Pumpkins and Quandaries
The first thing that grabbed my attention as I advanced toward the entrance of Fortino’s Supermarket was not the sign inviting all to take free pumpkins last Thursday..……the very first thing that I beheld was a pair of suited legs waving up above the 4 ft. tall cardboard bin that hosted the sign. They were attached to a man (wearing the other half of the suit) who seemed to be doing some kind of dance on his hands and if I hadn’t had my camera with me, I might have been more delighted with the scene, but now I was in a quandary. What to do? Knowing that I would have to act fast if I wanted a shot, why was I hesitating? Time was a wastin’! I shoulda been fishing it out of my purse, taking it out of its case, turning it on, aiming……..what was the problem, why wasn’t I moving? I seemed to be stuck, stuck like the man upended in the bin…….I was having a moral dilemna: is it wrong to take a photo? It seemed that his wife was there and part of the endeavor somehow……I thought they were speaking Italian. Maybe it would be embarrassing for them…..maybe it would be rude of me.….but this would be such a fantastic picture! Maybe I should ask….but could I really say, “excuse me sir, may I take your photo? Yes, right now; would you just hold it there for another moment while I work out the framing?”……….
And then it was too late. He was out. Standing upright in his suit. He was rather short, as was his wife. They just barely cleared the top of the bin. They had to be in their 70’s I’m sure. There were plenty of other bins full to the brim with pumpkins…..what they wanted was the white ones. They already had two or three in their cart. The only other white ones were all in the bottom of this particular bin. A quest for the highly coveted ivory pumpkin. Enchanted, I offered to help. There were some slits in the side of the bin so I was struggling to get my arm through in order to maneuver one upwards to a height at which he could take it over. Presently however, a store clerk came to the rescue and she simply climbed into the box and handed it to him. A happy ending.
I’m a fan of the pumpkin for its name and appearance, but for flavor, I think it is outdone by many varieties of squash. And yet.….it almost felt like a civic duty to take a pumpkin…..to save it from the landfill.
So of course when I got it home it meant I had to deal with it. Well, it’s not exactly as demanding as a free kitten. But I did have to cut it in half (even the smallest one I could find was at least as big as a very fat cat) and de-seed it and bake it (that took up the whole oven, thus delaying dinner). Then I had to cut the skin off and freeze it in umpteen containers…..guess I’ll make pumpkin bread since I consider it inferior for pie or soup. But sometimes I call something pumpkin even though it is made with squash. It has a better ring to it. Maybe everyone else is onto it too….maybe all those pumpkin recipes are really made with squash but no one wants to call them that. It sounds so flat!
Recipe: Pumpkin and Quince Bread
2 lge. eggs
¾ c brown sugar
1/3 c oil
1 c pumpkin puree
2/3 c poached quince (see recipe below)
1/3 c quince poaching liquid
2 c whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ginger
Whisk together in a large bowl the eggs and brown sugar.
When smooth, whisk in oil, and then the pumpkin, quince, and poaching liquid.
Sift together the flour and remaining ingredients.
Fold this into the wet mixture, taking care to not overdo it.
Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan (8 ½ in. x 4 ½ in.) and bake at 350 degrees
for approx. 1 hr.
Persimmons and Quinces
The botanical name for persimmon, Diospyros, means food of the gods. I certainly agree with that when it comes to the variety Hachiya, perfectly ripened.
Although there are hundreds of species of persimmon, there are only two or three that I’ve ever seen here in Toronto. The Hachiya is of the astringent persuasion and as such, must wait it out on the counter for days on end, transforming from what starts out looking like a fine piece of work to something that’s ready for the compost heap. That’s actually when it’s ready for eating. Impatience will only reward you with a curse and you will rue that first mouthful and there won’t be a second one.
Of the non-astringent type, there are Fuyu (not being profane here) and Sharon. These are short and stocky and may be eaten when firm. So, they’re convenient. But I prefer the satiny vermillion, the apricot preserves, the voluptuousness of the Hachiya.
It’s perfect enough on its own to be served, as is, with a knife and a spoon. But if you’re eager to jazz up a salad, try this combination with avocado.
Recipe: Persimmon, Avocado, and Spinach Salad
1 ripe Hachiya persimmon
1 large handful spinach leaves, washed
1 small handful radicchio leaves, torn
1/4 c olive oil
1 tbsp wine vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp minced green onion
1 tbsp black sesame seeds
Cut persimmon in half. Cut each half into wedges.
With a spoon separate flesh from skin, drawing from bottom of wedge to top.
Slice avocado. Arrange fruit and leaves on a plate.
Whisk remaining ingredients together and pour over all.
Quinces: I can’t believe they’re not apples. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to try them. They are very much like an old variety of apple, dry, mealy, and packed with flavor complexity. They do need long slow cooking in order to come into their own, and enroute they develop a rosy hue. They’re a bit pricey, so you might not want to give them a solo part; adding them to a standard apple recipe will definitely be enhancing.
Recipe: Quinces Poached in Wine
½ bottle semi-sweet (‘off dry’) white wine
½ c water
½ c honey
½ tsp grated nutmeg
splash of vanilla
Peel quinces, (or don’t), core, and cut into pieces, whatever size you like.
Bring to a simmer the remaining ingredients. I used an Emerald Riesling for the wine.
Add fruit and cover. Simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours. Longer cooking will deepen their ruddy appearance.
Drain them and bring the poaching liquid to a near boil.
Let simmer with the lid off for another 10 minutes in order to thicken.
It will be more syrupy as a result and is nice to put onto the quinces when serving.
It can also be stirred into tea for a comforting drink on a chilly day.