In a historic town like Cape May, seasonal decorations that are quaint and natural are often seen in autumn! I know that some folks begin to decorate for Christmas in mid-November, but others hold out until after Thanksgiving.
Pumpkins are often scattered here and there in doorways and along paths in the spirit of an abundant harvest rather than as a remnant of Halloween. These Early American native vegetables come in many sizes from mini-pumpkins to the traditional round pumpkins – so loved for jack o’lanterns – to great, big, huge pumpkins used as decorative focal points.Cooks also associate pumpkins with Thanksgiving using them in making soups, pies, cookies and cakes. As the leaves fall, pumpkins often seem to pop up like mushrooms along walks, next to mailboxes, on porches, on hearths and even on the kitchen table.
They are so bright and pretty that they are a natural for autumn decorating. A typical fall dinner party could have a fresh pumpkin as a soup tureen, one from which to serve hot cider, another one for the centerpiece and decorated mini-pumpkins as favors. All can be gaily trimmed with or filled with fall leaves, berries, pods, grasses and brightly colored mums.
Choose hard, firm pumpkins that have good sturdy stems. Wash the outside of a pumpkin with a strong bleach solution to prevent mold. Usually it is best to hollow out a pumpkin as close to when it will be used as possible (i.e. night before or morning of). Save all seeds to roast or to feed the birds. Some folks tell me that they also spray straight bleach on a pumpkin that sits on a porch or steps to help prevent animals from eating it. The hot pepper spray used to repel rabbits from the garden might also keep squirrels away.
Thanksgiving Pumpkin centerpiece
To make a pretty centerpiece in a pumpkin, first cut the top from the pumpkin, remove the seeds and place a wet piece of floral foam (oasis) in the opening of the pumpkin with at least one inch of the foam above the opening. This is so you can hang leaves, berries and other materials over the edge. Precut blooms and allow them to sit in water and drink for several hours before placing in the foam if possible. Grasses, pods, colorful leaves and other natural foliages found in the garden work well.
Arrange the grasses or other tall materials in the center for a centerpiece or in the back if it is to be a one-sided arrangement. Place brightly colored mums in a pleasing pattern. Add berries, leaves, and other fall pods or blooms in an eye-catching manner. I like to add some extra long cinnamon sticks, a gingerbread man or two, an apple and even an artificial monarch butterfly. The arrangement will last for days, longer if you are careful to add water to the foam daily. To prolong life, store in a refrigerator in between uses.
Mini-pumpkin Thanksgiving favors
Matching favors can be made with small pumpkins for each guest. Wash them in a bleach solution. Let them dry and then glue small pieces of dried materials around stem. Hot glue works best, but any tacky white glue may be used, especially if young children are doing this project. Tiny acorns, rose hips, spikes of basil seeds, purple statice or salvia, strawflowers, yarrow, bits of leaves, and any other colorful everlasting may be used. These last for months, but can be used for the Thanksgiving table. Sometimes they will even dry and can be used for years. This is really a fun project for scouts, 4-H members and students of all ages.
Enjoying Pumpkins in the Kitchen
A delicious, creamy pumpkin soup can be made to serve from a pumpkin. Hollow out a pumpkin, keeping the top for a lid. Pour hot water in before serving the soup to make the container warm. Drain and fill with pumpkin soup.
To make this look really festive, first place the pumpkin in the center of the table or on a serving tray. Surround it with boxwood or arborvitae, then add heads of mums, berries, tiny gourds, persimmons, nuts, berries from pyracantha, deciduous holly berries, cones, pods and any other colorful plant. I love to tuck in some bright leaves here and there to make this look like a lushbotanical wreath. Serve the soup from this and top each bowl with a bright orange nasturtium if you still have them! If time permits mini-pumpkins can even be hollowed out for soup bowls for each guest!
These can also be used to bake small soufflé or pies. Hollow out small pumpkin shells to bake individual little mini-pies, sans the fattening crust. Just partially precook your favorite pie filling in a glass bowl in the microwave or double boiler and pour the hot filling into the small pumpkins and sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon. (Partially cooking the filling makes baking time shorter so the pumpkins don’t cook into mush. Then pop a tray of theses mini-pies into a hot oven (375°-400°) for about 30 minutes. WATCH them so they do not over cook, as all ovens are different. Allow to cool somewhat, but serve the same day, warm or at room temp. Some like a dollop of whip cream on them.
