Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Story of a Pumpkin

Oh, how I love Fall. Apparently, Pippi does too. We dug her winter clothes out of the cedar chest a week ago, and she's been running around the house, yard, and about town in sweaters, stocking caps, and scarves despite the fact that here in the South, temps swing wildly in the Fall - fifties in the morning, upper seventies, even eighties in the afternoon.

Perhaps my favorite part of fall is the food. Sausage on a stick. Roasted ears of corn. My mamma's apple cake muffins. Wassail. Hot chocolate made with whipping cream instead of milk.

And pumpkin. Pumpkin muffins. Pumpkin pancakes. Pumpkin cookies. Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin soup. Spiced rice pudding swirled with pumpkin. Love the stuff. But all those cans of pumpkin get a bit pricey. Especially as much as we have been using.

So I bought my first pumpkin. Now, I'm great about thinking up activities, buying weird foods, intending to experiment. Bad about following through. There is a coconut sitting on the counter. Been there about a month. Before that sad coconut, there was another coconut. It rotted. All it would take is a screw driver and a bit of muscle and we'd have fresh coconut milk, but . . . well, I'd have to go down to the garage and search for the screw driver, and it'd take a really long time tapping at that coconut eye . . . and, well . . . Pretty soon we'll have another rotted coconut.

So I'm sure everyone rolled there eyes, when I rolled in the pumpkin. But low and behold, we dug into that thing the day after I bought it. Really! And we had the most fun. So here it is, the story of a pumpkin.

Pippi had finally taken off her layers of winter garb, admitting that seventy-ish degrees was not exactly winter, and she and Tommy began to droop a bit. We'd played restaurant, king of the hill (with hay bails- very fun), hunted for bugs, and rubbed dirt into all the stuffed animals (that would be Tommy), and they'd begun to get that I'm bored, nothing to do look in their eyes.

So I rolled the pumpkin outside.

From start to finish, this was the most fun we've had in a while. Tommy was reluctant to stick his hand in it, kept calling it fire, talked about getting burned. And with the sunlight shining in through the hole I'd carved, the insides did sort of shimmer like firelight.

But Pippi had no such reservations. She dug in, squished the pith through her fingers. Then she helped me separate the pith from the seeds, which we set aside for later.

The pith, I gave to the kids, and their game of restaurant began anew. This time with pumpkin pith, cups of water, and okra from the garden. Pumpkin soup with nutmeg and cloves (dirt and more dirt) were on today's menu at Cafe Pip 'n' Tom.

After lunch, Tommy went down for his nap. While Pippi played not so quietly, my mother prepared the pumpkin for roasting while I attended to the seeds. For the seeds, I cleansed the seeds of pith. This probably would have been easier if I had done this while the seeds were still wet instead of letting them dry, the pith hardening like snot dried hard on my son's cheek. Then I spread them in a pan, sprayed them lightly with olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt, and roasted them on 300 degrees for about twenty-five minutes, stirring them once about halfway through. Yummy. Maybe next time I'll try tossing them with pumpkin pie spice.

To dress the pumpkin, my mom cut the pumpkin into three inch (or so) chunks, scraping off the pith with a paring knife. Then she turned the chunks skin side up in a roasting pan. For our pumpkin, we needed two roasting pans. Then she ran about 1/4 of an inch of water into the pan. Then put them into a 300 degree oven for about an hour and a half.

While the pumpkin roasted, Pippi and I read books. I must admit, I slipped my own selection into her stack. I couldn't resist. Have you discovered the Mousekin books by Edna Miller? Exquisite. I love these sweet forest stories. We read Mousekin's Golden House, a gentle story about Mousekin stumbling upon a discarded jack-o-lantern in the woods. When an owl flies at him, he jumps into the lantern. Sunlight floods the interior with a molten glow. He begins to line the pumpkin with feathers, thistledown, and milkweed, preparing his winter home. As the first snow of winter blanket's the ground, the lantern's eyes and mouth close, sealing the sleeping Mousekin inside

Snug as a mouse in a pumpkin.

After the pumpkin roasting, my momma mashed the pieces with a potato masher until the chunks were broken down quite a bit. Then while I cooked the evening meal, she slaved away with the immersion blender, reducing the mashed pumpkin into a puree every bit as fine as the golden stuff that comes in the can. Would we do this again? Not until I get a food processor. Momma spent an hour on the blending. Even for all the savings, that's a bit much to ask of a person's time.

But are we glad we did it?

Ask my mom.

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