By Katherine M. Tomlinson
Here’s an easy fall project that lets your child take food from vine to table with his own hands (and help from you, of course). Take him to a local pumpkin patch to choose the infrastructure for this year’s jack-o-lantern. Be sure to point out any vines, explaining how they grow from pumpkin seeds and produce bright orange blossoms that become pumpkins. Along with the pumpkin to be carved and lit, help your child select a medium-size (about 4 pounds) sugar pumpkin to bake into moist mini-muffins full of delicious harvest-time flavors.
The first step is to transform your orange orb into a purée: Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Cut the sugar pumpkin in half from top to bottom and cut out the stem. Let your child help scoop out the seeds and pulp. Place the pumpkin halves insides-down in a shallow oiled baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until tender. Cool completely. Cube baked flesh and let your little one push the button on the food processor or blender to purée the cubes. The consistency should be very thick. If it’s thin, drain the purée in a fine-mesh sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth until thick. Freeze any extra purée for up to six months.
Pumpkin Patch Muffins
To make muffins: Preheat oven to 325ºF. Help your child place paper liners in a 24-cup mini-muffin tin. In a medium bowl, have him help stir together 1 cup homemade (or canned) pumpkin purée, 3/4 cup agave nectar, 1/4 cup canola oil, 1 teaspoon molasses and 1 large egg until smooth. In a separate bowl, let him or her help whisk together 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice. Add the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture and help your budding baker stir until the two are just combined. Divide the batter among muffin cups, filling each nearly to the rim. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out with a crumb or two clinging to it, about 20 minutes. Let the mini-muffins cool, then eat them! Makes 24 mini-muffins.