Monday, November 15, 2010

KK: Ojibwe Baked Pumpkin

"The Three Sisters" were a concept of food and agricultural that was a cornerstone of life for tribes of the Northeast Woodlands. Like a family, these simple plants worked together for a sum that was far greater than their individual parts. The corn would be planted first and once it had grown a few inches, the beans were planted and allowed to use the stalk as a pole upon which to grow. The sturdy squash grows at the base and takes up the space that would otherwise be occupied by weeds, thus keeping the other crops healthy. Not only did all of the plants provide for one another, but three times as much produce could be grown in one area (with a greater degree of fertility, thanks to the different acids and compositions of each plant).

A young Three Sisters garden
Even more amazing- when eaten together in a steady diet these plants combine into a supernutrition of proteins and carbohydrates. So in celebration of this Native American uberfood (and its abundance in the supermarket), I'll be showing you a traditional Ojibwe recipe for baked pumpkin, courtesy of Lady Pixel. The Ojibwe were semi-sedentary and followed the seasons around the northern Great Lakes to farm or gather the various commodities they needed while leaving behind small gardens in their winter camps. In late winter, they would gather maple syrup from specifically chosen stands of trees and boil the sweet sap down into a delicacy.

- A baking sheet or shallow baking pan, covered in aluminum foil
- A sharp, serrated knife
- Large metal spoon

- A small pumpkin (look for the ones in your produce section labelled baking or pie pumpkin if you can't find a suitable specimen with the jack o' lantern fodder)
- 1/4 c (59 mL) maple syrup (actual maple syrup and not one that's mainly corn syrup is best, naturally)
- 1/4 c (59 mL) apple cider (or, in a pinch you can substitute apple juice. Again, just find one that's low in sugar and as close to 100% juice as possible.)
- 1/4 c (59 mL) butter- yes, it's not traditional, but it makes the guts of that pumpkin oh-so tasty
- While it isn't traditional, a dash of nutmeg wouldn't be out of place in this very autumnal recipe

Give your victim a light scrub under water to remove any leftover dirt of grime before placing it on your baking vessel of choice and into a 350 degree oven. It should take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get the pumpkin nice and tender.

Our victim about to go on a magical journey
To keep you entertained while the pumpkin is baking, here's a joke:
What do you call a relative who tells bad jokes?

A pun-kin!

By the time you stop groaning at me, the pumpkin should be good and tender (or ninety minutes, whichever comes first).

Once the pumpkin has baked to a soft consistency, use a serrated knife to cut off the top then use your spoon to scoop out the guts (careful, they're hot!). Be sure to save the seeds to toast for later snacking.

Warning: Vegetable rights enthusiasts- look away.
Mix together the cider, butter, and maple syrup. Before you pour it into your pumpkin however, use your knife to cut a few vertical slits into the insides of the flesh to get better coverage of the mixture. Pour the sweet sauce into pumpkin and swish it around for a minute or two before placing it back into the oven for 35-45 minutes.

The sweet stuff- apple cider, butter, and maple syrup.
When you take your pumpkin out there might be some of the sauce in the bottom- pour that into a bowl and save it for serving. Wait at least five minutes before hacking your pumpkin apart into individual wedges for consumption. Serve with some of the leftover sauce and maybe a few toasted pumpkin seeds on top for a nice crunch or a dash of nutmeg.

This would be a great accompaniment to a fall feast (coughThanksgivingcough) or even just a great way to get kids to eat vegetables (admittedly I don't typically like squash and I found this to be delicious!)- it's got maple syrup in it! One of these will easily serve a family of four, to boot, so when pumpkins are in season it's downright economical.


  1. Fantastic! You know, I'm not a big fan of squash either, but this DOES sound good! I may just have to try it out. :)
    Thanks for the great recipe.

  2. what i really want to know, should you feel so inclined to do so, is "what were the traditional recipes utilizing the "3 sisters" in Ojibwe cooking?" I love the pumpkin recipe, but we would get a better understanding of traditional culinary habits by seeing how they were used together in ceremonial or daily meals...

  3. Yay.. thanks for sharing this! I have used this method of gardening at high elevation in the Sierras as well as in the foothills. It is a very simpatico way to grow these particular plants. I just tried another very good pumpkin recipe I heard on NPR - Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good.