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Top photo: Lamb/pumpkin stew and roasted fall vegetables served in a jack-o-lantern. (Credit: John Ross)

The pumpkin was a staple food for Native Americans way before the advent of Halloween and the jack-o’-lantern. For years it has been an object to carve and put a candle in, but now it is regaining its popularity as a food while keeping its popularity as an ornament.

Now that the farm stands are loaded with pumpkins, squash and gourds, we often ask, what is the difference? They all belong to the genus cucurbita of the cucurbitaceae family, and on the North Fork we have four that may be called pumpkins: the jack-o’-lantern, the cheese (or sugar) pumpkin, the white pumpkin and the Jack Be Little pumpkin.

There are many varieties, shapes and colors of squash and even more varieties of gourds. The gourds are used mostly for decoration, while the pumpkins and squash are for eating. Most varieties of squash can be substituted in pumpkin recipes. They all are as much a sign of fall as the falling leaves.

Here are a few ways to use pumpkins as a food and a decoration:

Stuffed Jack Be Little Pumpkin

Purchase 8 Jack Be Little pumpkins, each about 4 inches in diameter. Scrub them under cold water and place them on a foil-lined sheet pan. Spray them lightly with no-stick and roast in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until a skewer runs through them easily.

Peel and cut 1 butternut squash into half-inch cubes (about 2 cups) and set aside.

Rinse 1 cup farro and blanch it in 1 quart boiling water for 5 minutes.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a saucepan and place on medium heat. Stir in 1 chopped onion, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and the reserved butternut squash. Cook briefly and add the blanched farro along with 2 diced plum tomatoes, 2 tablespoons tomato paste and 4 cups vegetable stock.

Season with 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground pepper, 1 teaspoon ground ginger and a dash of red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and simmer until the farro is tender, about 20 minutes.

Drain and rinse 1 can of chick peas and add to the mixture along with 1 cup chopped peanuts. Finish with the zest and juice of 1 lime and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro.

Cut the tops off of the pumpkins and carefully scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Stuff them with the filling and put them back on the foil-lined sheet pan. Put the remainder of the filling in a small casserole.

At service time, heat in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Serve on a bed of spaghetti squash, steamed kale or both.

Pumpkin Chardonnay Soup
(2015 version)

Purchase 1 large, orange jack-o-lantern pumpkin (about 12-inch diameter) and 1 small sugar pumpkin (often called a cheese pumpkin).

Cut the lid off the large pumpkin and scoop out the seeds, being careful to leave thick walls. Decorate the outside if desired with carvings, but don’t cut through the wall of the pumpkin.

Cut the top off the sugar pumpkin and split it in half. Scoop out the seeds and cut it into wedges. Peel the wedges and cut the flesh into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups).

Heat a soup pot and add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 1 chopped onion, 3 chopped leeks (white part only) and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Add 1 tablespoon thyme leaves and cook briefly. Add 1 cup chardonnay and increase the heat so that it reduces by half.

Add the 4 cups diced sugar pumpkin along with 2 cups diced potato, 2 cups diced carrots, 1 cup diced parsnip and 1 cup diced white turnip. Add 6 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock) and bring to a simmer. Cook until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Drain and rinse 1 can of white beans and add to the soup along with 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish. Season with 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 2 teaspoons ground pepper. Bring back to a simmer and remove from the heat.

Puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a food processor. Do not process too long; you want to leave a coarse texture and a thick soup. Stir in 1 cup heavy cream and check for seasoning.

Serve in the decorated pumpkin with fresh, buttered croutons.

Serves 6-8.

Lamb, Pumpkin & White Bean Stew

Soak 1 pound of great northern beans overnight in cold water.

Trim the silverskin and gristle from 2 pounds of boneless lamb shoulder meat and cut it into 1-inch pieces. Place the lamb in a casserole along with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup red wine. Refrigerate for 2 hours or more.

Cut a small cheese pumpkin into wedges, scrape out the seeds and peel with a paring knife. Cut the wedges into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups).

Remove the lamb from the marinade and dry with paper towels, reserving the marinade.

Heat a Dutch oven and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Brown the meat at high heat, making sure not to crowd. Remove the meat, lower the heat and add 1 chopped onion and 2 chopped leeks to the drippings. Cook briefly at low heat and add 1 tablespoon chopped garlic. Add 1 tablespoon butter and, when it melts, stir in 1/4 cup flour. Raise the heat to medium, add 4 cups chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Drain the beans and add them to the pot along with the lamb and the reserved marinade. Bring to a boil, cover and place in a 300-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove and add the pumpkin along with 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon ground pepper.

Return the pot to the oven and continue cooking until the meat, beans and pumpkin are tender, about 45 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped parsley and check for seasoning.

If desired, cut the top off of a jack-o-lantern and scoop it out to use as a serving bowl.

Serves 6-8.

Top photo: Lamb/pumpkin stew and roasted fall vegetables served in a jack-o-lantern. (Credit: John Ross)
John Ross