Think about the early people in this area appreciating the vitamins and taste of fresh pumpkin each autumn.
Huge Pumpkin Cake
Your favorite Bundt pound cake can be made two times. Frost with an orange-colored frosting. For the stem, frost a small cupcake green. To make an extra large pumpkin cake, bake two Bundt cakes and attach the flat sides together, then frost with orange to resemble a pumpkin.
This is how I cook pumpkins the easy way
Cooking pumpkins is easy if you cook with the skin on. This is the healthiest way to use pumpkin as the fiber and many vitamins are in the skin. First scrub and cut out large hard blemishes. Then cut into medium size pieces. Put a little water on the bottom of a large heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and steam until the pumpkin is soft. Drain most of water when cooked, but allow some to help the blender or food processor pulverize the pumpkin, skin and all. The skin is full of vitamins and fibers and should be used. Some people put the pumpkin through an old fashion food mill with a crank handle; this works well and takes out some of the skin, but still retains a bright color and good flavor. For an old fashion pie, reserve a couple of cubes of cooked pumpkin cube and add to the pie. Measure the pumpkin into two-cup portions and freeze in zip bags.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Don’t waste the seeds after cooking your pie or making jack-o’-lanterns. Instead, roast and salt the seeds for a delicious and nutritious snack. Let the children slosh through the fibers in pursuit of the slippery seeds, it is so much fun.
- 1 Quart water
- 2 Tablespoons salt
- 2 Cups pumpkin seeds
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil or melted, unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 250°F. 2. Pick through seeds and remove as much of the stringy fibers as possible. Bring the water and salt to a boil. Add the seeds and boil for 10 minutes. Drain, spread on kitchen towel or paper towel and pat dry.
Place the seeds in a bowl and toss with oil or melted butter. Spread evenly on a large cookie sheet or roasting pan. Place pan in a preheated oven and roast the seeds for 30 to 40 minutes. Stir about every 10 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. Cool the seeds, then shell and eat or pack in airtight containers or zip closure bags and refrigerate until ready to eat.
Yield: about 2 cups
Easy Pumpkin Soup
Be sure to serve in a hollowed out pumpkin, a favorite for fall events at our house
- 6 Cups chicken broth into which 3 tablespoons of flour has been whisked
- 3 Large potatoes, chopped into bite size pieces
- 4 Sliced carrots
- 2 Peeled turnips
- 1 Medium onion, chopped
- 8 Tablespoons butter (1 stick) No substitutes
- 2 Cups pumpkin (cooked or canned) or butternut squash
- 1 Tablespoon salt (less optional)
- Parsley, a generous handful chopped
- 1 Teaspoon nutmeg
- Dash of white pepper
- 2 Cups light cream or half and half
Sauté onion, carrots and potato in butter until light golden. Add chicken broth. Simmer until soft. Add pumpkin. Stir. Put in food processor. If you like cream soup, add rest of ingredients and simmer. Serve in a hollowed-out pumpkin that has been warmed with hot water.
Place the pumpkin on a large round tray and surround it with freshly picked sage, fall leaves, bits of boxwood, arborvitae berries, small gourds, tiny apples, cones or any other color fall botanicals.
Sprinkle the soup with nutmeg, toasted pumpkin seed hearts or sunflower seeds and finely chopped parsley.
*Serve piping hot! This has become a holiday tradition in our house
Delicious Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
- 3 Cups flour
- 2 Cups sugar
- 4 Eggs
- 1 Teaspoon vanilla
- 2 Sticks melted butter
- 2 Tablespoons water, juice or molasses, depending on taste
- 1 Can pumpkin (about 2 cups of fresh)
- 2 Teaspoons pumpkin spice
- 1 Teaspoon salt
- 2 Teaspoons baking soda
- 2 Teaspoons baking powder
- 1 Cup nuts
- ½ Cup raisins
- ½ Cup chopped apples or coconut optional
Beat together sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add pumpkin, oil, and butter. Beat until fluffy. Gently stir in dry ingredients. Fold in nuts, apples or coconut. Bake at 350° in greased, floured Bundt pan for 1 hour or until test shows cake is done.
- 8 Ounces cream cheese
- 4 Ounces very soft butter
- 1 Pound powdered sugar
- 1 Teaspoon vanilla
- 2 Tablespoons orange juice or milk.
Beat until fluffy. Ice the cake.