With Halloween just around the corner, we are thinking about pumpkins and especially how to make this iconic squash edible. Among the pumpkins on display at the local Whole Foods are these fun, kid-sized versions. They're perfect for my "food appreciation" classes, where this week we continued our pickling theme with--what else?--pickled pumpkin.
6 cups cider vinegar
Usually we think of pumpkins as decoration. But anyone who's ever tasted pumpkin pie or pumpkin soup knows they make great food as well. In that regard, they are very similar to butternut squash. The meat is a bit less orange than the butternut, the flavor not quite as intense. But both squashes lend themselves to the same sort of treatments, with the same range of spices.
Once you get the pumpkin ready--meaning removing the tough skin and the squishy, seed-filled interior--this pickling process is very simple. Look for a pumpkin weighing about four pounds.
I like to use a large, serrated bread knife to skin the pumpkin. First cut away the stem end, then set pumpkin securely on a cutting board. Cut away the skin in long strips from top to bottom. Turn the pumpkin as you work your way around it. Once the skin is removed, cut the pumpkin in half, scrape out the interior (you can roast the seeds for snacking later) then slice the halves into crescent shapes about 3/4-inch thick. These can then be cut easily into bite-size pieces.
To make 6 pints:
3 1/2 pounds bite-size pumpkin pieces
2 tablespoons pickling salt (or additive-free sea salt)
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
3 bay leaves, broken into pieces
6 cups cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
1 2-inch piece ginger, cut into slivers
9 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
In a large mixing bowl, toss pumpkin pieces with salt. Transfer to a colander. Set the colander inside the bowl and allow to drain overnight. After removing the pumpkin liquid, transfer pumpkin pieces back into the bowl and cover with water. Using the colander, wash and drain the pumpkin pieces two or three times. Set aside.
Meanwhile, place the cloves, peppercorns and bay leaves in a spice ball or tie into a small sachet with cheesecloth. Place vinegar, sugar, spice ball, ginger and garlic in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and cook, covered, for 10 minutes.
Pack pumpkin pieces into hot pint canning jars. Ladle hot brine into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Screw lids onto jars and process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Allow the pickles to mellow several weeks in a cool, dark place before opening. Make them now, and open some for Halloween.