Winter Luxury Pumpkins - Part One

Get ready, this is going to be a long post - three meals that were very different, but connected by pumpkins. I love to string meals together like this, using one to prep for the next. It's an art all it's own!

Some farmer friends of mine, Jacques and Amy Neukom, recently gave me six Winter Luxury Pumpkins. These are similar to the regular Sugar Pie Pumpkins used to make pumpkin pie, but a little older and more obscure variety that's been around since at least the 1880s. A few references I found online suggest that these are very similar to the pumpkins grown by Native Americans and eaten at the first Thanksgiving, which is plausible, since all squash comes from the Americas and a variety that's been around for that long must have some ties to native cultures....

Anyway, the seed is hard to buy in large quantities, and the farmers who gave them to me would like to grow a lot of them, so they're saving as many seeds as possible this year. They gave me the pumpkins to use, with the condition that I scoop out the seeds, dry them, and return them for next year's planting. I was only too glad to use these pumpkins as for an autumn pumpkin challenge! How many ways are there to cook a pumpkin, and is it possible to get sick of them? I don't think so - they're really good - very smooth and creamy with an almost carmel-y sweet taste.

I cut open the first two pumpkins two weekends ago. Here are the seeds scooped out on a paper towel. I let them dry like this overnight, and then put them in a paper bag and delivered them to Jacques and Amy.

I rubbed the underside of the pumpkin halves with butter and baked them till they were tender. The skins have a really neat netting - almost like a cantaloupe.

It didn't take long at all to cook, just about a half hour. I scooped the cooked flesh out into the food processor. It looks a little stringy but when I processed it, it quickly got very smooth....

I wanted to add some fresh ginger to the pie I was planning, so instead of chopping it separately I added it to the pumpkin in the food processor. It make a wonderful silky smooth, spicy sweet pumpkin puree.

I decided to start out my pumpkin experiments with a traditional pumpkin pie. I used this recipe from Epicurious for Spiced Pumpkin Pie. I like it extra spicy, so I added more cinnamon, cloves, and of course ginger than the recipe called for. I also used all brown sugar instead of a mixture of white and brown. Here's the batter: eggs, cream, pumpkin, spices, brown sugar, and molasses. Mmmmm....

I had bought some of the local figs from Orleans at the Farmer's Market that morning, so I chopped some up and sprinkled them into the pie. It doesn't look like much in this picture, and unfortunately I didn't get any other pictures, but it was delicious! Sometimes things are just too good to take the time to photograph - I have to enjoy them right away! The figs cooked in perfectly and added interesting sweet chunks in the spicy smooth custard-y pie.

I had quite a bit of pureed pumpkin and ginger left over, which I put away in the fridge to use later on.

Fast forward a week. I baked this chicken on Saturday night last weekend - no there's no pumpkins involved, but it's all connected, just wait and see!

The chicken was organic, but unfortunately not local or pastured - I guess you can't have it all all the time! I've been on a Julia Child kick recently, so I prepared this chicken more or less how she instructs (minus the trussing, which I decided was just too much work.) I rinsed it inside and out with cold water, dried it, and rubbed it all over with butter. I stuffed it with some herbs (fresh thyme, sage, and lemongrass from the garden) and a clove of garlic, and in the oven it went. I cooked it at a relatively high temperature (425 degrees) for about 15 minutes to brown the outside, and then turned it down to 325 for the rest of the cooking, basting it with butter every so often. About an hour before it was done, I added some local fingerling potatoes and torpedo onions, and about 10 minutes before it was done threw in some sugar snap peas from the garden. It was great - the butter made it especially juicy and succulent!

The whole point of the chicken was that I wanted to make fresh stock for the soup I was planning for Sunday night's meal, to which we had invited two friends and their young daughter. We ate the breasts and thighs of the freshly roasted chicken, saved the rest of the meat for another meal, and I used the carcass to make stock.

This beautiful local celery also played prominently in the stock. It's from some of the nicest upcoming farmers in the area - Ben and Kelsie of Rainfrog Farm. It's not at all like store-bought celery - it's tougher, but it's got amazing strong celery flavor that blows away any celery you'll ever find in a store. This is real celery, not just crunchy water!

I simmered a few stalks of chopped celery with the chicken carcass, a few chopped carrots, and a little salt over very low heat for about 4 hours. It made the house smell awesome!

Here's the stock I ended up with - beautiful! I used some for the pumpkin soup I was planning and had two quarts left over. I put this away in the fridge to use for my next pot of soup.

