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Friday, November 27, 2015

American Holiday Tradition (with a Twist at the End)

Wall at end of my Paris kitchen

Is there anything that sings of holidays more cheerfully and invitingly than food, especially the aroma of spices? Thanksgiving ushers in pumpkin pie season. And since it is a day largely given over to kitchen and dining room, it gave me an opportunity to get around, finally, to documenting something for this poor, neglected blog. 

My friend Laura, who was first my Thanksgiving guest (in 1970 in Traverse City; she roasted a duck in Lansing for our holiday the following year) was bringing cranberries, squash, and Brussel sprouts, so my responsibilities were limited to snacks, bird, stuffing, and dessert, and the consequent absence of stress presented me with another opportunity, that of making my pumpkin pie entirely from scratch. Beginning with a nice little organic pie pumpkin from Oryana (not, please, a jack-o’-lantern pumpkin from Halloween! and if you ever tried that in your younger days, you know the disaster that ensues), a whole pumpkin rather than canned, makes for a longer process but yields benefits, too, first being the seeds.

Scoop out the seeds from the cooked pumpkin, clean them, dry them in a low oven, toss with olive oil and curry powder, and give them another turn in the oven. Check and stir, as necessary. (I set the temperature at 200 but can’t give you a precise time.) You will not believe how yummy they are: packaged dry snacking pumpkin seeds from the convenience store are not even from the same taste planet.

I should have noted earlier that you probably want to roast your whole pumpkin the night before, at a somewhat higher temperature than you’ll use in the morning for the seeds. Prick it with a knife in several places and slide it in at 300 or slightly higher (not over 350). It can cool overnight, and you can get up early to remove the “meat” and steam it until tender enough to mash. Or do that the night before, also, depending on your schedule.

Making piecrust from scratch does not require an advanced degree. It takes time and can be messy, but you need no fancy ingredients, and making your own crust delivers a delicious sense of accomplishment. Just remember to (1) keep your ingredients cold and (2) handle the dough as little as possible. When my mother was a bride, she refrigerated her flour and shortening ahead of time. You don’t need to go that far, but a couple of ice cubes in the water won’t hurt the process.

Don’t have a pastry cutter? I have never had one, and I’ve gotten so good with the two-knives method over the years that I wouldn’t take a pastry cutter now as a gift. Remember, don’t overwork the dough, and keep your warm hands off it! You want a flaky crust. Body heat melts the shortening before the pie gets to the oven, and that ruins pastry.

A rolling pin does not produce a perfect circle of pie dough. An approximation is all that’s necessary. If you need to piece the edge together here and there, a finger dipped in that ice water will aid in smoothing the repair(s).

Patch at edge of crust

One kitchen tool worth the trouble of finding space for, in the tiniest of Paris kitchens, is a second coffee grinder. It’s perfect for grinding whole cloves and such, and since you won’t be using it on a daily basis, it can be tucked away in the back of a cupboard. 

When you do need it, you’ll be glad it’s there.

My dear little hand-held Cuisinart mixer, I must admit, did not take all the lumps and strings out of the cooked pumpkin, and I had to resort to a blender. The blender, however, worked perfectly.

Tantalizing aroma of curried pumpkin seeds and fresh-ground cloves fills the house. It’s Thanksgiving! And there’s more mashed cooked pumpkin in the freezer for a soup sometime in the near future. I’m already looking forward to coconut milk, fresh garlic, fresh ginger and turmeric for that kitchen project.

One little pumpkin goes a long way, in a Paris kitchen or elsewhere. I highly recommend it.

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