Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Baked Stuffed Pumpkin

I'm not sure where or when I picked up this cookbook.  I know I've had it since before 1993.  Its title is Early American Cooking and was published in 1977 by The Early American Society.  (I can't find any references to them online except books they have published; I don't think they exist anymore.)

The preface says, "The Early American Society staff examined dozens of 18th- and early 19th-century cookbooks, some from private collections and some from the Rare Book Division of the Pennsylvania State Library."  It goes on to say that the recipes were adapted for smaller quantities, tested, and tasted.  It is a very small book; I hand-numbered the pages (29).  But it has some interesting recipes, like Pickled Shrimp, fregasies, stews, meat puddings, and savory pies.

The one that caught my eye was on page 21, "Baked Stuffed Pumpkin".  I have had two pumpkins sitting on my porch since Halloween and really wanted to use them up.  At least one!  Here's the recipe:

1 small pumpkin
1 pound sausage meat
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 tsp fresh sage, chopped fine (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 cup celery, chopped fine
(I used apples.  I'm not fond of celery and wasn't going to buy some just for this recipe!)
3 cups cubed bread, toasted until dry
2 beaten eggs
Salt, pepper
1 tablespoon melted butter
Hot water

Wash the pumpkin, cut off the top, and remove the seeds and stringy pulp.

Place the sausage meat in a heavy iron skillet and fry over moderate heat, breaking it up with a fork.  When sufficient fat has collected, add the onion, and continue cooking until the sausage is browned and the onion tender.  Drain off as much fat as you can.

Not quite all the way cooked yet!

Place the toasted bread crumbs in a large bowl and add the sausage and onion.  Add a little hot water to the skillet and scrape up the brown particles, stir until smooth and add juices to the bowl.  Add the celery, sage, and beaten eggs.  Stir to blend, adding a few drops of hot water if the mixture seems too dry.

Fry a teaspoon of the stuffing in a small skillet, taste and correct seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

Fill the pumpkin with the stuffing -- loosely, for it will swell slightly as it cooks.

Place the lid on the pumpkin and put it in a shallow baking dish with the melted butter and just enough hot water to cover the bottom of the pan.

Bake at 350 degrees until the pumpkin is very tender (about 3 hours), basting occasionally with the water and butter in the pan.  Add more water as the pan becomes dry.

When the pumpkin is done, remove it to a heated platter and let it stand for about 15 minutes before cutting into wedges and serving.

The Verdict:  So what did I think?  It is an easy recipe to make.  Overall it was tasty, although there were a few issues.

My pumpkin was about 8 inches in diameter; I think it should have been more like 6 inches for the stuffing quantity in the recipe.  Also, my pumpkin was old; after sitting on the porch for three months it was stringy and, even when cooked until it started slumping, was not all the way tender.  There were good pumpkin parts but there were parts I didn't eat because they were tough.

The stuffing was good although I would probably bump it up a notch next time with raisins or currents or cranberries.  I guess I just like a riotous flavor to my stuffing!

I ate some when it was first cooked but liked it better the next morning when I ignored most of the pumpkin (too hard) and put a fried egg over the stuffing.

The most important part to note is that this pumpkin had to fit in my refrigerator since I wasn't serving it to a crowd right away.  That was a bit of a challenge.


Pumpkins were a big part of the Colonial American diet; they were easy to grow and provided both vegetable and protein (the toasted seeds).  I've heard (but don't know for certain) that if you grow pumpkin vines around your corn stalks, you get fewer rampages from raccoons.  This could be just a "wives' tale".

Conclusion:  It was pretty good and I might be tempted to do it again if (1) my pumpkin was small and fresh and (2) I had more people to serve it to immediately.  I think it is a nice taste of Colonial America!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Vanilla Sugar and Grace Firth

One of the favorite cookbooks in my collection is Secrets of the Still by Grace Firth.  (EPM Publications, Inc.)  One of the reasons I love it is the chatty, insightful stories Ms. Firth tells relating to whatever topic she has just introduced.  What a life this woman had!  And she manages to relate it all to stills, scents, cooking, food, and fun.  I recommend reading her book just for the pleasure of experiencing her adventures.

You can read about her time in Alaska during the late 1940s and her explorations of nature with her beloved husband, Lewis.  You will, in the process, learn about fermentation, distillation, flavors, fragrances, cosmetics, herbal medicines, and yes, even alcohol. 

One short adventure she had as a child is found on page 102, under the section "Flavoring is a Leader."  Here it is:

"My grandmother kept vanilla pods in a tightly lidded gallon container filled with sugar.  She used the sugar in baking and did not add vanilla extract.  Her vanilla beans lasted for years; she simply added more sugar when she took some out.  She stored the jar in the bottom of the food closet and I can remember getting into it, sitting on the floor, wetting my finger, dipping and savoring.  She caught me once and that was the last of that happiness."

I've been making vanilla sugar for years and can verify that it works and works well.  I use it in cooking, in tea, and sometimes I give a small container of vanilla sugar as a gift.  If I really love the person, I include a vanilla bean with the jar and instructions on how to keep the stock going.

The only thing that caused me to get more beans for my own supply was that in scooping sugar out of the jar, I sometimes break the beans.  After awhile the pieces are small and annoying, so I get a few more beans to replace them. 

I've noticed it takes a few weeks for fresh sugar to absorb the vanilla flavor.  I don't replace what I take out immediately; I usually wait until the level is low.  It is not an issue because I don't cook with it daily or even weekly.

I've heard -- but have not tried -- that you can make sugar with other flavors using a similar method.  Some day I will probably try using mint leaves.  My main worry is that they will get moldy.  One friend is going to try burying a bean into her stash of cinnamon sugar.  Mmmm!  Vanilla cinnamon sugar!

Sadly, Ms. Firth died in 2004.  She had written several books; the other one I have is the companion book to Secrets, called Stillroom Cookery.  I like it but have not tried the recipes in it.

The Verdict:  I highly recommend you read The Secrets of the Still.  If you have any interest in fermentation (includes things like sauerkraut, pickles, and vinegar), distillation, or scents, this book is for you.  If you love travel, you will love her adventures.