Pumpkin is a favorite ingredient in my kitchen repertoire. In the Caribbean pumpkins are used in many dishes which can vary from vegetable curries and stews, steamed with rice like pelau and made into hearty soups. Pumpkin is considered a fruit as there are seeds within the orange flesh cavity. It comes from the same family as melons and cucumbers and is a member of the gourd family. It is a type of winter squash and all parts of it are edible, from the seeds, flesh and leaves.
Pumpkins are nutritious and low in calories. They can be used to make a variety of dishes both sweet and savory such as soups, pancakes, pies,muffins and quick breads. Pumpkin can be baked, boiled, stewed or roasted. The fruit is high in beta carotene and alpha carotene. When pumpkin is consumed, the body can convert these properties into Vitamin A which is purported to be great for fighting infections and strengthening immune cells. Both of these are wonderful things for those fighting diseases such as cancer.
In North America, pumpkin is a favorite fall ingredient and pumpkin flavors are popular as pumpkins are found in abundance at this time of year. Don’t be fooled by “pumpkin spice” flavored goodies, they contain no pumpkin but just use spices like cinnamon, cloves and allspice which marry well with the flavor of the gourd that are used in making pumpkin pies during the fall season. Pumpkins come in an array of shapes and sizes and are also commonly used for carving Goulish decorations to display on porches and decor for Halloween and fall.
When I moved to Haïti, I was quite surprised to discover that the variety most commonly found there was quite different from the kind that I knew in Guyana. The skin was thicker and quite hard to peel. The thick rind could vary from a bumpy exterior with variegated patterns of dark green and cream to smoother exteriors with equally hard skins which could sometimes require brute force to cut. The variety in Guyana is most often of a dark green color with a softer smooth dark green skin which is far easier to cut open. The bright orange flesh yields a sweet tasting flesh which is a favorite ingredient in curries, stews and other vegetable dishes. The Haitian variety is heavier in texture and not sweet in taste. It is actually the variety which is known as a winter squash in North America and is principally used in making the Independence soup of Haïti which garnered UNESCO protective cultural status. Pumpkin soup in Haitian culture is one which is eaten on January 1 by Haitians to commemorate Haitian Independence and the New Year. As pumpkin was a forbidden food for slaves to eat, a soup was created using all of the ingredients which slaves grew for their masters but were not allowed to eat. This delicious soup is made with a meat broth and pumpkin purée, potatoes, carrots, leeks, turnips, celery and cabbage. It is a symbol of Freedom and a reminder of the ancestral struggle for freedom as the first Black independent nation in the Americas.
A favorite pumpkin dish of mine is pumpkin fritters and is one which is probably made in several Caribbean homes with varying ingredients. I consider mine a taste of my Guyana heritage as my mom made these regularly. I in turn have developed my own recipe and enjoy making them for my family. These little gems can be made all year around and are not really synonymous with a particular time of year or season. They are sweet fritters and can be eaten as a dessert or snack, but are the perfect addition to a meal as a bit of sweet along with savory dishes and roasts. To make these pumpkin fritters, you can use practically any type of pumpkin and make a purée by steaming the pumpkin and then mashing it to a smooth purée. I have tried the Haitian pumpkin or winter squash,Guyanese pumpkin, the American sugar pumpkin and butternut squash to make my fritters. I have also tried making my pumpkin fritters with canned pumpkin and it works perfectly. It certainly cuts down on the time and effort if you prefer to take this route. However, there is a great satisfaction in making the pumpkin fritters with your own choice of pumpkin from scratch.
If you make your own purée it is best to steam the pumpkin pieces as you retain most of the nutritive value as opposed to boiling, it takes about 15 minutes to steam and you can do this with the skin on and just easily scoop out the soft flesh. If you boil your pumpkin, make sure that you crush and then strain off all of the excess water to ensure that your batter does not get watery. If you have left over pumpkin after steaming and reserving the quantity, you can freeze it in a ziplock bag for a few months and then just use it when you need it again. It freezes well; just remember to strain before using as it may retain some water crystals when in the freezer.
Here is my recipe which I have written as a half portion which is sufficient for 4. When I have a family gathering I double the portion which gives a bigger quantity for guests. You can size up as you need to. I hope you enjoy these little sunshine fritters as they muster up my childhood memories in every bite.They are the perfect addition to your Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering this year!! Happy holidays to all.
These little gems can be made all year around and are not really synonymous with a particular time of year or season. They are sweet fritters and can be eaten as a dessert or snack, but are the perfect addition to a meal as a bit of sweet along with savory dishes and roasts. Most of the Caribbean islands have their own type of pumpkin fritter, so the ingredients can vary slightly. You can easily double or triple the quantity as desired for your holiday celebrations. This portion size makes about 12 fritters.
1 cup pumpkin purée
½ cup all purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp melted butter
1 egg, beaten
¼ tsp cinnamon
Grating of nutmeg
1/4 cup raisins or dried cranberries
½ cup of oil for pan frying
In a medium bowl place pumpkin purée, flour, baking powder, sugar and spice and mix together to form a homogeneous mixture. Melt the butter and add to the mix along with a beaten egg.
Add raisins or cranberries if using.
Heat some of the oil in a large frying pan; just enough to cover the base so that the fritters can cook. They will absorb oil, so do not cook in a heavily oiled pan or you will have oily pumpkin fritters.
When the oil has heated, use a medium spoon to drop fritters into the pan.
Cook for a few minutes on medium heat and flip to cook the other side.
Add oil as needed until all the batter has been used.
Drain fritters on paper towel to absorb excess oil. Serve warm.
Makes about 12 fritters