2008-10-23 / Local & State

It's Pennsylvania Pumpkin Season

Pennsylvania is the third largest pumpkin growing state in the country and the harvest is in full swing. Growers began harvesting the 7,700 acres of Pennsylvania pumpkins 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.

Pumpkins and their cousins, winter squash, are one of Pennsylvania's major vegetable crops. Pennsylvania growers annually produce about 500 acres of winter squash in addition to the 7,700 acres of pumpkins. While the production is centered in the southeast corner of the state, acres of pumpkins and squash are grown all over the state. As the Halloween and Thanksgiving seasons near, farmers are bringing wagon and truckloads of pumpkins and squash along with other fall ornamental specialities 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 come in all shapes and sizes. The most common is the jacko lantern type that generally ranges from 10 to 30 pounds. Small pumpkins, usually about the size of a cantaloupe, are popular for indoor decorations as well as eating. Minipumpkins, such as the variety "Jackbe Little," are a relatively recent addition to the pumpkin industry. They are about the size of a large tomato and also are extremely attractive for indoor fall decoration. Giant pumpkins, which are actually squash weighing from 50 to 200 plus pounds, are great for special eye-catching displays. 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 that is free of any unheeled 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.

Asian Pumpkin Soup

4 c. pumpkin or butternut squash, cooked, pureed 29 oz. chicken broth 12 oz. mango nectar, Goya, canned 3 T. green onion, finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped 2 T. ginger, fresh, grated 1/3-1/2 c. peanut butter 13 1/2 oz. coconut milk, canned 1 T. lime juice, fresh 1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper 1 tsp. coconut extract cilatro peanuts, chopped

Combine pumpkin/squash, chicken broth, onion, garlic and ginger in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes or until onions are tender. Whisk peanut butter, coconut milk, lime juice, salt, cayenne pepper and coconut extract into the pumpkin mixture until smooth. Heat again but do not boil. Garnich with cilantro and chopped peanuts if desired. Squash and Citrus Slaw half spaghetti squash, medium size 1/4 c. orange juice 1T. rice vinegar 1 tsp. sugar salt and pepper, to taste 2 T. cilantro, chopped 1/4 c. red bell pepper 1 green onion, chopped

Place squash, cut side down on microwave-safe plate. Add a few tablespoons of water, cover, microwave on high for 2 or 3 minutes until flesh is crisp, but can be separated with a fork. Let stand 2 minutes. Discard seeds and pull flesh apart with fork to create strands. Cool, combine orange juice, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in salad bowl. Add squash strands, cilantro, red pepper and onion. Toss to blend and chill well. Pumpkin Nachos 1 3/4 c. pumpkin, cooked and pureed 1 1/4 c. pepperoni, diced 3/4 c. green peppers, chopped 14 1/2 oz. tomatoes with jalapenos, diced, canned 3 T. onion, grated 1 tsp. chili powder tortilla chips cheddar cheese, shredded.

In a large saucepan, combine pumpkin, pepperoni, green peppers, tomatoes, onion and chili powder. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Serve over tortilla chips. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Pumpkin Stuffed Shells 12 oz. jumbo pasta shells 3 cloves garlic, crushed 2 c. ricotta cheese 2 c. pumpkin, cooked, canned 1 tsp. salt 1 tsp. black pepper 5 oz. evaporated milk 1 c. pecorino-romano cheese, grated 2 c. provolone cheese, shredded 3 T. thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Do not overcook. When done, remove with slotted spoon and cool on waxed paper. In large bowl, combine garlic, ricotta cheese, pumpkin, salt and pepper. Stuff shells with ricotta-pumpkin mixture and place in 13x9-inch or larger baking dish that has been coated with cooking spray. In small saucepan, combine evaporated milk, grated pecroni-romano cheese and 1 c. shredded provolone cheese. Stir over low heat until cheese melts and sauce thickens. Spoon sauce over filled shells. Sprinkle remaining provolone cheese over top of sauce. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle fresh thyme leaves over shells. Serve immediately. Quick buying tips

The Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program offers these tips when buying pumpkins:

Select pumpkins that have a rich orange color with no green

Look for a good solid stem

For long-term displays, avoid pumpkins with unhealed cuts or bruises.

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