Hail Autumn! Hail Pumpkin!
Some people think that the shorter days are a drag, but I don’t mind. To me there’s no sweeter time than when the mornings start to crisp and the woodsmoke sings from chimneys. As a kid, I used to favor summer; it got me out of the classroom and into the swimming pool. But lately each year, I crave autumn more: the scarfs, the leaves, and of course, the food.
Fall is the apex of seasonal food. It’s the local eater’s dream: the ripe flesh of fruits and veggies, the warm scents of cinnamon and nutmeg quivering in the air. The farmer’s market stalls bust with butternut squash, honeycrisp apples and perfect orange pumpkins. When Fall swoons in grey skies and yellow leaves, it’s time to warm our bellies, warm our fingers. It’s time to put the soup on and crank the oven up.
It’s time to praise the pumpkin! As I type this, I’ve got in my oven a sugar pie pumpkin roasting on the top rack and its seeds toasting on the bottom rack. Another pumpkin waits on my countertop. The farmer who sold me these grinned and said, “These ain’t no city pumpkins,” as he brushed brown dirt away from their fresh, bright skins.
Pumpkin, or any winter squash really, is not only the quintessential fall flavor, but it’s easy to cook as a main, side or dessert. I usually cut one in half and scoop the seeds out before roasting. For a sweet, simple side, I brush the inner flesh with melted butter or olive oil and dust with brown sugar. Today, though, I’m making Pumpkin Steamed Pudding (in the singular because I don’t have ramekins). When my pumpkin cools down, I’ll scoop the flesh out and puree it; whip it up with butter, flour, sugar and eggs; and turn it out into a pie pan with a glom of syrup blanketing the bottom. It steams in the oven for about an hour after that, so it’s a delight for lazy afternoons, and its sensual scent beats potpourri any day.
My extra one will be Pumpkin Soup tomorrow and cooks just as easy. Sauté some onion, red pepper and carrots; add the pumpkin and stock; simmer; blend; eat. It’s all about simple cooking, and for pumpkin, there just ain’t nothing to it at all.