Let your pumpkins live up to their beyond-pie potential.
Gorgeous pumpkins and winter squash in their fantastic array of colors, shapes, and sizes are displayed in such profusion this time of year that it’s hard not to buy too many – either for cooking or for decorating. It used to be that edible pumpkins (as opposed to the large field pumpkins that are destined to become jack-o-lanterns) were a specialty crop that was rarely available commercially, but now all manner of smaller pumpkins grown for the table are showing up not just at farmers’ markets but in supermarkets, too. Varieties such as Sugar Pie, Baby Bear, and Cheese pumpkins, all meaty and wonderfully sweet, can be baked, steamed, puréed, stuffed — or even pickled.
The greatest challenge to cooking a pumpkin or winter squash is cutting through the thick skin to get at the tender flesh. I’ve found that putting the whole pumpkin in a microwave for 2 to 3 minutes softens the shell enough to cut through it more easily but it’s still best to use care during the cutting process, cutting slowly and steadily and even wearing an oven mitt on the non-cutting hand. Or, a more dramatic, messier method — and one that kids really enjoy — is to hold the pumpkin over your head and drop it onto newspapers spread on a hard floor. It will break into pieces. Once inside, use a large spoon to scrape out the seeds.
This unique way to treat a pumpkin results in tender, translucent pickles that are somewhat akin to pickled watermelon rind. They’re especially welcome on the Thanksgiving table.
Makes about 2 cups
- Half a 2- to 3-pound cooking pumpkin
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- ¾ cup cider vinegar
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 2 slices unpeeled fresh ginger
- 1 thick slice lemon peel
- Half a cinnamon stick
- Cut pumpkin into large wedges, remove seeds, and peel with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Cut into 1-inch cubes.
- Dissolve salt in 2 cups cold water in a large bowl. Add pumpkin, stir to combine, cover, and set aside at cool room temperature for 6 to 12 hours. Drain into a colander and rinse well.
- Combine vinegar, sugar, ¼ cup water, ginger, lemon peel, and cinnamon stick in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and add the pumpkin. Cover and simmer over low heat until pumpkin is tender and translucent, 10 to 20 minutes.
- Cool pickles in their syrup, then cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or for up to 3 weeks.