The Other I

December 14, 2013

Travels of the pumpkin

Pumpkins have not always been available in British supermarkets.  They only began to appear in the 1980’s with the return of Halloween, and then only for a few days.

Today British farmers grow fields of this vegetable, and so I was surprised when my neighbour told me she had no idea what to do with her jack-o-lantern now that Halloween celebrations were well and truly buried for the year.

Don’t know what to do with a pumpkin!?  I said, running down a long list of possibilities in my head – savory mash, pumpkin soup, baked pumpkin wedges, pumpkin bread, and of course the quintessential pumpkin pie.

“I’ll make a pie for you, if you’d like,” I volunteered.  “Oh would you?” she said, clearly relieved of the burden of recycling her great orange visitor on the window ledge.

So I went around two days ago to pick it up.  It was a very big pumpkin.  In fact, we both agreed that it was too big for me to carry back home, and she agreed to drop it by on her way out later in the day.

By sheer coincidence, that afternoon an American friend emailed me about an old British cooking programme by the Two Fat Ladies she’d been watching.  Apparently, Clarissa’s advice was never to let an American near your pumpkin.  They will turn it into a pumpkin pie with too much sugar and too much cinnamon, she said.  Later in the day, my English husband warned me that pumpkin pie was an acquired taste.  He too said that the first time he’d had it – at a Thanksgiving dinner in my family home some forty years ago – he had found it too sweet and the taste of cinnamon over-powering.

So I went to Google and looked at the pumpkin pie recipes being offered by contemporary British cooks.  Sure enough, every single one of them call for between a quarter and half the spices I use in my American recipe and half the sugar.

So I adjusted the recipe for the pie I was making for my neighbour.  When I took it over to her this morning, I told her I’d reduced the cinnamon and sugar but that it might nonetheless be an acquired taste, and that I would not be insulted if the most complimentary thing she could say about it was that it was “interesting.”  “Oh, but I love cinnamon!” she said encouragingly.

I’m not confidant I will ever get the full unvarnished truth about what she thinks about my American pumpkin pie adapted to British tastes.  After all, it took me 40 years to find out my husband had to “acquire” an appreciation for my superbly pure American recipe.

In any case, I am turning the rest of the jack-o-lantern into a savoury soup using a recipe from India.  It calls for root ginger and chili peppers, and not a grain of cinnamon.

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6 Comments »

  1. from another european point of view, americans use too much sugar – most pies ask for one cup i put it a heaping 1/2 cup also cinnamon – i cut that down drastically in my apple pie. i have a polish national living with me and her take on both cinnamon and sugar are also from the same point of taste she said mine was the first apple pie she really liked. btw, my mother (french) dirty peeled her apples – leaving 1/8 or more of the skin on. this leaves the apples less likely to turn to mush. she also made a lard crust which, regrettably i have not used in years. interesting that your husband never shared his take on pumpkin pie. mine would have said “yuk” and thrown it in the trash. then, too, he was never know for his tact! however, on his way back from the trash box, he would kiss me on the head, while i happily ate whatever the offensive (to him) item was. don’t you love the variety?
    how did the pumpkin soup come out?

    Comment by kateritek — December 14, 2013 @ 8:23 pm | Reply

    • Fascinating that the taste for reduced cinnamon & sugar both seem to spam Europe, isn’t it? I wonder about the Germans though.

      I didn’t know not peeling apples made them less likely to turn to mush. I don’t ever peel vegetables or fruit unless the skins are absolutely unedible (like in pineapples and bananas), and I put in sugar by taste — except for custards and cakes because I was always concerned about maintaining the texture. Anyway, the reduced sugar in the pumpkin was no problem.

      I obviously can’t speak for your husband’s tact. But I daresay that if he had been sitting around a Thanksgiving table with perhaps two dozen of your family for the first time in his life, he might not have eaten all his pie. But I suspect he, too, might have kept his opinions to himself. Though I admit maybe not for 40 years.

      The pumpkin soup is fantastic. Even possibly better than the pumpkin pie…

      Comment by theotheri — December 14, 2013 @ 8:50 pm | Reply

  2. Sounds good to me either way. Funny, I think of the Brits as having a sweet tooth. They’re always eating Mars bars in sitcoms.

    Comment by pianomusicman — December 15, 2013 @ 12:05 am | Reply

    • I think physiologically, many of us have the potential for addiction to either alcohol or sugar. Have you ever attended a Mormon celebration? No alcohol but a great deal of sugar. I suspect the Brits are more prone to alcohol addiction though. Peter did tell me once about a shop in Edinburgh that produced deep-fat fried Mars bars smothered in batter. The owners were Italian, though. The Scots, also, I suspect are more apt to reach for the bottle than for the candy bar. They do like milk chocolate over here. But again, that was the Quakers who started it – not a group known for alcohol addition.

      I’m a potential sugar-addict myself. Alcohol makes my joints sore and I’ve had hangovers lasting up to three days. My moderation in drinking is not born of virtue.

      On Sun, Dec 15, 2013 at 12:05 AM, The Other I

      Comment by Terry Sissons — December 15, 2013 @ 9:38 pm | Reply

  3. When I was wee my mum used to carve a turnip into a lantern. It is a lot easier for me now that we have pumpkins. We Scots feel as if we are abandoning our customs and becoming americanised – but in this instance, it makes no sense It is nearly impossible to carve a turnip!
    I would’t know what to do with a pumpkin for eating either. I use butternut squash in soups though.

    Comment by sanstorm — December 17, 2013 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for sharing. I don’t know if the thought of trying to carve a turnip into a lantern makes me want to laugh or cry. We Americans learned enough from the Scots, so perhaps your importing our pumpkin jack-o-lantern is a small return.

      Almost anything you can do with a butternut squash – soup, baked wedges, savoury mash – you can do with a pumpkin. Acorn squash might even make half-way decent lanterns. Definitely better than turnips, I bet!

      Comment by Terry Sissons — December 17, 2013 @ 9:11 pm | Reply


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