[Home Page] [This Week] [Classifieds] [Legals] [Obituaries] [Newsstands] [Subscriptions] [Advertising] [Deadlines] [About Us] [FAQ] [Archives] [Commumity Links] [Contact Us]

Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 26, 2006

Cooking up uses for pumpkins during Halloween

By Jo E. Prout

Pumpkin season is in full swing with the approach of Halloween, but what good are the gourds, really" The answer depends on whom you ask.

Joe Abbruzzese, of Altamont Orchards in Guilderland, sells most of the farm’s pumpkins for carving or painting. Because of the rainy spring, Altamont Orchards’ pumpkins were planted late, and for the first part of the pumpkin season, Abbruzzese said, the farm had to buy pumpkins from elsewhere.

Now, the baking, carving, and smooth-skinned pumpkins — the latter for painting ghoulish faces upon — grown on his farm are ripe.

"As long as it’s orange and they can cut it, that’s what pumpkins sell for," Abbruzzese said.

Altamont Orchards is holding a pumpkin party this Saturday, or Sunday if the year’s rain continues, along with a chicken barbecue, a haunted house, and a car show. Pumpkin sales, Abbruzzese said, are an outside activity, and, therefore, weather-dependent like all aspects of farming.

Good weather over Columbus Day weekend helped pumpkin sales, but rain and wind last weekend kept buyers away, he said.

"Sign of the season"

Those searching for pumpkins in New Scotland can find 10 varieties at Indian Ladder Farms. Most of the varieties can be seen on the farm’s pumpkin totem pole.

Jack Nemier, the assistant manager for Indian Ladder Farms, said that they grow the orange pumpkins traditionally used for carving, along with nine others, including a large white pumpkin called Full Moon. Lumina pumpkins are smaller versions of the Full Moon.

Two sizes of Munchkins — smaller gourds, of course — are available. Nemier has a soft spot for Cinderella pumpkins, which are large and rather flat, and named because their shape mimics the carriage pumpkin depicted in illustrations of the fairy tale they’re named after. "They’re gorgeous," he said.

"I’d never seen a white pumpkin until I saw a Full Moon," he said. "What’s cool about those is that they’re yellow inside."

Nemier traces fall leaves on the pumpkins and then carves out the shape, he said. The yellow flesh glowing inside a lit-up white pumpkin skin is unusual, he said.

Indian Ladder Farms also sells smaller baking pumpkins that "have a little bit more meat in them," Nemier said. The café on the farm serves pumpkin bisque and pumpkin muffins.

Pumpkin sales are brisk, and Nemier schedules an extra employee just to handle them.

"It’s a fall decorative thing — a table display, or a porch entry to a house. It’s a fall thing. It’s the sign of the season," he said.

Healthy eating

For those wanting to use their pumpkins for more than decorations, Lisa Buenau, the nutrition program coordinator for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County, has a few tips.

Buenau said that people should bring in their pumpkins after Halloween and roast the seeds and scrape out the pulp. The pulp can be boiled, and people can add sugar or spices, she said.

"Use it like any other vegetable" in quiches, soups, or pies, she said.

Buenau said that some people try to use pumpkins after they’ve been carved. "I wouldn’t recommend [that] at all," she said. Pumpkins that have not been opened, that have only had their outer skin exposed, are fine to cook. "They grow like that," she said.

Using information gleaned from the University of Illinois Extension and its website urbanext.uiuc.edu, Buenau told The Enterprise that pumpkin contains beta-carotene, an antioxidant, and Vitamin C, as well as a variety of minerals. A half cup of pumpkin has five grams of dietary fiber, she said. Pumpkin seeds are also high in fiber and contain vitamin B-12 and polyunsaturated fat.

Recipes from the University of Illinois Extension:

Quick and Easy Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Use your favorite pumpkin soup for the "pumpkin tureen" or use this simple recipe. Although this soup is rich and creamy, there is actually no cream in it. The thick body of the soup comes from the pumpkin puree and evaporated skim milk.

2 cups finely chopped onions

2 green onions, sliced thinly, tops included

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1 green chili pepper, chopped

1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil

3 cans chicken broth (14-1/2-ounce cans) or 6 cups homemade chicken stock

2 cups pumpkin puree or 1 can (16 -ounce) solid-pack pumpkin

1 bay leaf

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 cup undiluted, evaporated skim milk

Salt and pepper to taste (Canned chicken broth and canned pumpkin may contain added salt. Taste the finished soup before adding salt, as additional salt may not be needed.)

Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley


In a 6-quart saucepan, sauté onions, green onions, celery and chili pepper in oil. Cook until onions begin to look translucent.

Add broth, pumpkin, bay leaf, and cumin. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove bay leaf. Add evaporated milk and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Do not boil. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, if desired.

Transfer hot soup to pumpkin tureen. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. Serve hot. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Pumpkin Cheese Risotto

Risotto is a classic Italian rice dish. Although it requires constant watching and stirring, it is well worth the time and effort. Do not rinse the rice before cooking it. The starch that coats each grain is important for making creamy risotto. Serve as soon as possible after cooking to prevent gumminess.

7 to 8 cups chicken stock, canned or homemade

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cups Arborio rice*

1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

6 fresh sage leaves, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 sage leaves for garnish


In a saucepan, heat stock to a simmer and hold at a very slow simmer.

