I am sitting in the living room of one of my closest friends in Philadelphia, Anj’s godmother Kristin. I grew up in Philadelphia and have been very close with Kristin since I was 16. That is over 40 years. She is dying of lung cancer and I don’t know if this is the last time I will be with her.
For the last year I have been making the purest and simplest food for her – organic chicken broth or very simple organic lentils with greens. Even though I can’t be there to cook for her every night, she can combine these simple foods to make soups and stews – giving her comfort, inspiration and the nutrition she needs to keep her strength. I freeze them and bring them to her about once a month. Now most of what she is eats comes out of an intravenous tube. (What she takes by mouth she usually throws up.)
So here I am, sitting next to her, and writing this post while she dozes on my shoulder – a surreal experience. But work is an anchor that grounds the soul – so here we go.
This fall in Connecticut has been spectacular. I never remember one more beautiful. For weeks the maples have been aflame: red, yellows, oranges. Storms come and go, trees swaying violently in the winds, rains turning everything dark. And then the rains stop and I look up, expecting to see the skeletons of the trees nude without their brilliant fall display. But no, the show goes on. What a privilege to live in New England at this time of year.
I love the seasons. Even winter, when I can sit around the fire and study my seed catalogs and dream about the spring. Anj and my favorite festivity is Halloween. We carve pumpkins and make scary dummies and tell ghost stories. One year Anj went to a Halloween party in NY dressed as a dead prom queen. She sent us a photo. It was spooky, a little too real, freaked us out. We did not like to see her looking dead. But we do get into it. Look at Harry and Henrietta; you will see what I mean.
Every year in October I make a pilgrimage to a local farm of ours Tulmeadow. Not just for apples and pears but to buy big pumpkins, field pumpkins, sugar pumpkins and mums and gourds. Field pumpkins, in my opinion, are for carving and sugar pumpkins are for eating. I cut them in half, clean out the seeds and soak them to clean them and roast later. Then I roast the pumpkins until they are tender. When they are falling apart I scrape out all the flesh – with its aroma of earth and cloves – puree it and freeze it to use in my pies, breads and other desserts during the holidays.
Today was the day. I am very happy I did it because the rest of the fall is filling up fast, including a trip to India. Anjuli and Matt and Austin will be here for Thanksgiving and I have heard a rumor we may cook our turkey in a pit in the ground. Whatever we do, my pumpkin puree will be there waiting for me for comfort and inspiration.
Roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) Makes 1 1/2 cups seeds from 2 6″ pumpkins
I always think I am going to roast the seeds of the sugar pumpkins, but most times they end up in the compost. This year I did it. It is something of a pain – I have to warn you – but they are worth it. They are very yummy.
1 1/2 cups pumpkins seeds, pre-soaked in salt solution and dried (see above
1 tablespoon ghee or butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Clean the and soak the seeds. Wash the pumpkins, cut them in half and remove the seeds and all those gooey fibers from inside the pumpkin. Transfer the seeds and fiber to a bowl of water and let soak a few minutes. Remove the seeds, clean them of fiber and transfer them to a colander. Run water over them and remove fiber until their clean. Clean the bowl and place them back in along with 1 cup hot water and 1 teaspoon salt. Soak for 30 minutes.
Dry on paper or kitchen towels until there is no excess water. It’s Ok if they are damp.
Tip: So clean the pumpkin, first use your hands. It is messy and slimy but the most effective tool. Then switch to a metal spoon to scrape the inside of the pumpkin smooth.
Season the seeds. Preheat the oven to 350F. Put the dried pumpkins seeds on a cookie sheet. Heat a small frying pan to medium low. Melt the ghee. Add the cinnamon, ginger, chili powder and salt and cook for 30 seconds. Pour on the seeds and mix everything to combine. Spread the seeds out in a single layer.
Roast and store the seeds.
Roast the seeds for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until toasty brown. Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight bottle.
Pumpkin puree Makes 4 cups of puree
2 6″ diameter sugar pumpkins, cut in half and cleaned of seeds and fibers
8 teaspoons ghee
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Season and roast the pumpkins. Preheat the oven to 375F. Sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon of cloves in each pumpkin half. Paint each half with 2 teaspoons of ghee. Place the halves in a large roasting pan. Put a small ovenproof bowl or ramekin full of hot water in the roasting pan with the pumpkins. This water will keep the pumpkins from drying out as you roast them. Roast for 75 to 90 minutes until really tender.
Puree and freeze. Remove pulp, while it is still warm, and place in the bowl of a food processor. Puree until smooth. It may take about a minute. Freeze in proper containers. This puree is a million times better than the stuff that comes in a can.
Tip: I find one cup containers give me the most flexibility. If I am using it for bread or cookies I probably need 1 cup. If I am using it pie it varies. This way I don’t waste it by defrosting more than I need. I always write the quantity, date, and description of the contents (pumpkin puree with cloves) on the lid of the container.