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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wasted Pumpkins, Wasted Food

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

Wasted Food for the Holidays

I’ve been wondering lately if ours is really the only country in the world that has so much food we can afford to throw it away. It came to mind right after Halloween when I saw large numbers of pumpkins thrown in ditches along the roadsides. And more pumpkins stacked beside garbage bins in front of houses, waiting to be carted away to the landfills.

For Thanksgiving I’d planned to stuff and bake a pumpkin. My recipe calls for a 3 pound pumpkin, top cut off like a jack-o-lantern and the innards removed. Into that go 3 cups of bread cubes, 4 ounces of cheddar cheese cubes, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves, 4 strips cooked bacon, crumbled, a diced green onion, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (I like orange thyme), 1/3 cup heavy cream and a tiny pinch of nutmeg. Mix all that together in the pumpkin, put the lid on and bake it for about 90 minutes at 325 degrees F. When the pumpkin is tender, remove it from the oven and let it set for about 15 minutes to cool. Just before serving, mix some of the pumpkin with the stuffing. It’s great.

But guess what? There were no pumpkins to be had at any of the stores. When I inquired at the produce departments of some stores I was told they had trashed their left over pumpkins after Halloween. One of them said, “People don’t think of pumpkins as food, just decoration so we throw them in the dumpster to make room for other things.”

I can’t imagine not recognizing pumpkins and squashes as food. Nor can I imagine throwing away crates of pumpkins to be sent to the landfill. Hogs eat pumpkins. They can be put in the compost where they become more soil. Even people eat pumpkins!

We’re fortunate we have such bounty that we can be wasteful. I was brought up to believe it’s wrong, even immoral, to waste food. Evidently I’m in the minority. It just seems like there should be a better solution. Maybe I’m just old fashioned.

This week in the garden we’ve planted radishes, lettuce and carrots in the cold frame. To see more of what’s happening in the garden each week visit my garden blog: Present and past Ozarks Gardening columns in this newspaper can be found at: Happy gardening!

Drying Chilies

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

Drying Chilies

“Last night, there came a frost, which has done great damage to my garden.... It is sad that Nature will play such tricks on us poor mortals, inviting us with sunny smiles to confide in her, and then, when we are entirely within her power, striking us to the heart,”  a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne in The American Notebooks.

I feel like that sometimes, too. I dread the night when the garden must die. In mere hours it goes from lush and green, to a deadly shade of brown. The last of the string beans hang like socks hung out to dry. The hot chilies turn into tiny deflated balloons, hanging where they grew.

I gathered about a half bushel of hot peppers before the frost came. I grew 18 varieties of chilies in all, plus 5 plants of the ghost (Bhut Jolokia) pepper. Most had begun producing peppers again after the drought passed, but it was still a smaller pepper harvest than I would have liked.

Once the peppers were picked from the plants, I brought them indoors. With scissors, I cut the stem end off of each pepper. With the larger, more fleshy ones, I also split those in two. I learned years ago that the drying time for chilies can be cut in half if the peppers are split open for air flow.

All the peppers went together. The ‘Yummy Orange’ (a sweet pepper), some Jalapenos, Big Jim, Trinidad Scorpions, Trinidad Spice and some of the Bhut Jolokias, all went in together. Once the stem ends were off and slits cut, the peppers went into the food dehydrator. It takes 3 days on fairly high heat to dry them, a bit longer for fleshy ones.

Once the peppers are dried to total crispiness, I put them in gallon zip plastic bags and put a new batch in the food dehydrator. Over and over I repeat the process until all of my chilies are dried. Then I put on protective glasses and a dust mask and process them in small batches in the food processor. I’ll have several quarts of fine pepper flakes (seed and all) for my cooking this winter, and some to give away to my pepperhead friends.

To see photos of the peppers I grew and the food dehydrator process, check my garden blog: You can also see photos at the blog for this newspaper: Happy gardening!