Although most of the winter squash crop here at Rabbit Hill experienced dismal growing conditions with rain, fog and mold, the Winter Luxury pumpkin harvest was strong. Not your typical giant, tasteless and stringy Halloween type pumpkin, the Winter Luxury variety is renowned for its silky texture and delicious flavor. When roasted, the flesh can be pureed for creating marvelous pies. And the fruit makes for superb eating.
Beautiful enough for an ornamental, Winter Luxury pumpkins have a very unique, netted skin. It’s like a bright orange orb covered with lace. Typical weights of this stellar pumpkin average around six to nine pounds, and our harvest this year was 15 pumpkins, or just over 100 pounds.
Unlike other winter squash, butternut, buttercup, Blue Hubbard and kabocha, this squash is not a “keeper”. Come early December, the skin starts to mold and the flesh starts to deteriorate. Time to process and freeze or eat and enjoy.
The inspiration for Pumpkin Chowder comes from Andrea Bemis in her book, “Local Dirt: Seasonal Recipes for Eating Close to Home.” A thoughtful gift from my daughter who lives and eats in Oregon, this cookbook is one young couples’ adventure in farming, cooking, and community. A farmer turned foodie, Bemis also writes a blog “Dishing up the Dirt.”
In this recipe, bacon is first cooked to render the fat, and the crispy bits are saved to garnish the soup. A base of chopped onions, garlic and herbs are cooked with a bit of white wine, and then cubed potatoes and the squash of your choice are simmered in stock until tender. Pureeing a portion of the soup yields creamy chowder, without flour or gluten, and the finishing touches of chopped parsley and bacon complete this smoky, delicious, soothing meal.
Native Americans were cultivating pumpkins and squash long before settlers came to the America’s. Pumpkins were one of the winter staples of the homesteading family, and a nutritional dynamo. The darker the squash, the more nutrients it contains. Packed with fiber, Vitamins A, C and E, plus cancer-fighting phytochemicals, Pumpkin Chowder is both a powerhouse of good nutrition and a welcome, winter comfort food.
Pumpkin (or Squash) Chowder
- 4 slices bacon cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1 onion chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1- teaspoon dried sage
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- Maine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 medium sized potatoes peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes (about 2 cups)
- 1 small pumpkin or medium squash* peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes (about 4 cups)
- ¼ cup white wine
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Chopped parsley for garnish
- Assemble ingredients and tools.
- Cut the bacon into ½ pieces. Set aside.
- Chop the onion. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Set aside.
- Peel and cut the squash or pumpkin into ½ inch cubes. Set aside.
- In a heavy soup pot, cook the bacon over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the bacon is nicely browned and crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate. Save for garnish.
- If desired, pour off all but about 1-tablespoon of bacon fat. Add the chopped onion to the pot. Cook over medium heat until it just starts to soften. Add the chopped garlic, sage, nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon each of Maine sea salt and fresh pepper. Cook until all the vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally. Stir in the potatoes and pumpkin and cook for another 3 minutes.
- Add the wine and bay leaf and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring. Add the stock. Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer until the potatoes and squash are tender, about 15 minutes.
- Transfer one third of the mixture to the bowl of your blender or food processor, and puree until smooth.
- Return the mixture to the pot and stir in the heavy cream. Remove the bay leaf. Season to taste with more sea salt and fresh pepper if needed.
- To serve, ladle the chowder into heated soup plates and garnish the top with the reserved bacon bits and chopped parsley.