“Is Halloween a special time for your family?” asked Kim staring wide-eyed at giant spiders dangling in every corner, at remarkably life-like blackbirds perched atop paintings, fridge, and window sills, and at assorted cobwebs everywhere. This weekend’s trip to Columbia County yielded an orange hoard. The Henry house now holds 21 pumpkins – 18 orange ones for the kids’ carving party, two fat ones for the Henrys’ personal carving, and one heirloom red for cooking – as well as two dozen gourds.
The Halloween party dinner will feature a Thanksgiving-style turkey, baked ham, chili, and guacamole (don’t cavil – everybody loves it) For dessert there will be pumpkin cupcakes with butter cream icing, caramel apples, baked “shrunken head” apples with faces carved by each child, and, of course, cheeses. Mr. Henry’s contribution will be a baked stuffed pumpkin.
Take either an heirloom red, heirloom beige pumpkin, or Japanese kabocha (any pumpkin will do), cut the top as though carving a jack-o-lantern, spoon out the seeds and pith, stuff with a dry stuffing, and replace the top. Mr. Henry can’t decide between wild rice flavored with pomegranate syrup and pancetta (a recipe borrowed from Diana and Fred) or good old American bread stuffing slightly enhanced by nutmeg and sultanas.
In either case, the trick is to prepare the stuffing rather dry. The pumpkin’s moisture steams it in baking. An already moist stuffing will puddle and seep carrying away delicate juices. Also, oil the pumpkin’s surface to help it keep its shape. Bake at 350-400, whatever suits the other things you’ve got baking in the oven, until a fork pierces the flesh, about 40 minutes for a medium to large pumpkin.
The result makes a marvelous presentation, a storybook illustration from a medieval tale. Most remarkable of all, it is an orange vegetable dish the children will devour.