Pumpkins aren't just for carving scary faces or using as mere pie filler. The orange winter squash actually has many culinary uses--and also a rich history in Jewish cuisine.

The pumpkin was first introduced to the Jewish communities of Europe by conversos traveling with Spanish ships, according to author of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Rabbi Gil Marks. "Converso," the Spanish word for "convert," was used to refer to people who had converted to Christianity.

Many Jewish converts became sailors and traveled between Europe and the New World. At some point they brought pumpkin seeds to Europe, where Sephardic and Italian Jews were the first to embrace the now quintessential autumn fruit.

Over time, pumpkins with their many seeds became symbols of nature's bounty and as such they were associated with the harvest holiday of Sukkot. Stuffed pumpkin and pumpkin stews are still traditional Sukkot dishes in Sephardic and Bukharan Jewish communities.

But as Rabbi Marks points out, with Sukkot one of the things you want in a dish "is the ability to easily schlep it outdoors to the sukkah." Perhaps one of the most portable things around is cookies, which are both easy to make and a sure-fire hit at the family Sukkot table. Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies are a scrumptious option, incorporating the harvest flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg with semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies – Recipe by Ariela Pelaia

Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies

-      2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup)
-      ¼ cup granulated sugar
-      1 ¼ cups light brown sugar, packed
-      1 whole egg
-      1 egg yolk
-      2 Tablespoons milk
-      1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
-      1 cup canned pumpkin puree
-      2 ¾ cups bread flour
-      1 teaspoon salt
-      1 teaspoon baking soda
-      1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-      ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
-      ¼ teaspoon allspice or ground cloves (optional)
-      2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
-      Baking spray, separate use

Melt butter in the microwave, heating for 30-second increments until the butter has completely melted.

Combine bread flour, salt, baking soda, and spices in a medium bowl.

Pour the melted butter into the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. (You can also use a large bowl and a hand held mixer.) Add both sugars and cream on medium speed until slightly fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the whole egg, egg yolk, milk, vanilla, and pumpkin puree. Mix well.

Add the flour mixture ½ a cup at a time, mixing between additions. Stir in the chocolate chips. Chill dough for approximately two hours in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Remove dough from fridge and spray a tablespoon measurer with baking spray. This is to prevent the dough from sticking to the measuring spoon. Scoop generous, rounded balls of dough onto baking sheet, spacing them two inches apart. Gently press balls of dough down so that they look like thick, rounded circles.

Bake for 14 minutes at 375 degrees F, rotating the pan halfway through baking to ensure even browning.

Storage: These cookies will keep in an airtight container for 1 week.

Freezing: To save cookie dough for later baking, freeze raw balls of cookie dough on a cookie sheet before transferring to a freezer-safe airtight container. Dough will keep for 1 month. To bake, place frozen dough on lined cookie sheet and proceed as above, adding 2-5 minutes to baking time, depending on your oven.
 

Ariela Pelaia

Ariela Pelaia is a professional Jewish educator with a passion for food and culinary history. She writes the Judaism website for About.com and also maintains a blog with recipes and toddler activities called Sweet Happy Life .