I love the fall. It might be my favorite season (Although I say that about every season when it's at the cusp of it's glory. Just ask me about winter on New Year's Day.).
But for today, I'm restricting my praises to autumn. I am drawn throughout the year to it's deep colors, choosing purple, orange and red for all manner of things from dish towels, to sneakers, to the color of my bike. Then there are the fall vegetables. Forget those fragile sissy spears of scallion and asparagus I raved about in April. In October, I want the thump of a butternut squash and the heft of a box of sweet potatoes to celebrate cooler weather.
When I made my first pan of roasted vegetables in September, Olivia came into the kitchen and said, "It smells like school!" (Meaning, it smells like the time of year when school starts, not, it smells like that horrible building in which I'm held prisoner for 6 hours a day 5 days a week!).
These little things - a side dish for dinner that we haven't had in nine months - help us notice and celebrate the year's transitions.
So what's the gripe?
Retailers, eager to exploit the pleasures of a new season, can really drive the thing into the ground if you let them. And pumpkin is the flave-o-fall extraordinaire. In October, I can drink myself into a stupor on pumpkin ale then wake myself up with a pumpkin latte. For breakfast I can smear pumpkin cream cheese on a pumpkin bagel, or if I'm not in the mood for a bagel, I could whip up a batch of pumpkin pancakes from a boxed mix instead. While I'm in the baking section, I may as well snag some pumpkin bread, or pumpkin muffin, or pumpkin scone mix so I have something to go with my pumpkin soup for lunch. And if I don't want soup, I could lather the bakery with pumpkin butter for a special treat!
I can't help but wonder: is there also pumpkin jerky? pumpkin quiche, or perhaps salted, gingered, or candied pumpkin nuggets? None of this is to mention the pumpkin seeds --do they sell them in pumpkin flavor?
When you shop for these pumpkin products, you will notice piles of real but mostly inedible pumpkins posing in Halloween pyramids about the store. How ironic that when I asked the clerk if the pumpkins were edible he looked at me in surprise, "Oh! I don't know!" he said, as if it had never occurred to him to eat a pumpkin before.
Could it be that we are surrounded by pumpkin simulacra?--representations of pumpkin-flavor so prolific that we have forgotten that the flavor of our October coffee (which tastes more like cinnamon and allspice than pumpkin if you ask me) derived in the first place from a vegetable shockingly called: a "pumpkin?"
After surviving the pumpkin pandemonium at the grocery store this morning, I'm thinking again about lessatarianism. I didn't even eat any of that pumpkin flavored stuff, but I still feel a little ill--as if I did. It must be the power of pumpkin-persuasion. Whatever it is, it's got me screaming "less is more!"
As in less pumpkin-flavor. I have nothing against a bounty of actual pumpkins. Here are my pretties for the season:
notice the not-dead-yet plant in the background!
Even after the grocery trip, I don't feel remotely ill when I look at this pair of squash. One is a little pie pumpkin from my co-op, the other is a Cinderella pumpkin - as good to eat as it is to look at.
If you're in the mood for a real pumpkin too, stop by your local farmer's market--they have the kind you can eat! It's not that the traditional pumpkin patch pumpkin will poison you or anything, but it might bore you to death with its flavorless, skimpy and stringy self.
Instead, get a beautiful, bulgy, knotty orange or green sensation--a Fairy Tale (or Musquee de Provence if you want to be French about it), a Cinderella (pictured above), a Jarrahadale (blue/green/gray that will shock you with its orange flesh), or a Hubbard (big or little, bulbous, orange).
If you want to have fun with it, pick one out for its pumpkin personality rather than for its perfection. Let it cheer your kitchen or family room for a bit, then, when the day arrives, slice the thing open and roast it. You know I'm not a food blogger, so here are the details if you need step-by-step instructions with pretty pictures.
You can scoop out your cooked pumpkin and use it as is, but I like to throw it in a colander and forget about it for an hour to let excess water drain out (unless I'm using it for soup).
I also puree it because some of us are funny about texture around here and don't like any "strings" of pumpkin to show up in our soup or pancakes, but that step is only necessary if you're family is texturally challenged.
If your pumpkin is big, freeze the puree in 1-cup portions so you can pull it out for various recipes. Add it to bread, pancakes, soup, cake and pie, but for god's sake, don't stir it into your coffee or drop dollops into your beer--pureed or not!
We usually cook a pumpkin or two each fall, making sure to save enough puree for a thanksgiving pie. And that's about enough, because as you know, less is more.