Pumpkin, winter, etc
This weather is starting to make me CLAUSTROPHOBIC. It rained last night, and walking home as a result was unspeakably delightful and I spent most of it murmuring paeans to the gallant yaktrax, or possibly begging them not to self destruct at this moment as I waded through ice-bottomed brooks.* Today has been a degree or two above freezing so the wet stuff falling from the sky is almost but not quite sleet. And it’s supposed to snow hard tonight which on top of today’s antics by tomorrow should be . . . whatever the next stage after unspeakably delightful is.
So to cheer myself up I thought I’d respond to some of the forum comments which I have been neglecting shamefully.** And of course the comments I’m the most drawn to concern food.
Tinned pumpkin varies, like so many things in this world. In years when I couldn’t face the whole roasting and scooping/peeling thing—to my mind the worst part of dealing with fresh pumpkin is the seeds: they don’t come loose when they’re raw, they still don’t come loose even after they’re cooked, and while they come looser, since the pumpkin itself is now all squishy it doesn’t give you any purchase—there is or used to be a French tinned, or rather jarred, pumpkin that was excellent. Not to mention seedless. I preferred dealing with a single too-large pumpkin, because the equivalent amount of seed-grappling produced a much higher yield of usable pumpkin than piffling around with the correct number of small pumpkins with their individual minefields of seeds. I could afford this attitude because at the old house we had a monster chest freezer and I could freeze the surplus pulp—in premeasured glomps. I always made pies from fresh, but frozen pulp works just fine for bread, cookies and muffins.
And you always, always, always have to look at what’s in your mixing bowl and make executive decisions about texture and runniness.
When I was laying on Thanksgiving, or some other megaspread, for more people than I had space for, I used to put a tablecloth on the piano. This habit pursued me through several house moves but reached a kind of apotheosis in Maine. That was where I had a baby grand piano in a sitting room that was . . . approximately the size of a baby grand piano. Have I told you this story? When I had overnight guests—for example, for Thanksgiving—and put them on my Beautiful Blue Velvet Fold Out Double-Sized Sofabed, which had been my first real piece of grown-up furniture and which I therefore adored irrationally***—their feet went under the piano. The sofa itself was wedged under the window. You had to take kind of a flying leap from the door: a bit like my bedroom now, although my bed is complicated by the fact that it’s an old four-poster and if you miss and hit a post. . . .
Grah. I keep meaning to look for my old apple butter recipe, and keep forgetting. However. You don’t really need a recipe: Take your apples. Core, peel and chop them—and you don’t have to chop them fine, just chop them—put them in a large, heavy, wide-bottomed pan with as little water as you can get away with—or better yet, apple juice—and boil, gently, till they go mushy. At this point use a potato masher on them. I personally find this a lot less effort than all that chopping-small stuff. Depending on the tartness of your apples and how sweet you want your butter you’ll need somewhere around ¼ to ½ c sugar (brown or white: I like brown) per cup of apple pulp, and if you mix it in with a whisk you’ll get the last of the lumps out. Again, depending on how spicy you like your butter, you’ll want anywhere from about ¼ to 1 tsp of cinnamon per cup, and about half that of allspice Then turn the heat down to low and let it cook forever. If you want to stand there and stir it you can have the heat a little higher, and it’ll take a little less time but . . . not enough less. Stirring is one of the most boring occupations on the planet.† You should be in the same house with it, however, your large, heavy, wide-bottomed pot with your future apple butter in it, because you need to stir it occasionally and make sure it’s not sticking. It will eventually congeal into . . . apple butter. I don’t remember how long it takes, but it’s one of these put it together before lunch and it’ll be done by dinner things, and then you’ll have fresh apple butter for breakfast tomorrow. As you’d expect with something that slow-cooks and is full of spices, it improves with a little age.
I never bottled it the way you’re supposed to. A couple of big jars of apple butter in the back of the fridge didn’t last long enough to be a nuisance. And the way I make it—without stirring—if you made it in a big batch it would take FOREVER to cook down to sludge. My way it’s simple enough that doing it again is not a big deal.
