catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 18 :: 2008.10.10 — 2008.10.24


Gleaning for change

A couple of years ago, I became the proud caretaker of two orphaned pumpkins after Halloween.  They were a little overfed, but 48 cups of pureed pumpkin later, I was glad they were.  We enjoyed all kinds of dishes with pumpkin through and even beyond the next year.  They were an extraordinary ordinary find.

It wasn’t until I began reading Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series several years ago that I began to realize the way in which I’d pigeonholed pumpkins into the “seasonal décor” category.  In the books, Mme. Ramotswe (who happens to be Botswana’s only lady detective) relishes a good pumpkin like we might savor expensive chocolate.  A good pumpkin is a fine treat, but also a staple of African soil and soul that grounds Mme. Ramotswe, even when the details of an impossible case are threatening her faith in human decency:

She stopped.   It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it.  In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life.  You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin.  That brought you down to earth.  That gave you reason for going on.  Pumpkin.

Now, I realize that McCall Smith, as a British male, is only imagining the life and thoughts of an African woman, but his frequent references to pumpkins still make me ponder cultural differences.  The difference between our cultural approach to pumpkins and the approaches in other parts of the world is small but telling. The pumpkin pies we eat during the autumn are usually store bought or made from canned pumpkin, but beyond the ubiquitous pie and the occasional bread and bar, we don’t have many other common recipes for pumpkin.  In other parts of the world, however, the pumpkin is valued as a diet staple.  Soups, curries, stews, or even just plain roasted-pumpkin is enjoyed in a variety of savory ways.

In the U.S., we buy the orange squash anywhere from the farm to Home Depot, cut faces in them and stand them on our front porches until they get rotten or smashed in the street.  Leftovers languish in the fields after Halloween, evidence of our general abundance and the loss of certain traditions.  I can’t help but think when I pass a picked-over field that still has hundreds of orange pumpkins dotting its brown autumn horizon that many of us are both blessed and blind.  In this way, pumpkins help me be mindful of people around the world who don’t have enough, who would be glad to glean a field for a prized pumpkin, especially in areas where it’s difficult to grow anything in the dry, rocky soil.

This year, we grew one small, precious pumpkin on a volunteer vine out of our compost.  I’ll probably roast that one by itself so we can savor it fresh out of the garden with butter and brown sugar.  However, I’ll also shop the post-Halloween sales for locally-grown “leftovers” and maybe even find a field to glean.  In a small but significant way, those two orphaned pumpkins literally changed my life, as I can’t imagine a winter freezer that’s complete without several containers of frozen puree.  It’s become a way for our household to honor local agriculture, seasonal abundance and cultures around the world.

I don’t hold it against anyone that I wasn’t raised freezing and eating fresh pumpkin my whole life.  I’ve appreciated this later discovery and look forward to more such discoveries to come.  For me, these subtle transformations of homemaking habits are not just changes in behavior, but integral practices of faithfulness.  As I try and fail and realize how much I don’t know, my hope is that the joy I savor in the sweetness of a homemade pie is but a glimpse of sweet, rewarding work to come.



To Preserve Pumpkin:  Cut in half and remove seeds, cleaning and setting seeds aside for roasting later.  Place pumpkin halves cut side down on a cookie sheet and roast at 425 degrees until tender (may take an hour or more for a large pumpkin).  Remove from oven and cool until you can handle the halves.  Remove skins and run the remainder through a food processor.  Freeze in 1-3 cup amounts.  You might check some of your favorite recipes first to see what they call for.  Use pureed pumpkin in place of canned pumpkin in any recipe.

Pumpkin Pie Recipe Tip:  The recipe on the can of Eagle condensed milk is easy and very tasty, but try cutting the sugar in half and doubling the spices.  The flavor is wonderful.

Pumpkin Sausage Pasta (From the Simply in Season cookbook)


  • ½ lb. penne pasta
  • 1 lb. bulk sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 med. onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbs. fresh sage, cut into thin strips
  • 1 c. dry white wine or chicken broth
  • 1 c. chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 c. pureed pumpkin or winter squash
  • ½ c. evaporated milk
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste


Cook pasta, drain and set aside.

In large, deep frypan coated with cooking spray, brown sausage over medium-high heat.  When cooked, remove meat and set aside.  Drain fat from frypan and return pan to stove.

Add onion and garlic to frypan and sauté until soft, 3-5 minutes.

Add bay leaf, sage and 1 c. wine or chicken broth and cook until half the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes.

Mix in chicken/vegetable broth and pumpkin/winter squash.  Continue stirring until sauce starts to bubble.  Add sausage and reduce heat.

Stir in milk.  Add seasonings and simmer 5-10 minutes to thicken.  Remove bay leaf.  Pour sauce over cooked pasta.  Combine sauce and pasta and toss over low heat for 1 minute.  Garnish with freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese and fresh sage leaves (optional).

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