Pumpkin Pickin’ Time
Although Halloween pumpkin pie may not be a tradition in Costa Rica, pumpkin squashes are definitely alive and well here. Of course, they don’t look quite the same as their orange-colored northern relatives (Curcurbita pepo), but they certainly make delicious pumpkin pies!
Known as ayote in Spanish (Curcubita maxima), this native pumpkin squash of the tropical Americas was grown by the indigenous tribes for ages before the Europeans arrived here. This hardy plant is still one of the most important staple crops of the area, and it can be found practically year-round in farmers’ markets and supermarkets throughout the country.
Ayotes also are much more versatile than the northern pumpkin, and they can be used to create numerous dishes for the family.
Ayotes are very nutritious; each one-half cup of cooked squash contains up to 4,000 units of vitamin A, .04 milligrams of vitamin B1, .05 milligrams of B2, 3 milligrams of vitamin C, 18 milligrams of calcium, 15 milligrams of phosphorus and 0.3 milligrams of iron.
Here’s our favorite natural recipe for pumpkin pie that will delight your family during Halloween in Costa Rica.
Costa Rican Pumpkin Pie
1 ½ cups unbleached white flour
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup of butter
1 ¾ cups of pumpkin pulp or puree
¾ cup of honey
½ cup of sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup evaporated milk
½ cup skim milk
Whipped cream, sweetened with honey 1. Prepare a piecrust as you would for any pie. Pre-bake it for several minutes in the oven, until the piecrust is brown. Meanwhile, cook 2 cups of diced mature squash without the skin until it is soft.
2. Mix the filling ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour into the prepared pie shell and bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F, then reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 45 minutes until the pie is set. Serve warm or cold with whipped cream.
Native pumpkin squashes are easy to grow in the home garden because they are resistant to insect attacks and plant diseases. Here are some tips on growing your own ayotes at home:
Start with good soil fertility when planting. We usually start by preparing a hole about 1 meter in diameter and 30 to 40 cm deep. In this hole we apply one wheelbarrow load of rich, aged compost that is fortified with two shovels full of ashes. Next, we plant 3 ayote seeds in the center about 5 cm deep and 30 cm apart. Areas where brush and leaves have been burned are ideal spots for planting ayotes.
Keep the young plants free of weeds, and when the ayote plants begin to cover the area, begin to prune the leading tips of the vines. By the way, Costa Ricans taught us to use these tender tendrils for a spinach-like vegetable dish known as quelites de ayote.
Pruning your ayote plant helps to keep it compact and, in fact, stimulates flowering and the production of squashes. When the plant begins to produce its pretty, brilliant, yellow flowers, keep a close eye on the production of the tender young squashes.
Begin to harvest the young squashes when they reach the size of about a cantaloupe. At this stage, they are as delicious as zucchinis. Leave others to develop to their full size for seed production and use them as mature squashes.
You’ll find that an ayote plant can produce for several months, providing an abundance of delicious meals for the family.
Perhaps the Halloween tradition of the Jack-o-Lantern began as a celebration of the benevolent spirit of the pumpkin and the abundant harvest of Nature. Certainly gardeners would agree!