Halloween came and went. This year, we saw ghouls and goblins; vampires and werewolves; ninjas; leopards and jaguars; and a dinosaur. As we understand it, a rasher of bacon (a most epic costume) was making the rounds in the neighbourhood.
The day after, kids were likely raring to finish school, chase home, and attack their stashes of candy. For most, the 31st of October was a productive night of trick-or-treating.
Many parents probably exploited Halloween fairy lore to help ration treats and slow inevitable tooth decay. Halloween fairy? Think tooth collecting variety, only this witch-resembling fairy collects candy. Cleverly orchestrated, children can learn about exchanges and charity. Offer up a portion of your stash to the Halloween fairy, who will redistribute your hard collected candy to less fortunate children, and you may find something more desirable in return. New sneakers, an inexpensive toy, a box of crayons, a story book, anything is possible.
Parents have to be creative these days.
Now, bribed children, hepped up on refined sugar aside, what bothers me about this time of year involves pumpkins. Scores of pumpkins are purchased essentially to eviscerate and mutilate for display. Only the seeds are consumed.
A week later, broken and charred pumpkins end up heaped upon the compost, donated to farms to feed livestock (a very good thing!), or simply discarded as garbage.
Unless they double as wedding decorations, leading from an unpaved parking lot to a heated tent at the Herb Garden in Perth, the jack-o-lantern ritual seems wasteful to me.
[Happy Belated 1st Anniversary Ian and Shawn!]
This year, I bought several pumpkins and learned how to make extremely versatile pumpkin puree. Only the outer most skins were left to compost when I was done. For a jack-o-lantern, I found and installed a desktop wall paper and left my laptop on display when handing out candy. Visiting children did not seem to mind.
Here is what I learned:
- Like talented chefs, pumpkins are difficult to photograph. They fidget!
- Pumpkin flavour is more a function of pumpkin spice (4 tsp ground cinnamon, 2 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp allspice, 1 tsp nutmeg) than pumpkin. If you properly spice squash, it can resemble pumpkin.
- One pumpkin yields very little puree. Want to test your food processor? Puree some roasted pumpkin! You will find out EXACTLY how underpowered your machine is if it can’t chop scraped and cubed pumpkin flesh that was roasted at 350F for an hour or so (until the skins were easily pierced with a knife).
- Once chopped and pureed, you still have to cook out some of the moisture from the pumpkin. This is accomplished with a pot; a burner, set to medium or medium low; and constant stirring. Quite frankly, it is MUCH easier to buy the stuff canned or jarred. Just look for organic varieties and read the labels!
Spiced Yeast-Risen Pumpkin Bread
(Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Potato Rosemary Bread)
What You’ll Need:
- 7 oz “biga” starter (essentially half a batch of biga, employing 11.5 oz bread flour, 1/2 tsp instant yeast, and 3/4 cup tepid water)
- 14 oz bread flour
- additional bread flour as required during kneading
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp dried sage
- 1 tbsp pumpkin spice
- 3/4 cup tepid water
- additional water as required to form a dough
- semolina flour for dusting
- olive oil for brushing on top
- If the biga starter has been chilled, bring it to room temperature by leaving it on the counter for an hour. When it is acclimatized, cut the biga into 10 pieces.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast.
- Add the biga pieces, pumpkin puree, oil, sage, pumpkin spice, and water.
- Mix on low with the paddle attachment until the ingredients form a dough ball, add more flour or water as necessary.
- Switch to a dough hook. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, again adding more flour as needed.
- After kneading, the dough should be “soft and supple, tacky but not sticky.”
- Dump the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and ferment at room temperature for 2 hours (or until it doubles in volume).
- Halve the dough and shape each half into a “boule” by stretching the dough and folding it into the bottom.
- Place the boules into a pair of loaf pans, dusted with semolina.
- Again, cover with plastic wrap and let ferment 2 hours or until the dough doubles in size.
- Preheat an oven to 400F with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
- Take the plastic wrap off of the dough and brush lightly with olive oil.
- Bake, rotating at the 20 minute mark, until the internal temperature reached 195 F.
- Remove the loaves from the pans to a cooling rack and let cool before serving (approximately an hour).
While you could sweeten this bread with a 1/4 cup of brown sugar, I actually liked it savoury. This recipe creates two loaves, which we stored in Tupperware containers unsliced. Opening the containers released a wonderful waft of pumpkin spice.
What can you do with savoury yeast-risen pumpkin bread? Grilled cheese, of course!
Oh, and slices go extremely well with hearty soups, creating the most comforting dinner.
This lentil soup was made by slow cooking brown lentils with sauteed chopped onion and a smoked turkey wing in water for 6 hours. Watch the crock. The lentils drink up plenty of liquid. Add as much water as is needed to keep everything submerged. When the lentils are tender, blitz half in batches with a stand blender. Mix together both whole and blitzed lentils. Season with salt and pepper, baring in mind the turkey wing is plenty salty. Serve.
As much as we would like to feed something as filling and comforting as a bowl of lentil soup with home-baked bread to people whose homes and livelihoods were ravaged by hurricane Sandy, many of whom are presently facing a snow-ridden nor’easter, we can’t. So, we donated to the Red Cross instead. Click here to follow suit, if you are likewise inclined.