Even though I spent most of my life in Florida where October temperatures can remain near 80 and most of the trees stay green, two things always reminded me that fall had come and with it the anticipation of the holidays that make this my favorite time of year: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Those two things are the smoky smell of a candle inside a glowing jack-o-lantern my dad carved and then the pumpkin pie my mom would make. If my memory is correct, the pie was always made from the jack-o-lantern pumpkin. Many years later, when I was carving my own jack-o-lanterns, I, too, recycled it as pumpkin pie. Cutting and peeling the pumpkin to get it ready for cooking was no easy task and I realized what a labor of love my mom had performed to make the pie that was a favorite of my dad and me. I liked it so much I ate it for breakfast if there was any left from the previous day’s dessert. That was in the ’50s.
Round orange pumpkins aren’t the only ones that signal fall. Green-speckled, white, tan and blue-gray pumpkins ranging in shape from small perfectly round sugar pumpkins to giant blobs looking for all the world like “Star Wars” character Jabba the Hutt, warts and all, can also be seen in stores and at produce stands.
I didn’t know until I read an article from the Colonial Williamsburg Journal, that in the early 1970s many farmers developed hybrids that were good for carving but not so much for eating. Apparently jack-o-lanterns were more popular than pumpkin pie. But by that time, both my mom and I had discovered the convenience of canned pumpkin puree.
Probably because it is what I grew up with, I like the simple pie recipe on the back of the can. In other words, no chiffon, nuts, rum or other extras. I don’t even put whipped cream on it. In fact, I’d be just as happy without the crust. But that’s just me.
A cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains no fat, only 49 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 12 carbohydrate grams, 2 sugar and 2 protein grams. It provides 245 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin A and 19 percent of vitamin C. There are also small amounts of calcium and iron.
I would not have thought of combining pumpkin with Parmesan cheese, but without the usual spices, pumpkin acts and tastes like squash in recipes – it is actually a close cousin. In the recipe below, any kind of pasta will work. It is vegetarian, but can easily become vegan if the Parmesan cheese is omitted.
Because it requires no baking or sharp knives, the Pumpkin Snowballs (for eating not throwing) recipe is a good fall activity for young children. They have the added nutrition of oatmeal and raisins.
Creamy Pumpkin Pasta with Parmesan and Sage: Cook 6 ounces of whole wheat pasta until al dente according to package instructions. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water before draining.
While the pasta cooks, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 diced shallots, 1 minced clove garlic, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage and a pinch of salt. Cook for about 10 minutes until shallots are tender and fragrant. Add 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree, ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese and ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg. Stir to combine.
Add reserved ½ cup pasta water and stir until fully incorporated. Add pasta and combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Garnish with additional sage and serve with additional Parmesan cheese.
Serves 2. From bakeyourday.net.
Pumpkin Snowballs: Combine 1 cup oatmeal, ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, 3 tablespoons pumpkin puree, ¼ cup brown sugar and ¼ cup raisins. Form into 1-inch balls and roll in powdered sugar.
Roasted Pumpkin Slices: Heat oven to 400 F. Scoop out and discard the seeds and fiber from a small pumpkin, leaving the solid flesh. Cut into slices about 1 inch thick. Rub both sides of slices with olive oil and place on baking sheet. Sprinkle with the salt, ground cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes.
WHAT IS A GOOBER PEA, ANYWAY?
Any fan of Burl Ives, the Kingston Trio or Tennessee Ernie Ford probably already knows the answer. I should, too, because Ives and his folk songs were popular while I was growing up. But as far as I can remember, I had never until recently heard the song “Goober Peas,” which was recorded by Ives and the aforementioned groups and is sometimes performed live by Elton John, although he has never recorded it. There is also a YouTube version of Ives and Johnny Cash singing it together.
As it turns out, goober peas are peanuts and if you are speaking Southern, they are likely boiled peanuts.
I first tasted boiled peanuts during a North Carolina vacation a number of years ago and I like them a lot. My husband calls them an acquired taste and says if you have to acquire a taste for something, it probably isn’t worth eating.
Folks who hate them don’t want any part of the wet, messy process of opening the shells to get to the soft, salty nut inside. Folks who love them embrace the process and feel that the salty, spicy treat inside the shell is suitable reward for the effort.
By most accounts, peanuts were brought on slave ships from Africa to the American South, where they became a profitable crop. If the harvest was particularly good and there was a surplus, the field workers would hold a peanut boil to celebrate.
During the Civil War boiled peanuts were a welcome source of nourishment for Confederate soldiers, as they marched through the countryside. Peanuts could be easily transported and then boiled or roasted over campfires. Apparently they were quite popular with the soldiers, who could be heard singing “Peas, peas, peas, peas / Eating goober peas / Goodness, how delicious / Eating goober peas."
Boiled peanuts’ popularity endured in the South after the Civil War. By the early 20th century, they were being served at fashionable small-town weddings and could be bought in Macon, GA, and as far south as Tampa. In 2006, South Carolina’s legislature unanimously made boiled peanuts the state’s official snack food. A surprising number of blogs and recipe Web sites refer to them as popular “growing up” snacks for folks from North Florida. I have seen signs at produce stands and gas stations advertising them in North and Central Florida and even here in Southwest Florida.
If you have had them and miss them or have not tried them and would like to, here is a recipe. Green peanuts are seasonal, typically harvested in October. You might have to make arrangements with your produce manager.
Superheated Cajun Boiled Peanuts: You will need 1 pound raw (green) peanuts in the shells, 1 (3-ounce) package dry crab boil (such as Zatarain’s or Old Bay), ½ cup chopped jalapeno peppers, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, ½ cup salt, 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning and ½ cup red pepper flakes.
Thoroughly rinse peanuts to remove all dirt and debris. Place peanuts and all seasonings in a slow cooker. Add enough water to cover peanuts and stir well. Cover and cook on the low setting until the peanuts are soft, at least 24 hours. Stir occasionally and add water as needed to keep peanuts covered. Drain and serve hot or cold. Recipe from allrecipes.com.
Recipe note: If you don’t like your boiled peanuts spicy, try using ¼ cup of salt to 4 cups of water and cooking on low on the stove or in the slow cooker until soft. Of course you can change the amounts of spices and cooking times depending upon how hot or how soft you like your boiled peanuts. Several recipes I read suggested adding a bottle of beer to the mix.
Boiled peanuts can get slimy or moldy if not eaten or refrigerated within a day or two. Some folks even freeze them to have on hand when they can’t get green peanuts.