The skies have turned a different hue of blue a while ago. The first leaves started turning this year in August already. Starbucks and Co. have welcomed back customers for their pumpkin spice lattes. But fall, for me, somehow only begins when I see the first pumpkins paraded outside grocery stores. And everybody who knows me, also knows that I have my eyes on a very specific item – the Uchiki Kuri, also known as Red Kuri or Hokkaido squash.
Okay, here is the weird thing – it’s the sight of pumpkin and the flavors of winter squash that signal fall for me. For, I’m absolutely NOT a fan of pumpkin. As a small child, I remember somebody – probably my explorative grandmother – introduced pickled pumpkin into our home. None of us liked it, and to this day I remember the acid flavor of an otherwise rather flavorless food item. I vaguely remember some baked pumpkin from around the same time – it was the butter and the spices that stick with me. I have had various pumpkin pies ever since I have moved over to the US – I’ve given up on trying to like them better. I usually opt out.
But winter squash are an entirely different story. First of all, I find them utterly beautiful to look at – all those shapes and colors, the wartlike bumps on some, the glossiness. And then, when you have conquered their hard shell, the insides differ in color, too! So do their flavors, and to me the Uchiki Kuri with is intense carrot-potato-mealiness is the crown of them all. That you can even eat the skin after cooking, baking or doing whatever preparation you are inclined to, makes it even more of a deal for me. No waste, no want.
So, when at the end of September these red lampion-shaped winter squash appear in the market, the first thing I do after getting at least two or three of them, is to make what we simply call pumpkin soup. Though, of course, it would be way more appropriate to call it squash soup. It may be my German roots showing in this – whether pumpkins or squash, Germans call them all “Kuerbis” (no, I won’t try and come up with a pseudo-phonetical pronunciation formula for once). After scrubbing the skin, I cut up the squash, core it, cut the meat skin-on into chunks and toss them into water to boil until everything is soft. Then I immerse a hand mixer and puree the entire load. I add some chicken broth until I reach the desired consistency, add pepper, white wine, maybe some more salt, and grated nutmeg. And to finish each bowl off, there are sour cream, chopped pistachios or pepitas, and Styrian pumpkin seed oil (a bit pricey, but the only one you’ll ever want after you’ve once tasted it). Have some baguette or a ciabatta roll on the side – and you bet you get a taste of fall at its finest.
I’m not saying I didn’t have any use for pumpkins, of course. Every once in a while, my husband and I rummage through my kitchen utensils for the carving tools and have a little carving contest between the two of us. He is usually the one who comes up with the more imaginative ones. At one time, he even installed some LEDs into his to make his pumpkin look like something from Star Trek. If I manage something like a spider web that would make any spider blush for its clumsiness, if they could blush, that’s pretty much it. But it’s fun and spending time together and decorating a specific place in our driveway.
When we put out pumpkins, you bet that Halloween will be celebrated in our home. Sometimes, we even dress up a little. And then we keep waiting for “our” trick or treaters. Being at the end of a cul-de-sac in which we are the only ones doing this, renders us a sad turn-out of usually not even a dozen “visitors” at most, a third of them teenagers who eye us warily whether we deem them too old to give them candy. Let me make this one clear – no, you are no too old! Enjoy what you can as long as you can – adulthood with all the “can’ts” will come soon enough. If two grown-ups in their fifties can carve pumpkins just for the fun of it, why shouldn’t you get your free candy?!
That said, Halloween will be a quiet affair in our home this year. We haven’t carved pumpkins this year. We are playing it safe for everybody’s sake (it doesn’t mean that our neighbors’ kids have to forego their candy). But we have squash at our house. And a little of that soup will go a long way in celebrating this wonderful season. Happy Halloween, all of you!