Thursday, September 29, 2011
PUMPKINS IN AMERICA: THE MYSTERY
The other day I was enjoying a bit of pumpkin at lunch - Echo makes a nice dish of plain steamed pumpkin cubes with various additions that go great with just about anything-- tasty, sweet, rich in all sorts of noots, long shelf-life etc. While savoring the experience, I got to thinking for about the 9,463rd time why Americans don't eat pumpkins straight as a vegetable, over there in the land of 600lb pumpkins they don't know what to do with other than carve into jack-o-lanterns in the autumn of every year or have biggest-pumpkin-in-the-county contests for the gourd that symbolizes Thanksgiving. Which is admirable enough, but why isn't the pumpkin used as food? Why are pumpkins so looked down upon in America? That splendid squash, standing proud and golden right next to the turkey, symbolizing Thanksgiving for plenty in difficult times! What has happened to that rep ever since?
They do put some pumpkin in cans, to use later for pies at other times of the year, when folks want pumpkin pie, if there really are any such times, but just go and look in any US cookbook for some pumpkin recipes and that’s basically it: pumpkin pie and pumpkin puree, muffins, bread, cookies, which like the few other recipes are basically a way of disguising pumpkins.
Even when I stayed with my frugal aunt and uncle on their country farm where they grew and ate turnips, parsnips, squashes, beets, pumpkins too, even ate turnip greens and rutabagas, but never pumpkin, other than as pie. Strange, no? All that food just tossed... to the pigs of course. Pigs love pumpkins, supreme truffle-finding gourmets that they are.
Here in Japan there is no Thanksgiving day, which is nice because this way we get to eat pumpkin whenever we want, since it's grown all the time because folks here love pumpkin as a food and do not look down upon it as some cultures do without knowing why.
In Japan the main food pumpkin, comparatively less eye-appealing than the shunned US variety, is a smallish, green, rough-skinned pumpkin that is golden inside, much like the US pumpkin, sweet and soft like any squash when cooked, and I would guess somewhat the same texture and flavor, but there my comparison must go hungry, because I realize that never in the American portion of my life have I eaten any steamed pumpkin!
Why should this be? When I first came to Japan back in the early seventies and looked for brown rice, folks were aghast at the idea. Back in feudal Japan, when only aristocrats could afford white rice, and commoners had to eat brown rice, white rice became a status symbol, and so it remained even centuries later, even though brown rice was tastier and more nutritious. Does the US pumpkin historically have a white rice equivalent?
It is a mystery.