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.

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