Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Oh, My Gourd!

No matter what their size, shape or color, nothing symbolizes autumn and Thanksgiving quite like pumpkins. All pumpkins and squashes are technically fruits and are members of the Cucurbitaceous family. Native Americans called this fruit “isquotm squash” but the term pumpkin came from the Greek term “pepon” meaning sun-ripened large melon. The French pronounced it “pompon” and the English language further modified it to “pumpion.” Finally, thank goodness, the colonists settled on pumpkin. 
  • Pumpkins are grown on every continent but Antarctica and were once thought to be a cure for freckles and snakes bites.
  • The largest-ever carved pumpkin was one with a 17-foot circumference and weighed approximately 1,469 pounds.
  • Floydada, Texas is the pumpkin capital of the US. (www.floydadapumpkins.com)
  • The Keene, N.H. pumpkin fest holds a contest for the most lit jack-o-lanterns in one place and holds the world record of 1,628 pumpkins.
  • Check out Backyard Giants: The Passionate, Heartbreaking and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever where author, Susan Warren, relates the year in the life of two giant pumpkin growers in New England.
  • Mini pumpkins can be used as candle holders
  • You can make a moisturizing face mask from canned pumpkin
  • The seeds, when baked, are edible.
  • You can make pumpkin pie, bread, waffles, biscuits, soup, custard. . . . . .
I have tried to grow my own to no avail. However, my friends and acquaintances know to save me their uncarved pumpkins. Why you ask? To make pumpkin puree! I look for pumpkins deep orange in color and  a stem of about 3-4 inches (stemless pumpkins do not keep as well). Uncarved pumpkins will last past Thanksgiving and are perfect for cooking – just be sure that the pumpkin does not succumb to a freeze outside. Good choices for cooking are Small Sugar, New England pie, Baby Pam and Lumina.

There are several ways to cook a pumpkin but my favorite is to halve, scrape, pierce and microwave.

The flesh can then pureed and stored in freezer bags for future use.

Or, I make refrigerator pumpkin butter. Here is my recipe:
  •  3cups pumpkin puree
  • 3 cups brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
Combine all, except lemon juice, in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice, pour into sterilized jars and cool. Store in refrigerator or freezer. The butter is good on muffins, bread, waffles, ice cream and cereal.

NOTE: The USDA Extension Service does NOT recommend canning pumpkin in a hot water bath. See the following link: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_can_pump.pdf.

Pumpkins may have warts, bumps, and bulges and be fat but isn’t that like most of us?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I am a Master Naturalist

Animal Tracking at NatureFest
Speckled king snake

Building a crappie habitat

Recently, I completed a three month long in-depth course of study regarding nature. I am sure you think me crazy! However, the classes offered by Smith County Agri-Life and Texas Parks and Wildlife have qualified me to teach and lead interpretive programs in all aspects of nature. Some of the curriculum covered was: geology, soils, weather, climate, ecosystems, archeology, mammology, ecology, herpetology, ichthyology, entomology, rangeland management, wetlands, forestry, ornithology, plant naming, aquatic ecology, and urban systems. Whew!!! Some trivia for you - Texas has 1200 different types of soil, the oldest rocks in Texas are in the trans- Pecos, the state fish is the Guadalupe Bass, and birds' bones are hollow. Recently 3 other MNs and I plus two Texas Parks and Wildlife guys went to the Old Sabine River Bottom around 6:00 p.m. We pulled up turtle and minnow traps and turned over coverboards. We identified two Western Ribbon Snakes, a Western Mud Snake, a Speckled King Snake, a Leopard Frog, two Bullfrogs, a five-lined skink, a ground skink, a few mice, assorted tadpoles, crawfish and dragonfly nymphs. The only thing biting were the mosquitoes.