As the stock was cooking, I got to work on the other ingredients of the pumpkin soup. The recipe came from a wonderful book I just bought - Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods, by Gary Paul Nabhan. It's included with the section about chestnuts, and uses all native and traditional seasonal foods.

I bought these chestnuts at the farmer's market on Saturday morning. I had never roasted chestnuts before, but it was pretty easy. First, I used a sharp knife to score the skin of each one - if you don't do this they're liable to explode while they're cooking!

I roasted them for about 10 minutes until the shells started to peel back. I actually think I could have roasted them a little longer - the inner skin, which is thinner and more fibrous that the outer shiny skin, didn't detach all the way - making it pretty difficult to shell them. I got through it though.

Here's the beginning of the soup - more of the celery, local carrots, and the last of my local Walla Walla onions. I sauteed these in butter till they were soft, then added the pumpkin and ginger puree that I'd been saving from the week before, and the chestnuts, and then some chicken broth....

This all cooked down for about an hour, and then I added a little local apple cider from Fortuna and pureed it all with my handy dandy hand blender. The last step was to add some cream and season it with salt and pepper.

As the soup was cooking, I made the cake that I was planning as a dessert for this meal. I had picked up a large bag of juice carrots at the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. We made juice Saturday afternoon, which left us with a big pile of carrot pulp. I decided to use it to make a carrot cake. I really should have soaked the pulp in something to give it some of it's moisture back, but I didn't think of that till it was too late. I followed the carrot cake recipe I always use from the New Moosewood Cookbook, but it turned out much dryer and denser than usual. Not inedible, but noticeably dry.

I tried to make up for it with this fig icing. I started out with some leftover fig jam from my oatcake and fig jam extravaganza, and added more figs that I had bought on Saturday (I have to keep eating these amazing figs as long as they're around!), honey, cinnamon, and whiskey. Why whiskey? I don't know - we had some and it sounded good...

I had a tiny bit of confectioners sugar that had been kicking around the pantry for a while so I threw that in along with some leftover home made sour cream. It all cooked for a while, and then went in the fridge to chill.

And here I am assembling the cake...

Meanwhile, I made bread to accompany the soup. I used one of my favorite bread recipes - Oatmeal Rye Bread from The Tasajara Bread Book. Instead of regular rolled oats I used the local oats from Shakefork Farm, blended up just like in the oat cakes I made a few weeks ago. I ended up not having quite enough flour to properly kneed the dough, so the bread turned out a little dense, but it was still delicious. The oats gave it a wonderful chewy rich texture and nutty flavor.

Our friends arrived for dinner, and put out the appetizer - crackers with fresh figs, local goat cheese, and some yummy locally made olive and walnut tapanade (with a little local arugula for garnish.)

Our guests were our friends Erin and Chad, and their daugher Acacia. This is the same cutie who I posted eating her first peach back in July. Here she is four months later sampling her first fig - my how she's grown!

I think she liked it! She hasn't had any sugar yet, so this is about the sweetest thing she's ever tasted!

After we had demolished the appetizer, I set the table for dinner. It was a simple meal - a nice green salad that Erin brought, oatmeal rye bread, and soup. It's amazing how such a simple seeming meal can be so much work!

Here's the sliced bread. I really thought it was going to be terrible since I had ran out of flour and wasn't able to kneed it, but I was really happy with it. It had a great chewy texture, and went really well with some of my home-made butter and the soup.

This is the kind of soup that no picture can really do justice to, although I think we could have tried a little harder to make it more attractive. It was probably one of the better soups I've ever made - the ginger, chestnuts, and pumpkin was just about perfect combined with the vegetables and the fresh broth. I especially thought the apple cider added a nice element. You couldn't really identify apple cider in the flavor, but it definately added a wonderful richness. I pureed it pretty smooth, but there were just enough small chunks to make it interesting.

And then it was time for cake - dry, yes, but still delicious. The frosting was especially tasty. Plus I learned a good lesson - don't assume you can substitute de-juiced carrot pulp for fresh carrots in a recipe....I should have known that already though!

Our guests went home full, happy, and sleepy - just the way it should be! Only four more pumpkins to go!
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Culturing Dairy and Local Oat Cakes

I created this supremely local treat last weekend - Scottish oat cakes (made with local oats, and homemade butter and buttermilk,) topped with homemade cream cheese and fig jam. It was a long and involved process - especially all the dairy culturing - but worth it! This is based on a recipe from my childhood, and it even surpassed all my good memories!

