Pumpkin

Cooked, it's served as a sweet garnished with walnuts and clotted cream. Boiled, it's wrapped in filo leaves as a savory pastry. However you look at it, pumpkin is definitely part of Turkish cuisine.

It's the quintessential symbol of Hallowe'en, a holiday familiar to us Turks from Hollywood films. 'Winter squash' as it was called in the old days, it is best known in Turkish as balkabağı, literally 'honey squash' aka pumpkin. Endemic to hot and temperate regions, it came to Europe from the New World, and to Turkey in the 17th century where it adapted readily to the Anatolian climate and rapidly diversified. Well-liked, its consumption rose exponentially until today Turkey has become its second home.

This flamboyant vegetable, which played a key role in human nutrition in earlier centuries, is best known in Turkey as a classic sweet served to the accompaniment of ground walnuts and clotted cream. Other varieties of squash such as vegetable marrow and gourds used to be cooked, especially in the past, in soups and stews or with olive oil, as well as being used widely as a filling for savory pastries.

ONE OF THE THREE BASIC FOODS
A long time ago pumpkin was one of the three basic foods of the Western world, in particular of Native Americans. An important source of nutrition for its starch, fibrous texture and abundant vitamins, pumpkin could also be preserved without spoilage for up to six months from the time of picking. The healthy and long-term preservation of foodstuffs was a crucial problem in periods before refrigeration was even heard of. Not readily perishable, pumpkin was a favorite vegetable in many homes and was used extensively in the past for both sweets and savories. What's more, in the days before cooking pots existed, it could even serve as its own cooking vessel. In traditional Argentine cuisine, for example, the inside of the pumpkin was partially carved out and meat placed inside and then cooked, either in the oven or over coals. It is apparent, again from old recipes, that pumpkins used to be filled with a mixture of milk and honey and roasted over hot coals to produce a very tasty sweet.
This method is still employed in Turkish cooking. In some villages of Anatolia, pumpkins are filled with 'pekmez' (grape molasses), with added pine nuts, almonds, an assortment of dried fruits, and honey, and baked in the oven to produce a pumpkin 'dolma'.

USED LESS AND LESS?
But the use of pumpkin is gradually falling off in world cuisines today. The main reason for this is that it's so much easier now to distribute and supply foodstuffs. Another important factor is that the custom of eating fruits and vegetables in season has been abandoned, which has inevitably meant a certain distancing from a number of foods widely consumed in the past. In the West nowadays, pumpkins carved as jack-o-lanterns serve as decorative items either at late-summer festivals or on holidays like Hallowe'en, where they are associated with witches on broomsticks. In the European countries in particular decorative pumpkins appear all over the place at the end of November, in shops and houses and on the street. In Turkey, pumpkin continues to be a popular and sought-after winter dessert. And in the Mediterranean in general and in our own eastern Mediterranean region in particular, pumpkin candy made by dipping cubes of the orange vegetable in slaked lime is all the rage in today's increasingly eclectic world cuisine. And this New Year's, as in year's past, a pumpkin dessert topped with molasses or clotted cream and dusted with cinnamon will surely take price of place on the holiday table.

RECIPES

Pumpkin Soup
Ingredients:
250 gr pumpkin
1 onion
4 tsp butter
2 tsp flour
2 tsp cream
1/4 bunch dill
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
2 cups meat stock
Preparation:
Grate half the pumpkin and cut the other half in small cubes. Melt the butter in a skillet and add the onion. Stir for 2-3 minutes, then add the pumpkin. Saute all together for 4-5 minutes, then add the flour. Mix the cold milk with the meat stock and add to the pumpkin mixture along with the cream, salt and white pepper. Bring to a boil and skim off the foam. Boil over high heat for 5-6 minutes. Sprinkle with dill and serve hot.

Pumpkin 'Broni'
Ingredients:
250 gr pumpkin
1 onion, finely chopped
1 long, mild green pepper (Turkish 'Çarliston'), finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
150 gr ground beef
5 tsp yoghurt
4 tsp butter
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
Preparation:
Cut the pumpkin in cubes. Melt the butter in a skillet, add the pumpkin cubes and saute. Remove when cooked and put aside. Melt more butter in the skillet and saute the onion and garlic until they begin to color. Add the chopped pepper and ground meat and brown until the meat is cooked through. Add the salt and pepper and put aside. Meanwhile, mix the yoghurt well. Melt butter in the skillet again. Add the red pepper and mix, being careful not to burn the butter. Remove the pumpkin to a serving platter. Pour the ground meat mixture over it and arrange the remaining pieces of pumpkin on top. Pour the rest of the ground meat mixture over it and top with the yoghurt. Drizzle the yoghurt with the melted butter and red pepper and serve.

Cold Pumpkin Cooked with Olive Oil
Ingredients:
200 gr pumpkin
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 tsp rice, rinsed
1/2 cup olive oil
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 bunch dill
Water as needed
Preparation:
Cut the pumpkin in slices the thickness of a finger. Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the onions until they begin to color. Then add the pumpkin slices and cook together for 3-4 minutes. Add the lemon, salt and white pepper and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then add the rice.  Cook all together for 20 minutes. When almost cooked, garnish with  dill and let cool. Serve cold.

Whole Stuffed Pumpkin
Ingredients:
1 whole pumpkin (about 3.5 kg)
2 sticks of cinnamon
200 gr dried apricots
200 gr dried figs
100 gr shelled hazelnuts
100 gr white almonds
100 gr seedless raisins
100 gr green pistachios (whole)
100 gr walnut meats
seeds of one pomegranate
500 gr granulated sugar
100 gr water
Preparation:
Wash and clean the pumpkin well. Cut off the top one finger-width below the stem to form a lid. Clean out the inside, mix all the ingredients together and stuff them inside the pumpkin. Replace the lid and wrap the pumpkin completely in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Pour the cold water around it. Cook for about 4-5 hours at 180-200 degrees C. When cool, sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and serve whole.

Pumpkin Pudding made with Molasses
Ingredients:
150 gr pumpkin, grated
100 gr 'pekmez' (Turkish grape molasses)
500 gr milk
2 sticks of cinnamon
2 cloves
2 tsp cornstarch
2 egg yolks
100 gr granulated sugar
Preparation:
Grate the pumpkin. Place in a pot with the milk and let boil. Add the cinnamon and cloves. When cooked, add the sugar and pekmez and boil together. Mix the cornstarch with a little water, add the egg yolks and mix well. Add a little of the boiling milk and mix, then slowly add the cornstarch-egg yolk mixture to the boiling milk mixture. Bring to a boil again and remove to a serving bowl. Serve cold.