I can't remember what birthday I was preparing to celebrate when I had my Pumpkin Birthday, but let's say for the sake of argument it was 20 years ago.
Each year my birthday falls right around Halloween. Where I grew up, fall didn't have changing leaves or a subtle shift into winter. Instead, fall brought along the unpredictable Santa Ana winds, which raced through my hometown at speeds of over 40 mph easily. My siblings, with their birthdays in the spring and summer, had tea parties on the back patio and treasure hunts in the front yard for their birthdays. Mine were regularly confined to the indoors.
My mom was pretty willing to do whatever it took to make birthdays special. So somehow between the two of us we came up with the idea to make my 3-course birthday meal entirely out of pumpkin-based foods (I say "the two of us," but I really mean my mom.) This birthday morphed into my Pumpkin Birthday in my memory.
Years have faded the memories of what the appetizer for Pumpkin Birthday was, but I'm willing to bet it was some kind of pumpkin seed dish. My mom and I have also forgotten what we had for dessert that night, though if there is a recipe for pumpkin cake floating around out there in the ether, I'll bet she found a way to make it that day. The main course of pumpkin stew, though, is embedded in my mind. After all, how often do you get to eat food out of a pumpkin?
This year I had an idea of trying to recreate Pumpkin Birthday, at least in part. So I had my mom dig up the recipe and send it to me, and a friend and I went around to two grocery stores to get all the ingredients to cook it for myself, my friend and her husband. And then, we found, we had a whole lot of free time.
The recipe calls for four hours of cooking time, plus prep. Definitely not something that will feed hungry kids when you're fresh in the door from work. Thinking back, I'm guessing my mom probably came home early that day to make it. But even (approximately) 20 years later, it was still pretty fun to recreate.
Basically it's a beef stew that simmers inside of a pumpkin for a couple of hours as well, which allows the interior of the pumpkin flesh to get soft enough that it can be scooped in before serving. The recipe doesn't call for this, but my friend and I agreed that some allspice might make the pumpkin stew taste a little more like other pumpkin products, such as pie or bread. On the other hand, this isn't meant to be a sweet-tasting recipe, so it's entirely a matter of choice.
The good news is, pumpkin is pretty nutritious, even as far as vegetables go. According to Nutrition Facts, a cooked or boiled pumpkin has only 49 calories per cup, with no cholesterol, no saturated or trans fat and only 2 micrograms of sodium.
Ingredients for pumpkin stew are:
- 2 pounds beef stew meet, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
- 1 cup water
- 3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 4 medium carrots, sliced
- 1 large green pepper, cut into half-inch pieces (we used a red pepper)
- 4 cloves of garlic, minched
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3/4 cup dried apricots
- 3/4 cup dried prunes
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons beef bouillon granules
- 1 can (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 pumpkin, 10 to 12 pounds
Use a large pot. Brown the meat in the 2 tablespoons of oil. Add water, potatoes, carrots, pepper, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Cover and summer for 2 hours.
Stir in dried apricots, prunes, buillon and tomatoes.
While the stew cooks, prep the pumpkin. Wash the outside. Cut a 6-inch circle around the stem. Remove the top and set aside. Remove the seeds and fibers.
Place the pumpkin in a shallow, sturdy banking pan. Spoon the stew into the pumpkin and replace the top.
Brush the outside of the pumpkin with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours or until the pumpkin is tender. Gently transfer the pumpkin to a serving dish. Serve the stew from a pumpkin, scooping out a little pumpkin from the sides with each serving. Serve with crusty bread.
Confession: I have no idea what a tender pumpkin looks like. However, at around 90 minutes after my friend and I put the pumpkin in the oven, it was slumped over to one side and some stew had fallen out into the bottom. After we were done eating and had transferred the rest of the stew into leftover containers, the bottom of the pumpkin and cooked clean through.
Maybe it was because we skipped the bottom when we brushed the pumpkin with oil, or maybe it just doesn't take a lot of time to cook a pumpkin tender. Still, if I were to recreate Pumpkin Birthday again before my birthday, I'd watch out for the first sign of the pumpkin tilting to one side.