Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pumpkin Love

It's beginning to feel like autumn. And I'm all about it. Fall is most definitely my favorite time of year ~ the crisp snap in the air, the cool evenings and crunch of leaves underfoot. We've seen squirrels in our yard all week, hiding nuts and seeds so they have food thru the winter.

Many of my favorite memories revolve around this time of year. Hayrides and bonfires, hot spiced apple cider. Getting cozy, warm sweaters out of storage and trading my flip flops for boots. And of course, the fall holidays: Halloween and Thanksgiving. Who doesn't love them? One month you have costumes and candy and jack o'lanterns; the next month it's eating more than you knew you possibly could and get up at 5am to go bargain shopping . We even got married in fall because we both love the harvest season so much.

This fall Nathaniel has a special treat for me ~ he grew pumpkins. All summer long we watched as this huge vine kept creeping further and further across the yard. One of our assistants used to look at it and say "Feed me!" ~ like the plant in The Little Shop of Horrors. Until the pumpkins started growing. We have a pumpkin patch in the yard and I am so excited! Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin ravioli... fall is also my favorite time of the year for seasonal foods, especially pumpkin.

If you've never had fresh pumpkin, seriously ~ put down that can opener and go get one. The taste, color and texture of real pumpkin is totally different than canned pumpkin and it's absolutely worth the extra effort.

I have to say, I think pumpkin pie is one of the reasons I first fell for Nathaniel. He was the only guy at college who made pumpkin pies from scratch and brought them to the photo lab to share with everyone. Yea, he even made crusts from scratch. Those pies were so good... it was the kind of thing you just couldn't stop thinking about. Days later, folks would be asking him when he was going to make another pie. (Here I want to pass along a HUGE thank you to Nathaniel's mom, Cindy Corn, for teaching him how to make incredible pumpkin pies!!)

Because Nathaniel loves to share and neither of us believe in "secret recipes" I want to share a few of our favorite pumpkin recipes with you. Sadly, there is no recipe for his pumpkin pie ~ it's all in his head. I've begged him to write it down year after year, but so far it hasn't happened. But these are both totally incredible, too, and we make them every autumn.

Amy’s Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
These delicious muffins are so rich and dense, they can easily be a dessert, too! Just top with ice cream for a sweet ending. This recipe came from one of our former brides!

Wet Ingredients:
6 T butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup plus 1 T soymilk
1/2 t vanilla
3/4 cup cooked pumpkin
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped almonds (optional)

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/4 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a 12-muffin pan by greasing or lining with muffin papers. In a large bowl cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Add egg, then soymilk and vanilla. The mixture will look lumpy. Fold in pumpkin, chocolate chips and almonds. Set aside. In a separate bowl sift together dry ingredients, mixing well. Fold gradually into wet ingredients with a rubber spatula without over-mixing.

Spoon batter into muffin pan, about 1/3 cup into each well. Immediately place in oven and bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan. Bake another 10-15 minutes until muffins are puffed and golden. Remove the muffins from the oven and tilt each one slightly to keep the bottoms from getting soggy.

Nathaniel's Pumpkin Pasta Sauce
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 T olive oil or butter
1 lb pumpkin, cooked and pureed or mashed
1 cup vegetable stock
1 t parsley flakes
1/8 cup orange juice
1 t lemon juice
1/4 t dried sage
1/2 cup soymilk
1/4 t nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese to serve
Pasta of choice

Boil water and cook pasta of choice. This goes well over hearty whole wheat pastas. Fry the garlic and onion in the olive oil until clear. Add the pumpkin and the vegetable stock, bring to a boil then let simmer 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir with wire whisk to smooth and creamy texture. Cook until reduced to desired thickness, stirring frequently. Pour over your choice of cooked pasta and serve immediately garnished with Parmesan cheese.

Nathaniel harvested the first pumpkin of the fall this morning. For now, it's on the front porch, an unspoken understanding for everyone that yes, it is fall.

In time, I know it will be transformed from porch decor into a delicious taste of the season. Perhaps pie, maybe muffins. Maybe soup or pasta sauce. I can't wait to find out.

Happy fall, everyone.

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