Had a wife and couldn’t keep her!
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well!.
If you happen to Google this nursery rhyme you will find all kinds of unsavoury interpretations as to its meaning. So, if you want to keep on enjoying the rhyme for the fun of the whimsical childhood imagery it conjures up then don’t bother.
The smiling Betty Boop clone, waving cheerfully from the window of her giant pumpkin home, that you fondly recall from your long ago nursery rhyme picture books, will be no more. (Spoiler alert!) She will be blown away in the wind, just as surely as her cremated remains from the dried pumpkin shell where perverse Peter peremptorily put them, or she will be displaced from your mental shelf of childhood icons by a tarnished trollop.
By now you may be wondering why on earth I am blogging about pumpkins and pumpkin shells in the first place. Could it be that my long marathon of cooking, food processing, and freezing pumpkin yesterday has messed with my head? When I asked Rolly to bring me all the pumpkins to cook up I did feel a little punked alright.
He brought me fourteen of them— all bigger than a basketball. These had all grown on only two plants, and he had just finished gathering them from the garden which he is now readying for winter. If it wasn’t already past Thanksgiving here in Canada, and just past Halloween to boot, then there would normally have been takers on a few pumpkins among friends and neighbours. But most folks around here have all sorts of them just now. If they are the thrifty sort, like I am, they may have cooked up their jack-o-lantern’s remains for pie pumpkin already, or their porch display squash and pumpkins for the makings of yummy soups, veggie sides, and desserts later on. The not so thrifty ones will be buying their squash fresh as they need them, or using lack lustre canned pumpkin for pie making and soups.
The one difficulty the average person has with doing up squash or pumpkin is that the hard shells of most of them are dangerously difficult to cut open. Smashing them is the easiest option and also, in a strange way, very satisfying emotionally for those with pent-up angst. It is actually a lot like what I experience when I snap bubble wrap— only with a much more sudden and thrilling rush to the reward centre of my brain. I can’t really account for this in my personality at all, anymore than I can account for the deep satisfaction I get from burning things up— brush, branches, leaves, old financial papers that now, two weeks after the “Big Burn”, our new financial advisor is asking for…
Today I am entitled to honestly call myself a real Ghost Buster. By my reckoning this is by virtue of the fact that I spent part of yesterday afternoon busting open Grey Ghost pumpkins. So I can, really— if I ever want to. Although I doubt that I’ll ever choose to put that on my résumé…in a million years.
The solid “Thunk” of the plastic bag-enclosed Grey Ghost pumpkin against the cement floor of my laundry room was oddly invigorating. I could even feel it reverberate through my sock feet. The bonus was the accompanying “Snap!” on a one second time delay for some of the ones that split almost exactly in half. It reminded me of the way my father used to split apples for us as kids, with a mysterious twist of his hands. It was satisfying.
Despite what some of you may be thinking— how my pleasure in the whole experience of splitting pumpkin after pumpkin might not be entirely benign— forget it! I certainly don’t harbour any ill will towards anyone at all. In fact I would be the last one to condone that you deliberately think of anyone you don’t like in the midst of this activity… like that jerk who cut you off in traffic… or that imbecile tax auditor… or the moron teacher who failed you in physics class two years in a row. Some sketchy anger management counsellor might have told you to vent your anger in this way in the past, but I’m telling you not to. Just ignore the suggestion! With all those seeds spilling out across the floor, it’s just a little too weird! This pumpkin thunking thing is a lot like blowing off fireworks— just deeply satisfying in some strange unaccountable way. But if you really do deliberately think about someone in particular when you are letting off fireworks, then take up another leisure activity! Quilting, perhaps.
Oh yes! Back to work, or at least an account of that work! First I scrubbed the mud off the pumpkins, and then put them, in turn, into a tough plastic bag, (two might have been wiser but the same Wal-Mart bag lasted me through all ten repeat performances without ripping.) If dropping the pumpkin doesn’t split it, just put a little force behind your second attempt, but make sure your bag is big enough to twist at the top to keep everything from flying out. Then all you will need to do is clean out the seeds and cook.
I used three methods simultaneously. In the oven on two trays, with a little water on each, I was able to cook two pumpkins at a time with all four halves split- side down. I tented the trays with foil, and reused it on more pumpkins later. In my two pressure cookers, simultaneously steaming away, but staggered for time, I cooked even more. I only cut the pumpkin halves where necessary to fit the sections into the pot. Cooking in chunks as large as possible meant a little more time in the pot, but little prep time with the knife. Scooping away the cooked pumpkin from the bowl- like shells was fairly speedy later too. Besides these two methods, I also was cooking half a pumpkin at a time with a little water underneath and the cut side down, with saran wrap covering it all. I used the largest casserole dish that would fit into my microwave.
As the afternoon progressed the humidity built up, as did the very notable (but not in a pleasant scented candle sort of way) smell of pumpkin. I’m not so sure Peter Pumpkin Eater’s wife would have been smiling in her humble pumpkin shell abode, if it was anything like our pumpkiny palace yesterday around the supper hour, just as I finished up. Next year I’ll put a little pot of cinnamon and spices in water on a back burner to complement the musky pumpkin smell that intensified with each additional pumpkin cooked.
After the cooked pumpkin was removed into two big stainless steel bowls I could have frozen it as is, in soft chunks, but I chose to puree it. I used my food processor, which worked through it unattended, as well as my Ninja blender, which is a real work horse but requires a hand on the lid to keep the On switch engaged. Before long I had pumpkin for packaging up for the freezer—forty six pounds of it from the ten biggest specimens that I chose to do up! The Grey Ghost pumpkins are extra nutritious— far more than most squash, and they also have a delicious sweet taste and very creamy texture that we enjoy, so the quantity was warranted.
Talk about shell shocked! The dozen laying hens we have out back got a two bucket dumping of the remains of the Grey Ghosts in their yard this morning. Now they can polish off whatever cooked pumpkin is still clinging to the shells and even eat the softened shells if they want to. Our eggs will be even more nutritious, with even more brilliant orange yokes. Hmmm? If I bake some pumpkin loaf cakes up with some of that pumpkin puree and those eggs over the next day or so, do you suppose I could possibly call it health food?
It sounds good to me!