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In Praise of Pumpkins

In Praise of Pumpkins
October 2008

“There are easier crops to grow in Charleston than pumpkins, but none that are so well worth the effort,” says avid pumpkin grower Sidi Limehouse of Rosebank Farms on John’s Island. “When the weather cools and the harvest season sets in, the field is full of them, and that’s a pretty good reward.”

For the past four years, Limehouse’s pumpkins have made their way to doorsteps and dinner tables across the Lowcountry—a small miracleif you ask Sidi: “They need a lot of attention, a lot of TLC.” Still, the fruit is an indigenous South Carolina crop, enjoying a rich heritage in other, less humid parts of the state. A small town northwest of Greenville owes its name to pumpkins after native Cherokee Indians introduced settlers to the naturally occurring, squash-like fruit—hence the settlement’s name, Pumpkintown, South Carolina.

Eat: Low in fat and cholesterol, these gourds are packed with vitamins, minerals, and beta-carotene. Just one cup of cooked pumpkin will serve up as much as 245 percent of your daily dose of vitamin A, an element critical to preserving vision and skin health. What’s more, scientists have uncovered a molecule in pumpkin that facilitates the regeneration of insulin-producing cells destroyed by diabetes.

Grow: Ready to sow your own seeds? Cultivating pumpkins here is difficult, certainly, but they can be a viable crop even in small home gardens. First, we recommend choosing seeds based on what you plan to do with the pumpkin—whether you’ll use for display or for cooking. All pumpkins require anywhere from 70 to 120 days to mature, so it’s best to lay seeds between July 1 and 15 for coastal regions and June 15 and 30 for central parts of the state, to ensure fruit will be ripe by autumn. Plant on raised beds about three feet apart (to promote drainage) and water liberally to encourage deep rooting. Avoid getting leaves or fruit wet. And because humidity is often the pumpkin grower’s biggest hurdle, use organic mulch of pine or wheat straw to protect the fruit from wet ground. Old shingles also work well, as plastic or paper materials only trap moisture.

Carve & cook: Whether you’re selecting pumpkins from a local market or harvesting your own, choose only mature fruit with a deep orange color and no soft spots. In the kitchen, opt for sugar pumpkins because they are meaty and come with fewer stringy fibers than other varieties. Good picks for carving are Autumn Gold and Jack-o’-Lantern for their large sizes and intense orange color.

So what to do with these multi-hued veggies once you’ve got them? ­We’ve compiled a rich assortment of recipes and crafts to keep you busy through the end of this year’s crop. From the breakfast table to the mantel, pumpkins can be a valuable part of your fall repertoire.