2015-10-08 / From The Garden

Pumpkins and Gourds Headline the Fall Harvest By Cynthia Gibson

Use a drill with a doorknob hole cutter to make a 2-inch hole on one side. Use a drill with a doorknob hole cutter to make a 2-inch hole on one side. When the colors of orange, gold, red and the last of green make their way into our landscape, we know it is fall. Make way for Indian corn, bundles of cornstalks, and gourds, a mainstay of the fall table setting.

The gourd is in the same family of squashes and pumpkins. What makes it different is that once the top layer of its skin rots and falls off, what remains is a wood-like structure. As a decorative item, you see many of them in stores, either varnished or shellacked. This really is too bad, as they are most beautiful not shiny, but in their natural state.

Spoon gourds (which look like swans and other water birds), warted gourds and the crown of thorns gourds are all great for Halloween. It is believed that gourds were first grown in Africa, as a crop for making containers and not for food. The seeds were supposedly hand-carried to Asia, and ultimately made their way to the Americas.

The gourd could be used as a container, a ladle, whistle, flute, purse and rattle as well as for ceremonial rites. Today, artists carve designs out of the gourd, and turn them into pieces of sculpture and even simple birdhouses.

The bottle gourds are great for making birdhouses or nature’s maracas.

To make one, drill a hole (a drill bit attachment to your power drill works great) for the entrance, a few small holes in the bottom for drainage, and two holes near the stem for your string or wire; shake out the dried seeds and membrane through the hole, and you’re done. When drilling the entrance hole, be sure to place the hole up high enough on the gourd body so the young chicks don't fall out, and leave some of the dried material inside for birds to use in their nest.

If you see any mold beginning to grow, wipe with a solution of 50 percent water and 50 percent bleach or vinegar to return the gourd to a lovely beige color.

The Musquee de Provence pumpkins above are among the many cooking pumpkin varieties. The Musquee de Provence pumpkins above are among the many cooking pumpkin varieties. More than 50 species of birds in North America will nest in gourds, among them wrens, tufted titmouse, woodpeckers, and bluebirds. One bird especially fond of gourds is the purple martin. According to the Purple Martin Conservation Association, "Years of research on the breeding biology of purple martins has shown that martins have higher reproductive success in gourds than in any other type of housing."

Bottle gourds are also used to create nature's maracas. Place them on a tray in the sun and turn them daily. It will take a few weeks for the gourds to dry completely. When you shake the gourd and hear the seeds rattling inside, you now have a natural musical instrument.

It is also that time of year to select your pumpkins for Halloween and fall decorations.

Pumpkin Soup with Bacon Pumpkin Soup with Bacon Keep in mind there is a difference between pumpkins for carving and those for eating. Generally, those you see lined up in front of supermarkets are for carving. They make horrible pies, and what could be worse than watery squash?

Farm stands also grow pumpkins and have more varieties than what is found in the supermarket. It is more likely that you will find white pumpkins at a farm stand or farmer’s market. They are delightful, unusual, and make a very effective jack-o'-lantern, because the interior is still a deep orange color. When you place a small votive candle inside your pumpkin, the eerieglow of orange makes a dramatic contrast.

Pumpkins for eating are a different pumpkin altogether. They are called sugar or cheese pumpkins, and look more like Cinderella’s carriage. These are not as round as carving pumpkins; they are a bit flatter, and have much less water content. That is why they are great for pies. The names of cooking pumpkins are exotic: Musquee de Provence "Fairy Tale," Rouge Vif d'Etampes, or Cinderella pumpkin, "Jarrahdale" (a ghoulish grey-blue), or the classic Long Island Cheese. All of these varieties are for making pies, cakes, tarts and cheesecake. They all have intense pumpkin flavor and the colors are all a rich deep orange.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Pumpkins for rowing? An article caught my eye recently about a race in Damariscotta, Maine, where people grow gigantic pumpkins, hollow them out, get inside and race around a course on the Damariscotta River. These big boys weigh hundreds of pounds. There are two classes in the race. One for power pumpkins (yes, they attach a small motor to the back of their huge squash), and one for the paddling class. The latter is slower and more graceful as the participants bob up and down, paddling down the river in gargantuan pumpkins. I thought there just might be room for this regatta in the sailing capital of the world. If this doesn’t float your boat, you might be just as satisfied with a large slice of pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin Soup with Bacon

makes about 8 cups

1/2 lb. bacon
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 lbs. of squash or pumpkin flesh,
seeded, peeled and cubed
5 cups of water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 thick slices good bread, torn into
small, rough pieces.

Fry the bacon in a soup pot. Remove the bacon and drain. Pour off one tablespoon of the fat into a medium-sized frying pan, leaving the rest in the pot. You should have enough to coat the bottom of the pan.

Fry the onions in the bacon fat until they are translucent. Add the garlic and cook gently for about two minutes. Add a few pinches of salt and a few turns of the pepper mill. Add the squash and water, bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until the squash is very soft, about 20-30 minutes. Puree the soup until very smooth.

While the soup is simmering, sauté the bread in the bacon fat, crumbling in the reserved bacon until the bread begins to color and crisp. If the mixture seems too dry, add a splash of olive oil. Season with salt, if needed, and pepper.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle on about two tablespoons of the bread/bacon mixture in each bowl. Garnish with the thyme leaves.

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