In a large heavy bottomed saucepan next to stock, heat butter and add onion. Cook over medium heat until translucent. Add rice, stir, and add 1 1/2 cups hot stock.

Stir until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, add another 1 1/2 cups hot stock. Repeat a third time adding pumpkin and sage. Repeat with another 1 1/2 cups hot stock and add salt and pepper to taste.

Continue to stir until most of the stock has been absorbed by the rice. After about 25 to 30 minutes, taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Rice should be firm but tender (al dente).

Leave risotto a little runny before adding the cheese so it will have a creamy not stiff texture.

Ladle into soup plates and garnish with a sage leaf.

Makes four servings as a main course or six appetizer servings.

*Arborio rice, the short-grained variety best suited for risotto, is available at Italian and specialty food stores. If you cannot find it, California pearl rice is a good substitute.

Piatka tells a tale of discovery and reconciliation

By Tyler Schuling

Naava Piatka thinks of herself as a messenger.

Following her Sunday afternoon performance, Piatka, both playwright and actress, is surrounded by fans. She has been backstage for a short time and is now dressed more casually.

She moves about the crowd and embraces men and women she has never met.

One man holds her hand and tells her that he has just seen one of the most moving things of his life.

Another tells Piatka she wishes her grandchildren were there; yet another tells the playwright she could see her mother.

"You brought them all back to life," she said.

"Thank you for embracing the faith," Piatka says.

Piatka stars in and wrote a one-woman musical, Better Don’t Talk!, presented this week at the Schacht Fine Arts Theatre on the Russell Sage College campus in Troy.

She said the production is a dream come true.

Better Don’t Talk! is a musical tribute to Piatka’s mother, Chayela Rosenthal, who was known as the "Star of the Vilna Ghetto" in war-torn Lithuania during the Holocaust.

To combat the atrocities surrounding her, Rosenthal and her brother, Layb, made music.

Playing both her mother (Chayela) and herself, Piatka tells the story her mother couldn’t. She tells of her mother’s way of dealing with horrific events, the pains her mother didn’t wish to re-live, and her own personal journey.

"I have three children — my small contribution to the 6 million," Naava says of the Jewish population killed during the Holocaust.

With few props, and no other actors to interact with, Piatka is armed on stage only with her charismatic personality and the determination to keep her audience’s attention. She tells her story convincingly.

Her only props are a wooden chair, a small table, and a suitcase.

Behind her, an elaborate backdrop containing large photographs, musical scores, and newspaper clippings, lights up as she narrates.

During the musical number, "Yisroilik," dressed in a long, gray overcoat with a yellow Star of David, the symbol Nazis forced Jews to wear, Piatka is accompanied by a carefree puppet wearing the same outfit.

The puppet, Piatka told The Enterprise, was made by the daughter of a Nazi.

Through the performance, Piatka interjects Yiddish humor, alternates from the modern Naava to the more traditional Chayela, and casually converses with her audience.

Naava uses a suitcase she found in her parents’ home, containing old pictures, musical scores, and first-hand accounts.

Along the way, she discovers her mother’s and Uncle Layb’s, past.

Her character, through discovery, moves from ignorance to a greater awareness of the impact of the Holocaust on her mother.

At the beginning of the production, a resentful Naava tells the audience that her mother always needed Naava to be perfect.

Chayela, she says, was also superstitious.

Imitating her mother, Naava beckons the audience to come in close for what she is about to say. When she finally musters the courage to speak, she speaks quietly, suspicious and fearful someone or some higher being might overhear her, or that her words will bring about disastrous consequences. Whenever her mother thinks she’s said the "wrong" thing or said too much, she spits over her shoulder three times.

After discovering more about her mother and the tragedies which surrounded her daily, Naava is less critical and ultimately more understanding.

A more mature character emerges after Naava gains insight about the atrocities that befell her, and what she had to do to fight against their effects.

Very picky

"It’s a perfect production," Piatka told The Enterprise. "From the lighting, to the scenery, to the staff""

Piatka has performed Better Don’t Talk! since 1998 all over the world — in her native South Africa, where she began her career; in Australia, Canada, England, and Scotland; at the Holocaust Museum; in synagogues; on Broadway; and on the same stage her mother performed on in Lithuania.

Piatka described herself as somewhat of a gypsy. She is also an artist and a writer. Her living area is a bit untidy. When it comes to theater, she has a different approach.

"I’m very picky," she said.

The musical, Piatka told The Enterprise, took eight years to write, and came together piece by piece; she added more and more to it throughout the process.

She wanted to make a personal story people could identify with.

Theater, she said, is powerful. In theater, she said, an actor has a personal relationship with the audience. "It fosters empathy, and tolerance is about empathy," she said.

Piatka said that she felt she was guided from above, and that she was a messenger because of her unique upbringing.

"It’s been a great journey for me," she said.


Better Don’t Talk! is running this week and weekend. It will be showing Thursday and Friday, Oct. 26 and 27, at 2 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 28, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. Sunday’s performance will be a sign language-interpreted performance.

Performances are at the Schacht Fine Arts Center on the Russell Sage Campus in Troy.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $16 for senior citizens and students, and $10 for children to age 12.

For more information, call (518) 274-3256.

[Return to Home Page]