Another Pumpkin Story
It all starts with Winter Luxury, a stunningly beautiful heirloom pumpkin of the palest orange and just enough flesh for two pumpkin pies. I spy it at the Goshen Farmers Market and have to buy it. I also purchase an old fashioned pie pumpkin to use for pumpkin cookies and pumpkin cake. At this time of year, the squash selection is amazing. Large or small, tall or squat, dark green, orange, speckled or blue, rounded or elongated, each with its very own flavor and texture, I walk among them and I can hardly choose. Exotic names like Red Kuri, Jarrahdale, Kabocha and Heart of Gold accompany the striking shapes and colors. I finally choose two more to take home.
And it continues. It is pumpkin season after all. I make a batch of sourdough pumpkin bread and bake it in the woodfired oven. And I remember a friend’s story of Anthony Bourdain watching his friend bake a stuffed pumpkin in a woodfired oven. The idea roots itself in my brain and I gather the ingredients I need. First, I build a nice fire in the oven so that the coals will keep the oven hot enough to bake a pumpkin. Then, I cut into a Heart of Gold squash. It cracks as the knife slices through it. I clean out the seeds and bake it. I fry some good bacon, some onions and mushrooms, toast slices of my sourdough bread, and gather at hand some cream and Gruyère cheese, along with some sweet paprika, salt and pepper. Then, it’s time to cut into the sugar pumpkin. I choose one that has a traditional form with a nice stem and bright orange skin. I carve out a cap, clean it out and I am ready to start stuffing. I sprinkle spices, then layer the cubed bread, baked squash, bacon, mushrooms and onions, interspersed with grated cheese. I top it off with cream, set the lid back on and the pumpkin is ready to go into the fire.
The pumpkin seems at home in the oven. It slowly heats up, sealing in the flavors. It turns brown in spots, and softens, releasing steam and delicious aromas as it bakes.
After an hour and a quarter, night has fallen. I need a flashlight to peek into the oven to see if the stuffed pumpkin is ready! And it is. We bring it inside, lift off the cap and inhale. The smell of bacon and onions and cheese is irresistible, and as we eat, the flavors are all about warmth and comfort and autumn. This pumpkin reaches in to all the corners and fills them.
As the leaves on the trees color and fall, and the squash and pumpkins come in from the field, I’ll soak it all in, amazed at the variety and color. And maybe by the time I see the first snowflake, I’ll have my fill until next year, when the clear deep blue skies and mellow light of fall appear once again, and the pumpkins grow anew on the vine.