Archive for Wednesday, October 20, 1999

FALL IS TIME TO MAKE MOST OF GOURDSPUMPKINS

October 20, 1999

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How do you harvest and decorate gourds?

Fall is the perfect time to harvest and decorate with gourds. According to Karen Gast, an extension horticulturist with Kansas State University, gourds are ready to be picked when the vines die back and the skin is not easily punctured by a fingernail.

The ideal way to harvest a gourd is with a sharp knife or shears. Pick only disease-free, mature gourds and leave 1 to 2 inches of stem. Then wash gourds in warm, soapy water to remove dirt and debris. Don't use a brush to clean the gourds -- it will probably scratch the tender, uncured skin.

Gourds must cure for two to three weeks in a warm, dark, dry place with good air circulation. They should be turned every day. Once gourds are dry, they can be polished with a soft cloth and paste wax or dipped in a 1:1 solution of shellac and denatured alcohol.

Painting and wood-burning are popular ways to decorate gourds. Acrylic paints work best. They are permanent and clean up with water. Both painting and wood-burning should be done before you shellac your gourds.

How do you prepare gourds to use for birdhouses?

To make birdhouses, the gourds need to be dried until the seeds are loose and rattle inside. Once they are dry, they can be sanded, polished, shellacked and cut to create birdhouses.

How do I keep a decorated pumpkin from rotting so fast?

According to Chuck Marr, an extension horticulturist at Kansas State University, selection is the first thing to consider. When selecting a pumpkin, if you can stick your fingernail through the rind, it isn't set; therefore, the pumpkin will dry out. If the rind is tough, the pumpkin isn't likely to dry out as fast. You also should leave the stem on so that water won't collect in the area and begin to rot the pumpkin.

Once the pumpkin is carved, there aren't many ways to make it last longer.

The minute you carve it, two things start to happen. First, it starts to shrivel; second, it can start to rot -- especially if temperatures are warm.

Marr recommends wiping the cut surfaces of the pumpkin with a disinfectant, such as Lysol or a 10:1 bleach-and-water solution, to keep pumpkin-rotting bacteria at bay. Other ways to extend the life of carved pumpkins include spreading petroleum jelly on cut surfaces to prevent drying and soaking shriveled pumpkins in cold water.

Even with the best efforts for preservation, a carved pumpkin probably won't last longer than a week. However, uncut pumpkins that are painted last much longer than their carved counterparts so pumpkin painting may be something to consider.

Can pumpkin seeds be roasted?

Yes! In fact, pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, iron and magnesium.

According to the American Snack Food Assn., Americans eat about 1.6 million pounds of pumpkin seeds each year. That is an increase of more than 700,000 pounds since 1990.

To make your snack, rinse the seeds to separate them from the pumpkin flesh and "strings." Sprinkle salt on the moist seeds or soak them for an hour in a salt brine, prepared by mixing 1 cup salt in 1 quart of water. Place the seeds in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 to 45 minutes. When seeds turn brown, they are done. Smaller seeds will roast faster and should be checked after 30 minutes.

Can the pumpkin pulp be cooked?

Definitely! To prepare the pulp for cooking, remove the seeds and stringy portion. Place the pulp in an oven-proof baking dish, cover and bake in a 325 degree oven until tender, approximately 45-60 minutes. Cool and mash or put through a ricer, strainer, or blender.

Pumpkin pulp can also be steamed or cooked in boiling water. For boiling, cook, covered, in a small amount of water for 25-30 minutes or until tender. Since pumpkin is a watery vegetable, a large amount of cooking water is undesirable. After cooking, drain, mash well, and place in a strainer or colander to remove any excess liquid.

Once the pumpkin has been mashed or put through a ricer, use in your favorite pumpkin recipe, i.e. pie, bread, cookies, soup or vegetable dish.

A 5-pound pumpkin will yield approximately 4-1/2 cups of mashed, cooked pumpkin. However, the pulp from a jack-o'-lantern will not yield as much due to the fact that a fair amount of pumpkin remains in "jack".

-- Susan Krumm is an extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper. She can be reached at 843-7058.

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