Friday, December 19, 2014

Gourd groupies rejoice: Pumpkins back in season

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 10/7/2013

A cool, crisp breeze, brightly colored leaves and fall-flavored everything can mean only one thing — autumn officially has arrived.

For many, the brisk days of October are filled with festive events, open-air activities and most importantly, pumpkins. So when it came time to seasonally adjust the menu at Bella Cucina Italian restaurant, 129 S. Main St., Ottawa, owner Francine Leone said she just gave the customers what they asked for — more pumpkin.

A cool, crisp breeze, brightly colored leaves and fall-flavored everything can mean only one thing — autumn officially has arrived.

For many, the brisk days of October are filled with festive events, open-air activities and most importantly, pumpkins. So when it came time to seasonally adjust the menu at Bella Cucina Italian restaurant, 129 S. Main St., Ottawa, owner Francine Leone said she just gave the customers what they asked for — more pumpkin.

“We do pumpkin bars. We bring back our tiramisu cheesecake and different soups,” Leone said. “We do butternut squash ravioli. We can do anything. If people want it, we can make it.”

Though unwilling to share any recipes for her seasonal food items, Leone said she and Sara Caylor, Ottawa mayor, like to dabble in the kitchen trying out new pumpkin recipes.

“We’ve made pumpkin ravioli,” Leone said. “We kind of make it and taste as we go. It’s an old family recipe that we have and we just go off that.”

By the time mid-September rolls around, many folks are ready for the heat to be over and are craving pumpkin-flavored goods, Leone said.

“Customers love the fall items on the menu — they look forward to it,” she said. “At the end of summer time, they start saying, ‘When is the fall food going to come back?’”

Fall also is the perfect time for making danishes, Tony Keim, owner of Keim Bakery, 304 S. Main St., Ottawa, said.

“Danishes are a traditional German pastry, and they’re hard to make in the summer because of the humidity,” Keim said. “We’ll start having those on Saturdays and Sundays.”

Among the sweet baked goods the bakery offers, it also rolls out a heartier, beat-the-cold menu of lunch items, Keim said.

“We also do meatloaf and chili and chicken noodle soup,” he said.

PATCH PICKIN’

Fall’s most popular gourd, pumpkins, can be found everywhere from the local grocery stores to nearby fields, like those at Peckham’s Pumpkin Patch, Harry Peckham said.

Peckham’s patch at Pleasant Ridge Farm, 2710 Vermont Road, Rantoul, is celebrating its 25th anniversary, Peckham, owner of the patch, said.

“We have things people can do and play in,” Peckham said. “We have a hay maze with about 240 big bales of hay to go through and a 20-foot tube slide kids can slide down through. We have a rubber duck race and a bean bag toss too.”

Just a short hay ride away is the pumpkin patch where people go and pick their own pumpkins, he said, with a variety of shapes, sizes and colors available.

“They can come out, take the wagon ride, pick out the pumpkins they want and bring them back up,” Peckham said. “We have all different kinds of pumpkins — most are orange, some are almost-red ones, white ones, tan ones, some that almost look blue and there are big huge pumpkins. We’ve got several out there that are almost 50 pounds in the patch and one big vine growing that is probably 70 to 80 pounds. And little itty bitty ones that weigh maybe 3 or 4 ounces.”

Peckham’s Pumpkin Patch is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays through the end of October.

‘FAMILY FUN’

Pumpkins might be the staple of fall, but apples don’t fall far from the tree, Mike Gerhardt said. At Pome on the Range Orchard and Winery, 2050 Idaho Road, Williamsburg, not only can people pick their own pumpkins, but they also can pick apples, Gerhardt, owner, said.

“It’s a working orchard in the fall,” he said. “This time of year, it’s pick-your-own apples and pick-your-own pumpkins. There’s cider and wine and crafts available too.”

Pome on the Range isn’t just a pumpkin patch and apple orchard; it also is a winery, he said.

“I make most of the wine we serve,” he said. “I do get some wines from other wineries because there’s some things I don’t make or choose not to make for one reason or another.”

A fall family festival is planned for Oct. 12-13, Gerhardt said, with lots of great outdoor activities.

“In addition to the horse-drawn ride and stuff we do for the pick-your-own apples and pumpkins, we’ll have extra activities going on for the weekend,” he said. “We’ll have a balloon clown, a blacksmith, a petting zoo and a bounce house.”

Along with activities for the family, Pome on the Range also offers a variety of goods in its small market, Gerhardt said.

“We have fresh fruit like peaches, apples, plums, cherries and vegetables,” he said. “There’s also jams, jellies, popcorn and muffin mixes — all Kansas-made products.”

Apple and pumpkin pickers have been flocking to Pome on the Range for about 20 years, Gerhardt said, and in that time he’s figured out his favorite part of the business: giving families an outdoor adventure together.

“It’s good, family fun on the weekends,” he said. “It’s a family fun deal, and there’s a lot of neat things kids can learn out here.”

Pome on the Range’s pumpkin patch and orchard are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

A NEW TWIST

ON DECORATING

Carving pumpkins has come a long way from the standard jack-o’-lantern pattern, but it’s not for everyone. Fortunately, other options are growing.

For a festive centerpiece or house decoration, Linda Ecord said, she likes to put flowers in her pumpkins.

“Cut the lid off the pumpkin, scoop out the insides and let it dry,” Ecord, employee at Sand Creek Nursery, 2507 Sand Creek Road, Ottawa, said. “Get a sponge like the florists use, soak it in water and put it in the pumpkin. Mums probably last the longest, but pick some flowers and other things to fill it out and put it in the pumpkin.”

Small pumpkins are an easy way to decorate during the fall, Ecord said, and are one of her favorite decorations to put around the house.

“For gourds and things, I usually shellac mine to make them shiny and last forever,” Ecord said. “Just wash, dry and spray them, then you can put them in a little basket. They look cute and make a pretty arrangement.”

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