Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The heart of the American Mid-West in October - Pumpkinland

The change in seasons here is a little like turning off a paved tarmac road onto a gravel farm path - you can really feel the difference, and it's very sudden.

Today at school my children spent 25 minutes in a mandated fetal position while the tornado sirens wailed. It was their first time. I was at home in my pyjamas wondering whether to crawl under the house. After the storm passed, I felt uneventfully, I saw a huge tree in our neighbour's yard had blown down just like that.

Despite the adrenaline rush of the Fall arriving (or Autumn, as I really WANT to keep calling it, please), there are many much more gentle signs of the season which are probably visible in most Western countries at this time of year, but are celebrated in a particular lavish bounty in these rural American parts.

Yes it's the pumpkins. Huge ones, tiny ones, white and the all-important orange, lumpy and smooth, striped, flattish or roundly fecund. If you visited here only once at this time of the year, you would be convinced it was the only thing they grew all year. 

Now, something has made me very pleased and grateful. In England, they "do" pumpkins at Halloween, and then they feed them to the pigs (or the garbage truck). Some very resourceful, recycling types may make spiced pumpkin soup. But, in essence, British people do not believe pumpkins to be truly edible.

In Indiana, I believe they have come up with every possible way to cook a pumpkin. Now this seems very practical to me, considering how many people's porches are currently lined with them, and at $3.99 a pop, you could spend your week's food budget for the week right there in one big orange blow-out. So why not make the most of your seasonal display's nutritional value? (By the way, I am not advocating this at Christmas unless you are into edible Christmas tree decorations - dried fruit is apparently very attractive).

The reason I have been extolling the virtue of the cooked pumpkin is because the Americans are not only using their resources wisely (yes, I said it), but they are also doing it deliciously. I will share my favourite local recipe with you shortly, but if it doesn't take your fancy, do a Google search for some of the following:

Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Muffins, Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Cheesecake, Pumpkin Brownies, Pumpkin Cookies, Pumpkin Cobbler, Pumpkin Torte, Pumpkin Meringue Pie, Pumpkin Bars, Pumpkin Pudding, Pumpkin Mash, Pumpkin Preserves, Pumpkin Butter, Pumpkin Cupcakes and Spiced Pumpkin Latte (yes you get this last one at Starbucks).

My favourite recipe was served by a dear friend at Sunday Lunch, after a delicious main course of Cheeseburger soup. Yes, we are in America, and I couldn't get enough of it.

Pumpkin Crisp (or Crumble in English).

2 (15 ounce) cans pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup evaporated milk
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla

Crisp Topping

3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped or dried coconut (optional)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Lightly grease an 8" square baking dish.
In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, sugar, evaporated milk, eggs, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice and vanilla until smooth. Pour into prepared dish.
In medium bowl combine brown sugar, oats, walnuts, flour and cinnamon. Add melted butter and stir until combined.
Sprinkle topping evenly over pumpkin mix.
Bake for 45-50 minutes or until center is set and topping is golden brown.
Serve warm with whipped cream and cinnamon if desired.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Why do writers write? In fact, why does anybody write?


I am having an inner struggle with the time it takes me to write anything, and whether that time is truly worthwhile. The irony of this is that I love to read. It is my favourite pastime, and I devour books. You would think, therefore, that I am the answer to my own question. However, there seems to be a gap in my brain, or my heart, or my will, between my hunger to read and my motivation to write. Perhaps the problem is that I don't believe anyone would really want to read (or hear) anything I have to say. "Well," you might argue with me, if you were in the room, "then you shouldn't speak, either!"

When you are speaking to someone, you can gauge their reaction to your words immediately. You have instant gratification, and you can change what you are saying to keep them interested, or at least try to obtain the reaction you were hoping for using more than just your words. When writing, your audience is mute, dark and uncontrollable. Perhaps that's what is ultimately comes down to - control. I know that some writers would defend their medium by saying that they can be perfectly in control. They can take hours or days over each word that they choose, so that the reader's reaction can be fine-tuned.

However, I know one thing. The reader has a mind and a will of his own. I know this because I often read books, and then look up reviews or interviews with the writer and am amazed at how different people's reactions were to mine, or how different the writer's intended outcome was. A book in my hands, as a reader, has become my own. The writer has lost control over it completely. I can skip pages. I can read the end first. Most particularly, the characters, the plot, the landscapes, the emotions all ultimately belong to me. It matters not how brilliantly illuminating the descriptive prose is; my imagination can only be made up of images and senses that I have experienced or constructed from my own life. This means that although the writer uses the common medium of words, in fact the true material of the writer's work is the soul of the reader. And that is unique for each one.

So I have not really answered my question. Perhaps a writer is there to provide the raw materials for vicarious experience. I could not write for that purpose. It seems too functional for me. One thing I do know is that my purposes for writing something may summarily match the purposes of the reader for reading it. Going deeper, though, once the adventure has begun and the reader has left his world and embarked onto the page, my purposes are tangential. They are trivial. My work is a setting for the reader's imagination to play. It is mere skin and bones for the soul of their story.

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