For the Love of Pumpkins

Pumpkins are amazing plants. Intriguing and delicious, they are one of America’s gifts to world food and are fun to grow and eat.


Pie pumpkins are smaller with thicker stems.

Pumpkins were domesticated and cultivated by Native Americans long before Columbus. They valued them as a nutritious food that would keep well into the winter. Not only is the meat nutritious but also the seeds are packed with important vitamins and minerals

Pumpkins exist in enormous diversity. Today, most people buy one in the fall and carve it for Halloween, or just use it as an ornament.  Then it gets tossed out. Most sold for carving and decoration are field or cow pumpkins. They are edible, but the ring of flesh outside the seed cavity is usually thin and the meat is stringy and needs straining. Transforming cow pumpkins into pie takes work.


We grow and buy pie pumpkins. Most pie pumpkins are small, but not all small pumpkins are pie pumpkins. Usually pie pumpkins have an especially thick stem and are heavy for their size. Bred to have dense, non-stringy, bright orange flesh, they are relatively easy to process. Pie pumpkins may be small but they are as interesting and ornamental as the cow variety.

Growing pumpkins is a snap. Buy pie pumpkin seed and plant them in hills after spring’s last frost. Pumpkins love rich soil, and working compost into the hill will invite enthusiastic growth. We don’t even weed our pumpkin patch and only thin the young plants so there are two or three per hill. By September the bright orange fruits are ready to pick when the vines dry up.

Well cured pumpkins keep several months when stored in a cool, dry, dark place.  Just don’t let them freeze.

To process pumpkin meat cut into large chunks.  Place skin side up in a pan with about an inch of water.  Cover. Steam until meat is tender to the fork.  Drain and cool until comfortable to handle but still warm to the touch.  Scoop out the cooked meat into a colander.  Squash the meat through the colander into a bowl, scraping the inside and outside periodically.  Store in closed container until ready to use in pies or muffins.

Although we enjoy most of our pumpkins in pies there are lots of other ways to eat them.  Chunks of their flesh can be added to stew. Hollowed out and baked they can become a container for a savory soup or a sweet dessert when sprinkled with spices and brown sugar.

A favorite Yankee family pie recipe from Yvonne Fellows that has been in our family for three generations. Recipe makes two pies:

2 ¼ cups processed pumpkin meat

¼ cup molasses

¾ cup sugar

(Try Penzeys Spices for superb flavor)

1 ¼ tsp cinnamon

¾ tsp ginger

3 to 4 medium eggs to bind the meat

3 cups milk

Mix ingredients in order given.  Bake in unbaked crusts:  400 degrees for 25 minutes (this gives you just enough time to clean up dishes). Turn down heat to 350 about 50 minutes or until done. Test for doneness by inserting a table knife into the center of the pies.  When it comes out mostly clean, pies are done.  Turn off oven. Let pies set in oven if you wish. Serve warm or cold plain or with real vanilla ice cream.

Granny’s Pumpkin Puffs from Jacqueline Hull in Virginia

Mix the dry ingredients together:

1 ½ cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ cup sugar

(Try Penzeys Spices for superb flavor)

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

Cut in ¼ cup shortening to the above

Mix the wet and cut into the above mixture until just moist.  Lumps are OK.

1 beaten egg

½ cup cooked pumpkin

½ cup milk

Fold in: ½ cup raisins.

Fill muffin tins 2/3 full. Sprinkle 2 TBSP sugar over the batter. Bake 400 degrees 15-20 minutes.


New Porch Railings Solve Home Dilemma

Wooden vertical balusters

Old railings on back deck limit view.

Early this spring we sat on our front porch staring at needed work and a home dilemma.

Our front porch and back deck were enclosed in traditional wood railings and balusters. About every other year the paint peeled. Scraping and repainting were tedious and time consuming chores that we didn’t want to do repeatedly. Also, each side of our home offers gorgeous views of oaks, maples, and a prairie plus the wildlife that visits our feeders and yard. From indoors, seeing through the heavy wood balusters and rails was hard.

Instead of scraping and repainting again, we paid a visit to Ogden and Adams, our neighborhood home store, and ordered an aluminum railing system for the front porch and a cable rail for the back deck. Then we ripped out the wood and installed the new porch railings ourselves.  We’re not carpenters so we watched installation videos and read the instructions that came with the materials. It took time figuring, cutting and assembling, but we were able to successfully install the railings ourselves.  And once in place we were delighted with their appearance and the amazing ability to see into the yard.  These products are carried by most major lumberyards and home stores.

Cable deck rails

After installation. Easy to see through.

The white aluminum rails and balusters should eliminate all future need to scrape and paint, but even better is the increased visibility they offer. The old balusters were 1 ½ inches across, while the aluminum ones are but 3/4ths of an inch. That may not sound like much but  the front porch has nearly 60 balusters, meaning that we now have about 40 more inches of clear unobstructed vision. Essentially the new ones offer only half the visual blockage of the old wood ones. This lets more light enter the house and more cool breeze to waft through on hot summer days.  From the road the difference is indiscernible. The impact of the cable system on the back deck is even more dramatic. The tightly stretched stainless steel cables are nearly invisible and are remarkably easy to see through. When we peer at our bird feeder our eyes focus in the distance and the nearer cables become a mere shadow.

We’re delighted with our new railings. Safe, low maintenance, attractive, and easy to see through!


Hot moist weather is a boon to crabgrass. This European native was brought to America centuries ago and is a hated lawn and garden weed.

Crabgrass is an annual that sprouts as soon as moist soil reaches about 60 degrees. It dies at first frost but not before producing thousands of seeds that persist in the soil a long time waiting for proper growing conditions. Rapidly growing crabgrass can quickly overwhelm a vegetable garden or make a lawn look splotchy.

Crabgrass grows close to the ground. When its nodes touch the soil they quickly take root, enabling the plant to rapidly expand outward. Homeowners seeking the perfect lawn ironically create perfect growing conditions for the weed. Because it hugs the ground close mowing stresses desirable grass species while favoring prostrate crabgrass. Shallow watering also helps the shallow rooted annual.

Crabgrass comes with benefits. It reduces erosion by quickly covering bare soil, and many species of domestic livestock and wildlife enjoy munching its leaves. Some wild animals enjoy its plentiful seeds.

Herbicides can reduce crabgrass abundance but it’s virtually impossible to eliminate it from a lawn or garden. Hand pulling will keep it away from tomatoes and beans, and setting the mower higher may reduce its lawn abundance.

When you find crabgrass in your yard consider this: Crabgrass is like Mother Nature’s stitches. Severely cut your hand or leg and the doctor will hold the wound closed with stitches. When homeowners bare the soil, they make it vulnerable to erosion. Think opening a wound. Enter crabgrass. It grows amazingly fast on bare soil and keeps it in place during heavy rains. Crabgrass has its place in nature, and we should all appreciate those plants able to quickly colonize and stabilize soil.