For several years I've been reading articles about our dying bee population and how devasting it is, but I hadn't personally experienced the bee crisis until this summer when my husband planted his first small organic pumpkin patch. --Pumpkins need a bee's pollination superpowers to grow, and without them, pumpkins terminate the growth of their tennis-ball-sized young. My hubby came in from the garden many times and sadly recounted that he'd lost another pumpkin baby. They'd turn yellow within ten days and fall off the vine without successful pollination
In an attempt to save his dying pumpkin babies, my hubby created "Operation Passion Patch." He mastered his understanding of the female and male pumpkin flower anatomy and perfected his manual pollination efforts, or in lay terms, he learned to impregnate the female flowers. He used a QTip to move the goods from the male flower to the female flower and then held his breath while he hoped that it worked. I'm pretty sure I heard Marvin Gay music playing in the garden to aid in the fertilization efforts. He checked them every day to make sure that when those flowers open, he'd be right there, Doctor Love. Slowly he perfected the process, and he managed to grow three beautiful pumpkins, and when he harvested them, that's when my stress began. These were very special pumpkins, and thus, I had to find recipes that honored them and my adorable urban farmer.
I'd never used fresh pumpkins before; I was quite happy with using canned pumpkin, I'm not much of a baker. My husband has somewhat of an educated palate when it comes to desserts; he's the local cookie monster, but that's a whole other story of its own. At one point, I considered giving the pumpkins to a couple of my fabulous baking goddess friends and knew we'd get tasty treats back, but when I mentioned giving them one of the pumpkins, I got a resounding "no." He had nurtured them from little specks of pollen, and he wanted to be around to scoop their little pumpkin guts out (his words). Soon after, I got the real throw down, "I'm going to cook the pumpkins if you don't." Which meant your time is up girlfriend, face your fears and do something with those pumpkins. My hubby doesn't cook, so the threat both intriguing and terrifying. It was at this point that my recipe search began in earnest!
Pumpkin bread was first. Luckily the fabulous Alicia from Alicias Delicias and the Food Network's "Cake Wars" had recently made us the best pumpkin bread we'd ever had in our lives. I reached out, and she happily shared her fabulous recipe with me. - Love her! Now I had to prepare the pumpkins. I asked neighbors and friends how to do it, watched youtube videos, etc. And everyone I asked said to prepare myself for a giant pain in the neck.
After researching my options, I decided to bake them. I split the pumpkins in half, scooped out the seeds, and veins and coated them in olive oil and baked on parchment paper at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. And then came the tough part, I was to scoop out the pumpkin after they cooked. I let them cool down for about an hour and noticed that the skin separated from the pumpkin flesh and decided just to peel them! In the places that the skin didn't lift off easily, I used a butter knife, easy! I'm sure someone else uses this method too, but I didn't find it during my research. Then I cut up the pumpkin and placed it in my food processor, drained it in a giant strainer to get the excess water out, and voila, the pumpkin was ready!
I made Alicias Delicias pumpkin bread and carefully followed the directions to the letter and measured everything precisely(so not typical for me). But like I said, I was trying to honor my hubby's pumpkins, and he had already tasted an incredible version of this recipe, so I needed to put every ounce of baking majesty I could squeeze into this recipe. Thankfully, the bread looked beautiful and tasted fabulous. Not quite as good as Alicias Delicias, but my hubby loved it and ate an entire large loaf in one evening! Success!
Next on the list pumpkin curry, we both love Indian food and curries. I remembered some fantastic recipes from The Pepper Cook, an Indian chef I follow on Instagram. I have sometimes caught myself daydreaming about some of the pictures of her recipes, so it seemed like a logical place to start. She didn't have a pumpkin curry recipe, but I'd made her Prawn Curry With Kokum And Raw Mango, and it was outstanding, hands down the best curry I'd ever had in my life. So I used this recipe and substituted pumpkin instead of mangos and omitted the ginger. I thought the pumpkin substitution might work, and it did! Her curry recipe is full of rich, spicy flavors and dairy-free. Its creaminess comes from the pumpkins and coconut milk! I added cooked sweet potatoes and raw prawns and served it with white rice. It was so delicious, and the family loved it! I will be making it again.
Finally, I knew we needed empanadas! Having just purchased my current favorite cookbook, "Muy Bueno: Three Generations of Authentic Mexican Flavor," I instantly gravitated to her pumpkin empanada recipe. And while I was tempted to buy ready-made pie crust (I even had it in my basket in the grocery store), I took a brave step forward and decided to make the homemade crust outlined in the book, and a magical thing happened. As I placed my hands in the flour and began to mix it, looking down at my hands, they looked so much like my mama's, and wondrously remembered how to work with flour from all the years of making homemade flour tortillas with my mom. I hadn't made my mother's tortillas or mixed any flour with my hands since she died more than seven years ago. It was so much fun and special to make the empanada crust. I tripled the recipe and made three types, sweet pumpkin empanadas, savory chorizo & pumpkin with Manchego cheese empanadas, and chicken sausage with mushroom, garlic, onions, and Manchego cheese! Thankfully neighbors came over to help us eat through some of the empanada surplus, and the rest went into the freezer.! Well, let's just say that I ate my share of all of them and leave it there! I will be making these again!
AND per my hubby, the pumpkin empanadas are excellent hot with vanilla ice cream!
I hope I've inspired you to try a pumpkin recipe soon, and if you do, remember to add the most important ingredient, your love!
Happy fall and happy cooking!
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