In the first flush of spring, as violets and narcissus perfume the air, as we taste the first luscious spears of asparagus and await the first tender lettuces, I consider the old winter produce we’ve yet to eat up: sprouting potatoes, thick-cored parsnips, leeks that will soon form stalks, and squashes still heaped in baskets. The little striped pumpkins are especially problematic. Resulting from an accidental cross between an acorn squash and a miniature pumpkin, the fruits are lovely and sweet-fleshed, with meaty seeds that are excellent for roasting. But the skins are as hard as those of gourds. I can hurl these babies onto a concrete floor and make dinner from the mess, but I prefer to bake my little pumpkins whole.
My daughter, Rebecca, took on the problem without my asking. She scored each of four pumpkins all around with a serrated bread knife, and she jabbed the score line in spots with a narrow, pointy-bladed knife. Then she used the pointy knife to pry off the tops, which came loose with nearly perfect edges (the slight imperfections helped in replacing the lids later; Rebecca says next time she would purposely notch each edge).
Rebecca scraped out the seeds and filled the cavities with quinoa, raisins, roasted hazelnuts, and chives before baking the little pumpkins for dinner. Next time she thinks she might try quince preserves in place of raisins, but the possibilities for filling ingredients are endless: rice and peppers, bread and cheese, bacon and onions and cream, sweet coconut-milk custard . . .
Baking the pumpkins gave their shells a handsome burnished look. After the chickens had pecked off every clinging bit of flesh from the insides, both bases and tops were still fully intact, so I scrubbed the shells and left them on the kitchen counter to dry. To keep mold from growing, I squirted them once or twice with chlorine-water.
And now I have four pretty little striped pumpkin boxes, for jewelry or keys or pennies or any other little things that need confining.