Pumpkins family tradition

Argen Duncan

What would Thanksgiving be without pumpkins?

Area residents not only cook with the traditional fall food, but some grow it as well.

Portales Farmers Market Manager Margie Plummer and her family have been growing pumpkins in their garden for about 20 years, she said. She sells the fruit at the farmers market and uses a few herself.

“I put a few out for decoration, and I always cook a few,” Plummer said.

Plummer plants pumpkins around the first of July, and they’re ready for harvest for the Halloween season.

“They don’t have to have a lot of water,” she said. “And they grow really fast.”

Pumpkins will grow just about anywhere, Plummer said, but they do better with fertilizer and sandy soil.

Her pumpkins were mature earlier than usual this year, which she attributes to the hot weather. Squash bugs, which can harm pumpkin plants, weren’t a problem for Plummer’s garden this year, either.

Plummer grows several varieties of pumpkins, including pink, white, gray and orange versions. She said they’re popular at the local farmers market, but not as much for the last couple of years.

With the bad economy, Plummer believes, people are focusing on buying food instead of decorative pumpkins. Most farmers market customers don’t buy pumpkins to cook, she said.

However, Plummer cooks pumpkins every year, preferring Cinderella pumpkins to regular pie pumpkins. The squat, specialty Cinderella pumpkins have darker orange flesh and more of it.

“They taste better than the regular pumpkins do,” Plummer said.

To cook pumpkins, Plummer recommended removing the slime and seeds and baking the pumpkins in the microwave or oven until they’re soft. Then, the cook can scoop out the flesh with ease and mash it for bread or pie.

Plummer freezes pumpkins in portions of about 2 cups per bag to use throughout the year.

If pumpkins are cooked less so they remain more firm, she said, people can use them like baked squash.

“They’re something we all need to eat more of,” Plummer said.

According to the University of Illinois Extension website, pumpkins contains nutrients including Vitamins A and C, potassium and iron. They’re also rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A and offers protection against a variety of health problems, according to the website.

Martha Crane of Portales is a cook with a tradition of making pies with pumpkin. However, since she’s not a fan of the traditional pumpkin pie, she said, she makes a refrigerated pie with a pumpkin layer and a cream layer.

Crane said she found the recipe in a magazine 20 years ago, give or take, and everybody enjoyed it.

“So it’s just kept going over the years,” she said.