From M., 8 April 2011, green pumpkins – can they be eaten?
Q: I have several ripe Queensland Blue pumpkins almost ready to harvest, but I have an equal number of unripe, green pumpkins about half the size of the ripe ones. As we are heading into autumn here, I doubt that they will get a chance to ripen fully before the winter hits. Do you have any recipe suggestions for half ripe pumpkins?
A: Thanks for your e-mail. I knew it would happen at some point – a question that totally stumped me. So I turned to the Internets.
Thanks to the horticulture school at Cornell (my brother’s alma mater – shout out!), I now can tell you that 1) absent a frost, you don’t need to harvest those pumpkins until the vines die and the pumpkins fall off their stems, so it may be a good while before you actually HAVE to harvest your pumpkins, and 2) if you do have to harvest unripe pumpkins, you can ripen them artificially. Put the pumpkins a bag of apples, which emit ethylene gas – by the way, this technique works for other unripe fruits – and close up the bag. The ethylene will ripen the pumpkins somewhat, if not as satisfactorily as on the vine.
What do I mean by “not as satisfactorily”? Well, your pumpkins may be a little spongy and not terribly sweet. Mind you, I don’t have any experience with unripe pumpkins, but if they’re anything like other fruits that are ripened by ethylene – tomatoes instantly come to mind – the resulting “ripened” pumpkin won’t taste all that stellar. It won’t hurt you to eat these pumpkins, but you should take the necessary steps to bring out their sugar content (such as by roasting), and combine them with strong flavors. Indian and Mexican tastes come to mind – the coriander and cumin are great complements.
Green pumpkin soup
This soup doubles as a sauce for noodles – just reduce it slightly so it clings better. Serve with a whole wheat linguine or penne, or a Japanese soba noodle, hearty with buckwheat. The roasting brings out the pumpkin’s sugars, and the coconut milk adds additional sweetness.
To roast pumpkin, cut it in half (or quarters if it’s a large pumpkin), scoop out the seeds and fibers, and salt lightly. Drizzle the cut surfaces with olive oil (not too much), and roast in a 400F/205C oven until tender enough to scoop.
1 large onion, peeled and diced
about 1 1/2 lb pumpkin flesh prepared by roasting
1/2 can (about 7 1/2 ounces) coconut milk (you may substitute light coconut milk; do not use coconut water)
1 quart chicken stock or substitute vegetable stock if cooking for vegetarians
1 tbsp Madras curry powder or another hot curry blend
1/2 tsp ground coriander
pinch cayenne pepper
4-5 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
Place a stock pot over medium heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp vegetable oil. Sweat the onion until tender. Add the curry powder, coriander, and cayenne and sauté a minute more until fragrant. Add the roasted squash, herbs and the stock. Simmer until the squash is tender enough to fall apart when pressed with a fork, about 10 minutes
Remove the thyme branches and bay leaves. Add the coconut milk and simmer another five minutes. Purée in a blender, in batches if necessary. To achieve a really smooth texture, process the purée through a fine sieve or tamis (you may skip this step). Return the purée to a sauce pot and bring to a simmer; reduce to the desired texture. The soup should be creamy and not too thick. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve as a soup garnished with flash-fried curry leaves or fried red onion or crème fraîche, or as a sauce over soba or whole wheat pasta.