Doing research on how Native Americans used pumpkin to find interesting recipes made me wonder. How hard could a pumpkin shell become so that it could be used as a serving dish and seed storage?

According to my research, pumpkins may have saved early North America European settlers. Struggling after their first landings on the east coast and not prepared for harsh New England weather, Native American Indians taught European settlers basic gardening, hunting and cooking skills. One of the staples of their diet was pumpkin, a squash that was native to the ancient Americas.

Sweet pumpkin flesh was roasted, baked, parched, boiled and dried. Pumpkin seeds were roasted; at times also used as medicine. Blossoms were added to stews. Dried pumpkin was stored and ground into flour. Strips of dried pumpkin were woven into mats, cups and baskets for trade. 

I baked a pumpkin to get the inside ready to make a pie and was intrigued. Pumpkin shells, once baked, become quite hard and impermeable, reminding me of a plant "leather."  

Picking up the baked pumpkin, it was easy to imagine how it became an important part of their kitchen. It even holds water!

Pilgrims had another use. According to New England colleagues, hey used pumpkins as guides for haircuts, which gave them the nickname "pumpkinheads."

Can't you just see someone sitting on a stool getting a haircut with a sliced pumpkin on their head??


Winter Salad Tomatoes

I have the hardest time ripping up tomato plants out of my garden at the end of Missouri's growing season. Tomato plants are perennials in warmer climates so part of me wants to keep the plants growing. I do remove all the green tomatoes and place them in a brown bag with an apple to ripen. It may take several weeks but eventually the tomatoes do turn color.

Although they don't have the flavor of summer-ripened tomatoes, they taste better than most picked too early to ship to groceries. Because they are a little tart, I like to eat my bag-ripened tomatoes in a salad with the sweetness of sliced avocados.


Gift Zucchini

In almost every office I have worked, colleagues have shared homegrown produce.

It usually starts early summer. A plastic bag appears in the coffee room, making the table look more like something in a kitchen, full of extra produce waiting to be adopted. It's usually peas or green beans, followed by tomatoes and green peppers.

Last year, a bag of zucchini spent almost 3 days on the table without any takers. When I asked why no one was taking them, a colleague said she didn't know what they were. Zucchinis look a lot like cucumbers but have a thicker shape. As I was getting ready to leave for the day, one zucchini was left on the serving plate. You bet I took it home!


Why yes, Parsley!

Parsley is not just for garnish.

This herb is an anticarcinogen that is also useful as a digestive aid and helps to purify the blood. It contains three times as much vitamin C as oranges, and twice as much iron as spinach. Parsley contains vitamin A and is a good source of copper and manganese.

I read somewhere it is added to a plate so that eaters have a natural breath freshener at the end of a meal.


Those Talking Veggies…

I found this charming poem on a scrap of newspaper. It was inside an "old book" I bought at a library book sale.  It's called "Gossip in the Pantry:"

"The Cabbage bowed her queenly head,
The Ham boiled through with rage,
The salt ran down the cellar
For counsel with the Sage;
The old Potato winked his eye,
The Pepper sneezed a tear,
The Ginger burned up with disdain,
The Corn pricked up her ear,
The Steak alone in sympathy
Did smother back a scoff,
The Eggs were so much mortified
A dozen scrambled off.
The entire pantry neighborhood
Seemed to be awry;
The naughty Cold-Sliced Tongue had told
A Concentrated Lye!"
Signed "McCalls."


Yumm, Plantain!

I chuckle every time I think of the hours I spent pulling plantain. So much easier to eat it!

Plantain is a common Missouri weed, found in most disturbed lots and road sides. I happen to have a nice crop of plantain in the center of one of my gravel driveways, which makes picking it very convenient. No need to write down a recipe, use as you would lettuce.

Make sure the area hasn't been exposed to chemicals and pick younger leaves. Reminds me of spinach so I'm going to steam it next and see how it tastes.


Always Plant Radishes

There's a good reason why gardeners make good cooks and vice versa. Having fresh produce is one of the secrets to a good meal, and one of the must haves in any spring garden is radishes.

These red tuberous vegetables are almost impossible not to grow. They row quickly, and add such a dash of color and peppery flavor to any salad or special dish, even if they are not included in the recipe

The whole radish is edible; use green tops in salads or steamed as a side dish, and if they happen to flower before you can pick them, the flowers are pretty garnish and edible, too!

Do you grow radishes in your garden?


How to Steam Broccoli

Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables so I keep it around steamed so I can easily use it in a variety of dishes.

To easily steam broccoli, wash and pat dry with clean dish towels or paper towels.

Cut off the thick stem until the top florets look like trees.

Add to a steamer and steam until starting to get tender.

Quickly remove from pot so cooking doesn't continue.

Store in covered containers in refrigerator until you need to use it.

Do you have a favorite way to steam broccoli?


Freeze Extra Peppers

Since I love peppers so much, I always save extras to freeze.

After washing and cutting them into slices, pat dry with a clean dish towel. I cut them again into pieces and place in a pan to freeze.

Once frozen, I toss them into a bag and freeze. That way I'm never without peppers to add to a dish and they are already cut to size.


Lettuce Butterflies

Lettuce butterflies are a great fun, and easy, treat.

Using Romaine lettuce, cut 3 to 4 inch pieces, then trim wings. Add reduced fat peanut butter, almond butter or a favorite butter spread; spoon 1/2 tsp and roll in your hand.

Place in lettuce center; shape the head at the end with toothpick.

Break toothpick in half; add to head so the butterfly can easily be picked up with fingers.


Grow green!

Next time you have green onions, don't throw away the white ends. After cutting off the dark green tops, submerge the white part with roots in a glass of water and place them in a sunny window. Your onions will begin to grow almost immediately and keep you in a nice supply.

Use kitchen scissors to cut what you need; wash and pat dry with a dish towel.

I periodically empty out the water, rinse roots off and give them fresh water. It's like magic!


Peter Piper's Peppers

I like to grow bell peppers.

For sure the green ones, but I've also developed a taste for red and yellow ones. Last week, I found an orange one!

I don't know if their color makes a difference but I think it does.

I also like the way they jazz up my lunch plates.

I tend to toss them in with sauteed onions and herbs, and I never use the same combination.

Besides growing well on my deck in pots, green peppers winter over well inside in my room windows, keeping a pot of sage, rosemary and catnip herbs company.

Peter Piper was right. Everyone should pick a bunch!