Step one was to make the cream cheese, which is actually not true cream cheese, but a spreadable tangy cheese made from strained yogurt. I used homemade yogurt had been sitting in the fridge for over a week and needed to be used up. I poured the yogurt in a small colander lined with several layers of cheese cloth over top a Tupperware bowl.

I tied the cheese cloth over the yogurt with a rubber band and weighted it with this bag of beautiful local beans that I picked up at the farmer's market on Saturday. It's a mix of about 6 different bean varieties - almost too pretty to cook!

After about 10 hours, the yogurt had reduced to about half it's original volume.

It's hard to see in this picture, but the bowl underneath the yogurt had about 3 cups of a clear liquid (whey) that had strained off. Whey cool!

And here's the finished cheese. It's thick and creamy - about the consistency of cream cheese - relatively low fat, very high in protein - and it's delicious!

My next task was to make butter to use in the oat cakes. I've been making my own butter pretty consistently for a few months now - it's so good, and easy to make! Nobody makes butter in this county from Humboldt County cream, so it's also the only way to get truly local butter. If you haven't been converted to the wonders of butter, follow this link to the Weston A Price Foundation website. The cream is from Humboldt Creamery, which is mostly pasture raised - even better! The above picture is step one: heating the cream to about 180 degrees to sterilize it.

I cooled the cream to about 110 degrees and added the starter culture: a few tablespoons of this organic cultured sour cream. I would have used my own yogurt, but it had been sitting for over a week and I wasn't sure that the bacteria were still strong enough to make a good culture.

I poured the cream into two jars. The cream in the quart jar was for butter. The pint jar was for sour cream.

I wrapped the warm jars in dish towels and let them sit overnight in this cooler - can you find the cat in the picture?

The next day, it was thick and tangy - perfect!

I put the pint jar in the fridge to eat as sour cream, and dumped the cream from the quart jar into the food processor.

After about 4 minutes of processing, the butter separated from the buttermilk.

I poured off the buttermilk. It's tangy - great for baking or making salad dressing. I had enough to do both!

I poured some cold water into the processor, processed it with the butter, and strained if off. This cleans any remaining buttermilk from the butter. I had to do it 6 times until the water that drained off was totally clear. If there's any buttermilk left, it will go rancid and ruin the butter. It's also important that it be cold water, since warm water will melt the butter.

I strained the last of the water out of the butter by pressing it into this sieve.

I bought this nifty French butter dish at a local fair recently. The bottom half has about 2 inches of salt water in it, and the top half gets packed with butter.

It stores really well like this on the counter. The water makes an airtight seal around the butter and keeps it nice and fresh. We've learned not to keep it too close to the stove since the butter gets too warm and soft and slips down into the water.

The next step was to make the oat cakes. These are local, unrolled oats from Shakefork Farm in Arcata. These oats were the inspiration for this entire process - they're fresh and delicious, and I wanted to try them in this recipe.

Here are the oats after being processed for about 5 or 6 minutes - pretty fine, but not as fine as flour. Here's the full recipe:
  • 3 cups oats, blended
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 scalded milk or cream (or buttermilk)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix oatmeal, flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in butter with hands. Dissolve soda in hot milk, add to dry mixture. Roll to 1/3 - 1/4 inches. Cut into round shapes using the top of a glass. Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 10 minutes.

Here's the dough. It's pretty crumbly, and seems too dry to roll out....

...but somehow it works. Here's the glass that I used to cut the cakes into rounds.

And here they are coming out of the oven. These are really good - a little chewy, and deliciously oaty!

Finally, it was time to make the fig jam. I got these super-ripe and delicious Black Mission figs at the farmer's market on Saturday. These have an extremely limited season. They're also pretty pricey, but worth every penny - they're one of the produce items I look forward to the most all year!

Here they are cut up. You can see how deliciously ooey-gooey they are!

I cooked them with local honey, orange peel, and cinnamon.

After about 30 minutes, the jam was thick, sweet and beautiful to behold.

It made a little over a pint of pure goodness!

Finally, late Sunday afternoon, everything was ready! It was almost dinner time, so I just made one to taste.

Later, we indulged ourselves in a delicious, almost completely local dessert. Mmmmmm! The jam has an almost jewel like quality. It's sweetness is perfectly complemented by the tangy cheese, and chewy, not too sweet oat cakes. It was a lot of work, but I've had plain oat cakes with tea for breakfast every morning this week, and a delicious dessert every night!
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