Why Can’t We Eat the Same Pumpkins We Carve?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 29 2013 1:38 PM

Why Can’t We Eat the Same Pumpkins We Carve?

1383062212
Winter squash soup is delicious. But don't make it out of the pumpkins you buy to carve. That would be a mistake.

Photo by Ryan Dausch

Dinner vs. Child is a biweekly column about cooking for children, and with children, and despite children, originally published in Food52 and now appearing on Brow Beat.

This week: Nicholas tells a Cinderella story—the ugliest squash in the pumpkin patch may be the best one of them all. 

Advertisement

A few weeks ago, we—me, my wife, and a couple of raggedy kids we picked up in the living room—went apple-picking at an orchard that also grows a wondrous array of pumpkins. These were bizarrely shaped and shaded varieties, tricked-out carriages for a future Baz Luhrmann production of Cinderella. Hidden among them was a small pile of suspiciously ordinary heirlooms; these looked like they’d survived on taste, not looks. Their sign read: Judged the best pumpkin for pie in a blind taste-test!

It was only later that I thought to ask about the identity of the other competitors.

Michael Lewis has said that parenthood makes you into a wimp. It also makes you into a sucker. Before children, I never would have bought a pie pumpkin. I know that canned pumpkin comes from butternut squash; I know that pie pumpkin is a class-action lawsuit in the making. (Have you tried to make pie from a pie pumpkin? Call now!) After children, I thought: Why yes! Pie from an actual pumpkin! On such an archetypal autumn day, what else would a person do? And what a helpful sign to suggest doing so!

We roasted it the next day for pie. It tasted like water, but with more texture.

We had banana ice cream for dessert.

1383062668
This is the kind of winter squash you want to cook with.

Photo by Ryan Dausch

This was a teachable moment, I thought. On the other hand, I have a bad habit of identifying teachable moments that aren’t actually teachable moments. 

Halloween, I told Isaiah over banana ice cream, is actually a holiday about the complexities of plant breeding. People have managed to breed beautifully orange pumpkins that are perfect for carving. But they haven’t managed to breed beautifully orange pumpkins that are perfect for carving and taste good. Making plants taste good is really hard!

But squash that doesn’t look like a Halloween pumpkin does taste really good, I went on. We should make pie with that!

Isaiah agreed. At least I think he agreed. I’m not sure he was paying complete attention.

But I am sure he thinks squash tastes really good. (The distinction between pumpkins and squash isn’t botanically meaningful.) There were slices of roasted Buttercup at dinner the other day and he called it “orange butter” and said things like, “Dada, I am surprised you are letting me eat just butter for dinner!” And he was right: the Buttercup did taste a little like orange butter. The week before we’d had slices of roasted Red Kuri, which tasted a little like chestnut butter. There’s been an explosion in the availability of winter squash varieties, and they are almost all wonderful, even when they don’t taste like butter. Deborah Madison, in her extremely useful Vegetable Literacy, has a cheat sheet of the dozen-plus varieties you are most likely to see. But her recipe for winter squash soup with mint and red chile—see below—will be warming and autumnal and remorse-free with any of these varieties, all of which do not taste like water but with more texture.

soup3
Winter squash soup with (less) red chile and mint

Photo by Ryan Dausch

Somewhat quixotically, and in a transparent attempt to ruin Halloween for my children forever, I then wondered: With such a wealth of heirloom squash, forget not just making pie out of Halloween pumpkins. Why even carve Halloween pumpkins? Is it too much to ask that the plant we carve on Halloween we can also eat?

Well, maybe.

You see, I really wanted to carve a Blue Hubbard squash. Have you seen a Blue Hubbard? It is the squash that ate Des Moines. It would make a terrifying stoop decoration and a fine pumpkin pie. (A fine pumpkin pies, actually. It’s that big.)

Unfortunately, the Blue Hubbard was bred for storage, and it is built like a fortress. The most common way to open a Blue Hubbard is to drop it. Sometimes several times. Sometimes from the top of the basement stairs. This suggests that trying to carve a Blue Hubbard would be a deeply flawed idea, the flaws of which you would have time to enumerate while sitting in the emergency room.

But quixotic parental enthusiasms, as any child knows, do not fade easily. If you have carved and eaten any winter squash, and you also have the fine motor control of someone who carries band-aids around in his wallet, I want to know about it. I still have a week.

Winter Squash Soup with (Less) Red Chile and Mint
Lightly adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy (Ten Speed Press, 2013)
Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds or more of winter squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons basil, chopped
1 tablespoon mint, chopped
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
½ teaspoon red chile powder
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, or water
12 coriander seeds, 12 black peppercorns, and 4 whole cloves, all tied in a cheesecloth sachet
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Handful of sliced mint for garnish

Nicholas Day's book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World, was published in April 2013. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.