November 14, 2009

Cinderella Pumpkin No Fairytale

“The secret of cooking is the release of fragrance and the art of imparting it.”~ Patience Gray

Deep red-orange hue imparts wonder on the part of the viewer. Robust up to 15 inches across. Flattened and concave at only 6 inches high. Whimsically shaped with scalloped roundness. Vigorous vines creeping 15 feet and beyond. Flavor, mild allowing in soups and pies for more fragrant additions to sing. Irresistible, this unique 1800’s Heirloom French pumpkin, Rouge Vif D’Etampes. So says the seed catalog description.

It is no wonder that we, here in the States know this lovely squash as the Cinderella pumpkin. Though the fairytale carriage shape conjures enchanting memories of childhood tales, its true magic is revealed when it survives a Montana growing season to end up in a pot or the oven.

Savor the mild sweet taste of pumpkin chunks combined in a pot of sautéed leeks, white wine, bay leaves, parsley, butter and cream. Relish North African allspice, pungent against a sweet orange pumpkin base in seasonal pie. Roast slices with olive oil, rosemary, sea salt, and pepper.

My own adventures in attempting to grow Heirloom Cinderella pumpkins begin each year with a desire to see green after a long Montana winter. I start pumpkin seeds in March, a little on the early side of discretion. The seeds sprout almost instantly in the little newspaper pots. My family has to put up with trays of pumpkins growing everywhere in the house! And grow they do.

In less than two weeks, the seedlings have turned to recognizable pumpkin plants. I transplant the seedlings into large growing pots and place them in the greenhouse April 1. Within another week, the plants send out vines with huge yellow blossoms. The aroma of jasmine was a surprise when I opened the greenhouse door one afternoon. I would grow Cinderellas solely to have the smell of its blossoms in early spring.

I set the pumpkin plants into growing beds in early June covering them with row cover for protection against chilly winds. This year as in every year, in mid-June the baby pumpkin plants froze! Heartbroken but ever hopeful, I watered the shriveled remains.

Still the pumpkins grew. Sometime in August, our garden was pummeled by golf ball-sized hail. By the beginning of September, the pumpkins had revived to produce long, tendrilled vines with a slew of fruit. The third week of September everything in the garden froze, including the pumpkin plants. Even though the growing time for the Cinderella pumpkin is a lengthy 105 days, miraculously the plants had produced a wheel barrel full of mature fruits, a joyful harvest to be sure.

Traveling, as a personal talisman, I visit pumpkin plants in far-flung places. I am inspired by the tenacity with which pumpkin plants grow clinging to rock walls, spilling over ancient dry terraces, and against all climatic odds, survive. No wonder we celebrate and mark autumn with an orange pumpkin. Even more special, the Rouge Vif D’Etampes invites festivity if not for its shape and flavors then for its surprising resolve to survive a Montana growing season.

From my kitchen to yours, I hope your Thanksgiving celebration includes a tasty homemade pumpkin pie. Whatever the pumpkin offering, orange festively colors the day.

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