Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

21.1.09

Heat and pumpkins.

40.5 degrees in the city yesterday. It was just a little cooler at the beach, the northerly blast slightly muted after its trip across the bay. The water was warm and William played in the shallows. Early in the afternoon the wind turned around and a southerly got up and rustled the ti-tree and came in at the kitchen window. I closed up the house and we drove back to town, surfing the cool change around the bay and along an almost empty Eastlink all the way through to Alexandra Parade. It was still 29 degrees at 8 p.m. but that's 11 degrees cooler than forty. It's all relative. The heat is to go on for the rest of the week and into next. I wish they would drop the predictions of showers from the forecasts because they just don't happen.

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Back home: the pumpkins are coming. Three vines are in. One, a Queensland blue, has climbed out of the garden bed and is stretching itself across a vast expanse of lawn. One of the pumpkins is already as big as a basketball. Another, a butternut, is ascending the side fence behind a row of verbenas. This morning it pushed a tentacle through the top branches of the verbena at top-of-fence height and a triumphantly opened up a hairy leaf the size of a dinner plate. Bees were busy in the flowers. One was so yellow with pollen it could barely manage to take off, like an overloaded freight plane straining its engines.

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Pumpkins are good recession food. They keep. They last even longer if you leave a section of their stalk on and keep them somewhere cool. One year we used one as a doorstop for the kitchen and then cut it half, like a ritual, on the first day of winter. Doorstop soup was never so delicious, with herbs and spices and cream and lots of salt and pepper and crusty bread and red wine. What else will there be? Pumpkin soup, pumpkin fritters, pumpkin-filled ravioli, pumpkin gnocchi, of course; all the usual things. Cold pumpkin salad with toasted pine nuts and an orange juice dressing is nice too.

But my favourite way to eat pumpkin is how my mother used to cook it in the 1960s, when people had a roast for Sunday lunch and it was called 'dinner' (and dinner was 'tea'). You put the roast, which was often a very large joint of mutton, in the oven scattered about with cut up pumpkin and whole potatoes and then you went to church. You could smell the roast blocks away, and sometimes even in the church during the sermon, but you never knew if it was your mother's or someone else's roast, because the whole street had roast on Sunday. The roast would always be well-done and the pumpkin pieces would caramelise on the outside, having been baked in delicious drippings from the tin on the bench next to the stove, except my mother never used the word caramelise, she would just ruefully announce it was burnt. It was delicious. While most swore by the joys of roast potatoes, I preferred the pumpkin's charred sweetness and its soft inner give. Dipped in salty brown gravy, it was heaven. The gravy sat in a chipped glass Pyrex pouring jug in the middle of the table and at the end of the main course was immediately replaced by a large yellow bowl of whipped cream to accompany the dinner's finale of self-sauced chocolate pudding which had gone into the oven when the roast came out. That's what I liked about Sunday dinner. The military precision of it all.

2 comments:

Dani said...

You just took me back to my childhood. 'Burnt' pumpkin was (and is) my nirvana. I have a massive pumpkin vine this year. It frightens my husband a little but it makes me feel content. It makes me feel fed.

kitchen hand said...

Tell him not to be afraid, Dani. Yes, pumpkins are good this year just as tomatoes are not so good.