Before we get started with this story, think with me for a second – what is your favorite memory about pumpkins?
Maybe you were a kid and the memory is carving scary or silly faces for a jack-o’-lantern. Was it the intoxicating smell of a pumpkin pie, fresh and warm? Was it growing your own and watching a tiny green pumpkin grow big and orange? Or was it loading up in the family truck to visit a corn maze and pumpkin patch?
Now take those happy memories, hold them close to your heart, feel a smile creep across your face and get ready for the first San Cristobal “Pumpkin-Picking Party.”
The shindig – complete with music, food and about 2,000 pumpkins – is happening Sunday (Oct. 8), from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the pumpkin patch at Taos Goji Eco Lodge and Farm on Old State Road 3 in San Cristobal.
For the past four years, Eric Vom Dorp, owner of the farm, has grown a few pumpkins just for his neighbors and a yearly get-together to celebrate the harvest and the end of the season. But this year, he wanted to go big, trying to grow more pumpkins than ever before and open up the festivities to the public.
“Pumpkins are easy to grow and just lots of fun,” he said.
The pumpkin patch is flanked on one side by a cottonwood grove and the rest of the farm on the other. For many years, it was fallow. But early this spring, a small team of WWOOFers (the farm’s live-in volunteers from across the country, once called Willing Workers on Organic Farms) worked the 1-acre field and planted 1.5 pounds of pumpkin seeds. Over the season, they watered the field from the nearby acequia and weeded the native sunflowers from the field to keep their branches from overshadowing the young pumpkin plants.
Growing anything, pumpkins or otherwise, in Taos comes with plenty of challenges. The pumpkin patch has been through at least two major hailstorms and a “plague of grasshoppers,” Vom Dorp said. But at this point, nearly 2,000 pumpkins are orange as can be and hardening off in the field, waiting for the festivities to begin.
Few autumnal pleasures – not the sweaters, not the pumpkin spice lattes – match the “satisfaction of finding the perfect pumpkin,” said Justin Aloia, a WWOOFer from Silver City who originally hails from New Jersey.
Beyond the simple fun of growing pumpkins, Vom Dorp has an eye toward the economic, agricultural and cultural possibilities.
“Taos needs this,” he said. “There is lots of good land with good water that needs to be put to use. If not, people will build on it and that’s a shame.”
He’s not saying a pumpkin patch is “the model” to solve the area’s economic challenges, but it’s one example of an organic, low-cost, low-effort way to care for the land while cultivating a stronger sense of community.
Most pumpkins in the patch are 8 to 20 pounds, he said. And they’ll keep in a cool, dry place for four months, meaning you can carve a jack-o’-lantern this weekend, make a pie or keep a pumpkin on hand for a “Nightmare Before Christmas”-themed holiday.
Here are some recipes to get you started on using up a fresh organic pumpkin. I’m a “let’s eyeball it” type of cook, so I like to keep quantities flexible enough to use what’s on hand and to feed any sized gathering of family and friends. Don’t feel confined by the ingredients on these or any other pumpkin recipes. “Just use your imagination,” as Vom Dorp said.
ERIC’S PUMPKIN SOUP
Milk or cream
Salt and pepper
Thoroughly wash the pumpkin’s outer skin.
Slice the pumpkin half, remove the seeds (save these for planting or eating), chop into big pieces.
Steam the piece on the stovetop until a fork pokes through them.
Put the pumpkin pieces (“shell and all”) in a blender, adding in about half a stick of butter and enough water and milk (or cream) until the soup is a pleasing consistency.
Add “just a touch” of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with fresh bread, biscuits or a toasted grilled cheese.
ROASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS
Washed pumpkin seeds
Dried red chile or other spices
Pumpkin seeds don’t have to be spotless to roast them up, but give them a vigorous rinse under warm water and pat dry with a towel.
Toss the seeds with a little olive oil (a teaspoon or so per cup of seeds), salt and dried red chile or other species, like cumin, lemon zest or even a pinch of sugar or syrup.
Make a single layer on a baking sheet and put them in an oven preheated to about 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until they start popping. Stir them around a time or two.
Cool and enjoy.
CHILE AND CHEESE STUFFED PUMPKIN BLOSSOMS
6 to 10 pumpkin blossoms
Dried red chile
Sausage or game
Gently stuff pumpkin blossoms with a mix of cheese, chile, jalapeño and sausage – or your own hunted meat (for a vegetarian option, skip this last ingredient or replace with your favorite protein).
Dip stuffed blossoms in the egg wash (eggs and a touch of water) and roll in bread crumbs.
Sauté stuffed blossoms in a skillet with a high-heat oil, about 2 minutes on each side or until crispy.
Salt and pepper to taste and garnish with fresh greens or chopped green onions.
The season for pumpkin blossoms is largely over, but keep the recipe on hand for next year when you plant out the seeds you saved from your pumpkin.