One more warning: you lose a lot of pectin—the stuff that stiffens the applesauce it into something you can spread—by peeling and coring. The first time I made it I’d automatically peeled and cored, because that’s what you do before you cook apples, and then I reread the recipe and thought, oh, frell . . . and besides, sieving the muck to get the peels and cores out is again to me way too much like work, like endless stirring. So I did it my way and it still came out butter, and has always come out butter†† every other time I’ve made it my way. I don’t know if I’ve been extremely lucky in my apples, or what. So you might want to follow a proper recipe.
. . . I’m interested by the crock-pot version of apple butter that a couple of people mention. That certainly solves the stirring problem. And apple butter is a good way to use up all those windfalls or cheap from the farmers’ market damaged apples—I have used any and all apples. You just adjust the sugar and the spices. If the apples are old and losing their flavour you can also add a little sherry or Madeira.
The chief thing I remember about making crustless pie with your standard pie filling is be sure you butter the baking dish.
I love squash and sweet potatoes, in or out of pies. Although I tend to think that pumpkin makes the best pies—stronger flavour—but I’m sure you could fool me if you tried. You could just say that you used more/less something-or-other than I’m used to: all these pies are very spicy, and if you’re using molasses or maple syrup or cream cheese or cranberry sauce (or apple butter) or all of the above, the base orange vegetable could be almost anything.††† There are dedicated squash (or sweet potato) pie recipes, although I think the ones I know are regional. What I think of as yams, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got my taxonomy wrong, tend to be sweet without a lot of other flavour; they don’t interest me much, although generally speaking sweet = good in my hierarchy.‡ But sweet potatoes don’t have to be treated as sweet—somebody mentions sweet potatoes and bacon; I also love them roasted, either whole or sliced up in coins or wands, drizzled in olive oil (possibly in company with parsnips, carrots and beets treated the same way) and put in the oven on medium-high till they start to dry out and brown a little. You might want a little salt and a few herbs. (You should turn them over once, if you can stand it. Boring.) They’re also excellent in a stir-fry.
I’ve just finished supper. Why am I hungry?
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* http://www.yaktrax.co.uk/ has restocked so I’ve ordered a spare pair. I cannot face the thought of more of this weather, the ineluctable facts of hellhound responsibility, and a single pair of exploded, fled, or eaten by wolverines yaktrax. I’ve been trying to remember what I did in Maine about walking in winter. Chiefly we had infrastructure. I was complaining to Peter that the mews, the barns and the Big Pink Blot are all a coop, they pay maintenance for stuff like the grounds and the driveway, where is the bloke with the snow plough hung on the front end of his pick up truck (with the bags of sand in the back to keep the rear wheels on the ground) to clear said driveway so we don’t all slew sideways and run slowly but irresistibly into the frelling wall coming in or going out? Peter looked at me as if I’d gone mad and explained loudly and clearly as to someone with suspected brain damage that we don’t have blokes with detachable snow ploughs around here. There’s no call for it. Huh. I predict that by next winter the local Scats^ will be selling bolt-on personal snow ploughs. Meanwhile the twelve miles^^ of frelling driveway is what you’d expect of four inches of unshifted snow being ground into titanium by passing cars and a few hellhounds and yaktrax.
In Maine there were tiny sidewalk/pavement-sized snow ploughs too, and after the plough went through somebody else laid sand. I was also younger. I didn’t worry about falling down as much.
^^ Snow makes it longer. It’s part of the same physics that causes the toast to fall butter-and-marmalade side down.
** You’re glad really. It’s all PEG II time. I wish it were this simple, of course: if giving up the blog meant I would begin producing two novels a year—which is approximately the right word count, I regret to acknowledge—I’d do it so fast I’d break the world land speed record. Unfortunately I’ve not had a visit from the Really Good Bargains Fairy.
*** Yes. It’s in the sitting room at the cottage, which is even smaller than a baby grand piano. And was smaller even before the bookshelves went up.
† Note: why I almost never make risotto. All that stirring? Life’s too short.
†† It’s nothing like butter. It’s a kind of thick jammy gloop.
††† Heavens. I’d almost forgotten carrot pie.
‡ I used to make a fabulous brown sugar and orange juice and sweet potato thing for Thanksgiving. It destroyed lesser mortals.
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