

Once evenly mixed, pour the mixture onto the prepared half sheet pan.
Using an oiled spatula, spread thin over the silicone mat.
You will have to work quickly when pouring out and spreading the mixture in the pan.
Cool completely, approximately 30 minutes, and then break into pieces.
Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks (if it lasts that long…)

I package my Pumpkin Brittle in small candy bags for Halloween gifts for those little goblins that ring my bell on Halloween night.

We fancy that we are individuals; so are pumpkins.
Every pumpkin in the field goes through every point of pumpkin history.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


A Brush with Color said...

Pumpkin seed brittle??!! YUM! I'll also have to try that! Sounds great. I love pumpkin seeds. You do such a good job of researching interesting information, too, Terrie!

Camera Crazy said...

I make spiced pumpkin seeds for salads and pastas. They are delicious. Because we have a huge Latin population here they are readily available.