From ugly to original, these gourds can be used in many ways

WYKOFF, Minn. — As days shorten and air cools, thoughts gradually turn from the rush and laze of summer to autumn's crisp coming.

They may look orange now, but these Rouge Vif D'Etampes pumpkins will turn red before the harvest.

WYKOFF, Minn. — As days shorten and air cools, thoughts gradually turn from the rush and laze of summer to autumn's crisp coming.

Pumpkins long have been a symbol of fall, but jack-o-lanterns aren't the fruit's only purpose.Pumpkins can serve in a variety of culinary roles, from sweet to savory, and can make festive fall decorations on their own without carving. These garden fruits can be especially gratifying because they're one of the handful of plants growers have to wait all summer long to offer up to others and enjoy themselves.

Kelly Davidson, along with her husband, Don, is in her 10th season of growing pumpkins and gourds at Prosper Valley Farm outside Wykoff. She sells these, fellow fall decorators broomcorn and colorful dried corn, along with an array of other plants, produce, eggs and, occasionally, other items, at the Rochester Downtown Farmers Market. There, she usually can be found with the white Prosper Valley Farm bus filled to the brim with goods to sell, and she frequently finds buyers for all she brings.

The Davidsons settled on Prosper Valley Farm 11 years ago and have pushed and prodded the dirt and added projects and made improvements every year. Kelly grows items for market on three to four acres and markets the farm's goods while Don helps out where he can and works off the farm to support their rural life.

"I was a city girl," Davidson said. "I had to learn how to be a farmer. Now, I'm out in the field and just doing it."


Kelly likes growing pumpkins for their relative ease. After much trial and error, she learned they grow well in the farm's soils. She doesn't spray for weeds, so there can be a lot of hand weeding when the plants are young, but it's OK to let them go and to rely on a big tiller to take out weeds between rows once the plants get established, Davidson said.

Davidson grows 15 varieties of pumpkins and nine types of gourds. She estimates she grows about 40 percent primarily decorative pumpkins, 40 percent gourds, 10 percent pie pumpkins and 10 percent jack-o-lantern-style pumpkins. Always looking to do more and try something new, she already has two pumpkin varieties on her list to grow next year. She is particularly fond of anything other than traditional orange pumpkins.

"Everybody does those, so I do something different," Davidson said. "At the market in general, I try to do stuff others aren't."

Customers seem to be glad she is, because she routinely sells out at the market and she often gets calls for specific autumn accents, such as jumbo pumpkins. Customers dress up mailboxes, garages, wagons and lawns with harvest-themed fare to cheer friends and neighbors.

Decorative pumpkins come in an array of colors and shapes. Warty varieties include Peanut Head and Knucklehead pumpkins. While they may not appear pure on the outside, their uneven surface stands out.

"The uglier they are, the better," Davidson said.

Miniature varieties include Jack B Little and the all-white Baby Boo. More standard size white varieties include the Casperita and, one of Davidson's favorites, the Valenciano, which she describes as white princess coaches. In the meantime, there's a pumpkin variety called Cinderella, more widely known as Rouge Vif D'Etampes, which is bright red. Another particularly unusual variety is called Black Futzu, whose warty skin goes from dark green to black to chestnut as it grows.

Gourds can bring additional color to fall displays, with white, egg-shaped varieties; turban varieties that have an extra crown on top; and crook-necked varieties that are green on the bottom, yellow on top with pastel stripes of the same. Davidson is partial to Birdhouse gourds because, when dried, they can be hollowed out, painted and erected as bird houses. Having done no painting previously, Davidson fell into painting the birdhouses to fill time during winter and have something else additional to bring to market.


Birdhouses, canned goods and other items have allowed Davidson to participate in the Rochester Downtown Farmers Market winter market, extending her selling season year-round. Most of the pumpkins and gourds keep so well she can sell them after snow hits the ground.

All pumpkins, including minis, are edible, even if they may not look like a traditional pumpkin, Davidson said. Decorative pumpkins even can find a second life in the kitchen as long as they haven't frozen.

However, the sweeter the better for most culinary pumpkin pursuits. Davidson's preferred cooking variety is Sugar Pie, but all can find a home in desserts and side dishes, and some even can serve as self-contained soup cups or serving dishes.

There are a couple methods for removing the flesh from pumpkins.

For pureed pumpkin, used in most baking applications, roasting is traditional. To roast, quarter the pumpkin, discarding the stem and stringy insides. Seeds can be reserved for roasting later. Place the quarters in a shallow baking dish with the skin side down. Add enough water to just cover the bottom of the dish and cover tightly with foil. Bake the pumpkin at 325 degrees until the flesh is fork tender. Times will vary depending on pumpkin size. Cool the pumpkin, scoop out the flesh and puree or mash it.

Boiling pumpkin can yield cubes that are favored for many savory pumpkin dishes. Halved and cleaned pumpkins should have their skins peeled and be cut into cubes. Place the cubes in a pot and cover with water. Bring the pot to a boil, boiling until pumpkin cubes are fork tender. Allow cubes to cool. They can also be mashed or pureed.

Cleaned pumpkins also can be microwaved the flesh into usable form. Cleaned, halved pumpkins should be cut into chunks and microwaved at seven minutes per pound on high. Chunks should be turned every few minutes so they cook evenly.

Cooked pumpkin cubes or puree should be used within three days if kept refrigerated. It also can be frozen for up to six months.


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