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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