Monday, November 2, 2009

What to Do With All of Those Uncarved Halloween Pumpkins

Long ago in graduate school (1990 to be exact), I treated myself to the October Bon Appetit. It had easy recipes for preserves, which sounded so delicious that I spent the better part of a late morning wrestling with a pumpkin. I sliced it into chunks (the most time consuming part), cleaned it, and cooked it. Then I made pumpkin cider butter.

The taste was phenomenal, but was it worth all that effort? I must not have thought so, since I haven't dealt with fresh pumpkin since.

But this year, I ended up with 2 pumpkins, and I couldn't bear to throw them away. With the larger one, I wanted to experiment with making soup right there inside the pumpkin. So, I cut the top off and hollowed it out (the most annoying part of my day). Then I put the following into the pumpkin (all measurements approximate): 1 and 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock, 1/2 pound grated cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup old (long past its cooking/drinking prime) sherry and Madeira and a can of fat free evaporated milk (NOT condensed). Into this mixture I put a handful of chicken chunks from last week-end's creation: I coated the chicken with Mexican spices (cocoa powder, cinnamon, and cumin) before grilling it. I didn't particularly like it with the chicken alone, but it did marvelous things for my soup.

I put the whole pumpkin in the oven and baked it for 2 hours. I put it on a flat baking sheet. In retrospect, I should have put it on a rimmed sheet or into a Pyrex bowl. I stirred the soup periodically, and towards the end, I scraped through to the outer shell. Some of the liquid started to drain out. Luckily, I caught this early, so the clean up wasn't too awful (cleaning the pumpkin was worse).

Last night, I had a bowl with a glass of Petite Sirah (Bogle is my new favorite, low end winery). Yummmm.

Since I was going to have the oven on anyway, I decided to cook the smaller pumpkin too. Unlike in 1990, I just put the whole pumpkin in the oven on a baking sheet. Once it's cooked, it's much easier to peel and clean.

I plan to either make a pie or the Pumpkin Cider Butter. If you want to make Pumpkin Cider Butter, put 3 cups of pumpkin puree into a heavy saucepan. Add 1/2 cup apple cider, 3/4 cup brow sugar, and season to taste with these spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves (the recipe written by Janet Fletcher suggests only 1/4 teaspoon or 1/8 teaspoon--absurdly small!). Bring to a simmer and cook down. Some cooks would tell you to spread the mixture into a 9 x 13 baking dish and bake at 250 degrees for 1 and 1/2 hours, but I imagine the stove top would work equally well. Your house will smell delicious! Pumpkin Cider Butter stores for months in the refrigerator.

So, as I look at the relentless sun and face another day of near-record heat, I'll continue to pretend that harvest is upon us. I'll make yummy things out of pumpkins and gourds and hope for a cold front to come our way soon.

Tomorrow, back to blogging about more literary things: my Margaret Atwood week-end!

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