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Pick Your Own Pumpkins and Apples

Autumn has arrived in the Berkshires, meaning harvest time is upon us. The scent of fresh baked pies is in the air; pumpkins and apples are ready for the picking. The Berkshires are bountifully blessed with luscious, locally grown produce.

Though farmers offer a colorful array of fruits and vegetables from May through the holiday season, it's the cool autumn months that give a hearty robust flavor to fresh pumpkins and apples. A scenic drive along a backcountry road will most likely lead to a farm where you and your family can pick your own. pumpkinsapples.jpg

Pumpkins

When harvesting pumpkins, look for a deep, uniform orange color and hard rind. Handle them carefully to avoid cuts and bruises. Cut the pumpkins off the vine with a sharp knife or pair of lopping shears. Leave several inches of stem attached to each fruit-it will be more attractive and less likely to rot. Don't carry pumpkins by their stems. They may not be able to support the weight and could break off.

If your pumpkin is to make its debut as a jack-o-lantern, you can store it in a cool dry place for up to three months or until it's ready for carving. Refrigerating it will cause it to deteriorate more quickly.

This seasonal decoration is also a versatile, healthful vegetable. Rich in complex carbohydrates, potassium and cancer-fighting beta-carotene, one cup of mashed pumpkin contains only fifty calories with almost zero fat. Choose a small sugar pumpkin for cooking, as they are sweeter and more tender.

Spice up a pumpkin pie with stewed apples or pears, brown sugar, maple syrup or cinnamon. Swiss-style pumpkin is a rich side, made with Swiss and Parmesan cheese, and traditional West Indian pumpkin soup is a piquant palate pleaser. For a festive fall table setting, serve your favorite hearty soup inside a pumpkin shell.

Here's are recipes for pumpkin biscuits and a pudding, both easy to make and taste great for any meal or as a snack anytime:

New England Pumpkin Biscuits

Ingredients: 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon mace, 4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup scalded milk, 1/4 yeast cake dissolved in 1/4 cup lukewarm water, 2-1/2 cups flour.

Add the pumpkin, sugar, salt, mace and butter to the milk. Cool to lukewarm and add the dissolved yeast cake, then the flour; cover and put in a warm place to rise overnight. Shape into biscuits, place side by side in a greased pan; let rise again, and bake in a 375 degree oven.

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Pumpkin Pudding Squares

Ingredients: 4 cups pumpkin, 2-1/2 cups evaporated milk, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup all purpose flour, 1/2 cup butter, 3 eggs lightly beaten,1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg & cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda & salt. Whipped cream.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a 13 X 9 X 2 inch baking pan. In a large mixer bowl at medium speed, beat pumpkin, evaporated milk, sugar, flour, butter, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking soda and salt for 1 minute or until smooth and well blended. Pour into pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cut in squares and serve warm or cold with whipped cream. Makes 12 (3 inches each)

Several area farms allow you to harvest your choice of their best pumpkins. They include Whitney Farm (442-4749) in Cheshire, MA, Ioka Valley Farm (738-5915) in Hancock, MA, Taft Farms (528-1515) in Great Barrington, MA and Mountain View Farm (445-7642) in Lanesboro, MA.

Apples

When selecting apples, gently press your finger against them to check for firmness. Choose apples that feel hard and don't dent. Make sure you do this when selecting larger apples because they are more likely to be over ripe than smaller ones.

Since apples are ripe when you pick them, they need to be kept cold. Store them in your refrigerator to keep them crisp and delicious for up to six weeks, but away from green vegetables and leafy greens. Greens are sensitive to ethylene, a natural gas that apples produce.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, no matter which variety. There are 7,000 types of apples in the world, and 2,500 in the United States. One medium apple has about 80 calories, no fat, and 20 percent of our daily requirement for fiber.

Apples may be the most popular of fruits. They bring comfort…memories of Mom and apple pie, a favorite teacher and cool autumn days warmed by a soothing cup of apple cider. Apple cobbler, apple tarts and apple cake are traditional favorites. And nothing complements a round of warm Brie like sliced juicy apples. This Thanksgiving, a side dish of apples, sweet potatoes and chestnuts is bursting with fall flavor and provides an exciting alternative to candied yams.

Ingredients: 3 pounds of sweet potatoes, 3 apples, peeled and sliced, ¼ cup lemon juice, 1 cup chestnuts, halved and roasted, 1 stick sweet butter, ½ cup brown sugar, ½ cup honey, 2 tablespoons dark rum, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ginger, ¼ teaspoon mace.

Bake sweet potatoes at 400 degrees; cool, peel and slice. Toss apples with lemon juice. Butter 14-inch dish. Arrange potatoes and apples; sprinkle on chestnuts. Heat butter, brown sugar, honey, rum and spices, until sugar is melted. Pour over all. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes; baste occasionally. Broil until lightly browned. Serves 12.

Pick your own apples at Windy Hill Farm (298-3217), located at 686 Stockbridge Rd. (Rt. 7), between Stockbridge, MA and Great Barrington, MA. They are open daily for picking from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. daily. Enjoy your own, fresh-picked apples at other area farms, including Bartlett's Orchard (698-2559) in Richmond, MA, Hilltop Orchard (698-3301) in Richmond, MA, Jaeschke's (743-3896) in Adams, MA, and Mohawk Orchards (625-2874) in Shelburne, MA.

Take an afternoon drive through the bold colors and sweet scents of autumn. Explore our sprawling farms and fragrant orchards, and take home a taste of the Berkshires.