This time of year, Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On" always seems to be stuck in my head. Yes, I did play it in class because it connected to our Lord of the Rings discussion, but it's also just so seasonally appropriate. "Leaves are falling all around....time I was on my way." It's the perfect thing to sing while crunching through the gold and red leaves on the sidewalk.
Erin of Reading My Tea Leaves made the funny, and true, observation that bloggers are totally obsessed with the seasons. These days, blogs are all about spiced apples and warm cider and crisp fall days. I'm guilty of this, too. But it seems appropriate that blogs about food and simple living--the ones I read--are focused on the seasons and their changing, because in many ways we're still closely tied to the land and the weather. Maybe we aren't farmers, but many of us purchase food from farmers' markets, and our meals therefore depend on what's in season. Our outdoor activities, the shapes of our days, our clothing--all determined by the seasons. It's a lot easier to run down the block for a morning coffee when the weather's still crisp and cool, not yet biting. And I always find myself heading outside more often in every season but winter. For some reason, bundling up in scarves and puffy coats makes venturing outside for a walk just a bit more difficult.
With that in mind, I've been trying to enjoy these last days of beautiful autumn. We've been lucky in Providence, with golden days and warm temperatures and just a few cold snaps in between. It's perfect weather for picking apples and going for long walks and sitting on the porch with hot mulled cider (see? I can't get away from it!).
Last weekend, filled with the spirit of fall, Josh and I headed out to Seekonk to pick pumpkins. The pumpkin picking itself was majorly disappointing; picture a field dotted with pumpkins already plucked from the vine, so little kids didn't have to work too hard. But we had fun walking around the farm, getting lost in the corn maze, and talking to goats. (Josh hates goats, by the way--the shape of their pupils makes them look evil or something.) Then we loaded up on carving pumpkins, decorative gourds, and a sugar pumpkin for baking.
Back at home, we carved some impressive jack-o-lanterns, which proceeded to mold within one week (damn this warm weather!). The sugar pumpkin I cut into pieces and baked in the oven, until it felt soft under the touch of a fork. (I made sure not to follow my dad's example, where he stuck an entire, whole pumpkin in the oven to roast. He realized that something was wrong when he heard a bang and found the entire kitchen covered in pumpkin guts.)
Baked pumpkin looks a little yellower than the canned stuff, but it tastes just as good. Fresher, even, though that may be my imagination. Pureed, it goes nicely in an old-fashioned pie. I returned to Little House on the Prairie for this one, because there's just something about fall and harvest time that makes me long for the Ingalls family. And Ma Ingalls did not disappoint. This is a simpler pie than pumpkin pies we make today--fewer eggs, less milk. Prairie housewives wouldn't have much spice on hand, so I used just a dash of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.
The best thing about it? Instead of covering up the squashy taste with sugar and intense spice, the flavorings only enhance the pumpkin, so the pie tastes like...well, a pumpkin pie. But not the sweet custard kind. The kind where the pumpkin is the starring ingredient.
Tell me, what are your favorite things about fall? What foods do you find yourself making this season?
(adapted from The Little House Cookbook)
for the pie shell:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, cubed
3 tbsp ice water
for the filling:
2 cups pumpkin puree (homemade or canned)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup rich milk or half-and-half
pinch of salt
1 tsp maple syrup
pinch of spices (I used cinnamon, cloves, and ginger)
Make the pie shell:
Sift the flour and salt together, and with the tips of your fingers, work the butter into the flour until it feels like coarse meal. Add the ice water 1 tbsp at a time until the dough comes together when you work it with your hand. Turn out onto a floured surface and roll into a flat circle. Transfer to a 9-inch pie pan and even out the sides. Let sit while you make the filling.
Make the filling:
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then add the brown sugar, maple syrup, milk, salt, and pumpkin until well blended. Pour into the pie shell.
Bake the pie in the center of the oven at 425 F for 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350 F and bake until a toothpick inserted into the filling comes out clean. NOTE: the baking time will vary depending on the fat content of the milk you use. I used 1%, which took about an hour and a half to bake total. With half-and-half, the baking time should be about 40 minutes.
Cool pie before serving.