Get your entries in for the Trout Caviar book giveaway--leave a comment about one of your 2011 LOCAL! food highlights by January 1; be specific, be evocative, regale and entice us!
One of my local food highlights of 2011 didn’t actually involve any food—well, not directly, at least. Last October Mary and I were driving through the western Wisconsin countryside, and came across an intriguing scene. Off to our right was an unremarkable field in which were growing, it appeared, squashes or pumpkins of some sort. The intriguing part was the odd contraption parked near the side road, around which an group of people were gathered, intent on a mysterious task.
In addition, between the county road we were driving on and the contraption and crew, there were piles of what appeared to be smashed-up pumpkins. We peered intently as we drove past, up a hill and around the bend. A couple hundred yards along, I swung to the shoulder and hung a U-ie. We had to go back and see what was going on.
Once we started down the side road and approached the group of people, I knew what we had come upon: it was harvest time in the fields where the pumpkins that produce Hay River Pumpkin Seed Oil are grown. Ken Seguine was the man in charge, and he was working out the kinks in a newly automated form of pumpkin seed extraction—prior to this year, a dedicated group of volunteers performed the task of smashing open pumpkins and sorting out the seeds by hand.
The new pumpkin seed machine consisted of a sort of conveyor belt/elevator that lifted the pumpkins up, to be dropped into a grinder that busted them into pieces. These pieces fell into a rotating, perforated drum. As the drum went round it further agitated the pieces so that the seeds fell out and dropped through the perforations into a bin below.
The rest of the process from there is a bit of a trade secret, but it involves toasting and then pressing, and the result is a fragrant, dark oil that’s popular in Europe (particularly Austria), but nearly unknown in this country—indeed, Hay River is the first pumpkin seed oil produced in America.
I’ve just gotten a fresh bottle of the oil to experiment with, and will write more about the culinary applications of the oil in the next few weeks—a slaw of raw kabocha squash, celery root, and apple tossed with a pumpkin seed oil, cider vinegar, and honey dressing was a winner. I just love that this kind of thing is going on out in the western Wisconsin countryside.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw