Halloween vs. Erntedankfeste
You won’t find quite as many jack-o-lanterns in Austria, however. Catholic Austrians instead focus their energy on celebrating All Souls’ Week beginning the night before Halloween, during which they honor loved ones who have passed. On October 31st, some Austrians leave out bread, water and a lighted lamp to welcome the dead back to earth.
Conversely, pumpkins are met with fanfare at Austria’s Erntedankfeste, or harvest festivals. There you’ll find everything from roasted seeds to breads, casseroles and cakes, as well as Austria’s main pumpkin product: pumpkinseed oil, a regional delicacy primarily harvested in the Styria region.
Pumpkinseed Oil: A National Treasure
Cooking with pumpkinseed oil is somewhat rare in Austria. Most home cooks have instead followed in the footsteps of renowned chefs like Austrian-born Wolfgang Puck, who uses the nutty-flavored oil to dress salads, drizzle over fish and even as a substitute to sesame oil in sushi. 90% of all pumpkinseed oil produced is consumed in Austria and it takes about five pumpkins to make one cup of oil, which explains why there are so many pumpkins growing in the countryside – and demand continues to rise outside the country as well.
The pumpkin soup recipe that follows specifically mentions the Hokkaido variety, also known as the red kuri squash. As its name suggests, Hokkaido pumpkins have been cultivated in Japan, and particularly on the island of Hokkaido, where they grow in volcanic soil, since the late 19th century – although it is believed that all squash originated in MesoAmerica.
Hokkaido pumpkins arrived in Europe just two decades ago and have been favored by Austrians and Germans ever since. Rich in vitamins and antioxidants, the Hokkaido is also a good source of fiber, iron and potassium and is easy to cook with. In fact, its thin skin softens during cooking and can be eaten safely, so there is no need to peel or pre-roast before scooping out the flesh, making the warm, seasonal recipe below a cinch!