I’m from Ohio. Yep, that part of the country known to historians (and some more attentive third graders) as the Old Northwest. When I tell this to people here the image that typically arises is one of sleepy little towns surrounded by vast stretches of farmland. What they are picturing, I think, is Iowa. But the reality is much more, well, rust-colored. There are farms there to be sure. A local, sustainable food culture is even beginning to take off. But it certainly isn’t part of the DNA of the place like it is here—at least not yet. Rather, the midwestern zeal for industry and efficiency seems to have spread from the cities to the surrounding countryside resulting in a landscape dominated by factory farms and monoculture. And you guessed it: corn is king.
Growing up in a place like that can easily lead to a serious disconnect between a person and the food that he or she eats. To my young mind, food came from the supermarket, not from farms. I didn’t know any farmers. And the farms themselves—with those stalks of corn all lined up in their rows like vast battalions brandishing spears—were almost menacing. Really, have you ever noticed how many horror films are set in cornfields? Anyway, the farm did not seem like a place that anyone would ever need, or want, to go to.
There was, however, one exception. Each year my family would make pilgrimage to our local pumpkin patch. We would all clamber into the farmer’s wagon and roll out through the orange, glistening fields to harvest jack-o’- lanterns and pie pumpkins for the fall holidays. I was too young to think much about it then, but something about visiting that place, and picking with our own hands the food that we would soon eat, seemed important, elemental, right—like a tradition worth preserving.
Those early experiences made a deep and lasting impression, and I have no doubt that they have made me a more conscious, and conscientious, eater. That’s the thing about traditions, they have a way of shaping the way that we come to see the world. This savory stuffed pumpkin recipe has become a tradition around our house. And trust me, it’s a keeper.
Savory Stuffed Pumpkin
(recipe slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s original version available here.)
1 pie pumpkin, about 3 pounds
1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyere, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 apple, 1/2-inch dice
1 pear, 1/2-inch dice
4 strips bacon (optional), cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped
About 1/4 cup fresh chives or sliced scallions
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin. Scrape out seeds and strings from cap and inside of pumpkin.
3. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish.
4. Toss bread, cheese, garlic, fruit, bacon, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with pepper, you probably have enough salt from the bacon and cheese, but taste to be sure.
5. Pack the mix into the pumpkin. It should be well-filled, but don’t overstuff it.
6. Mix the cream, nutmeg, and some salt and pepper. Pour into pumpkin (add more cream if too dry).
7. Replace the cap and bake for about 2 hours, checking after 90 minutes, or until the pumpkin flesh is tender enough to pierce easily with a knife tip. Remove cap during the last 20 minutes to bake off any liquid and slightly brown the top of the stuffing.
8. Serve from the baking dish, making sure to scrape out some pumpkin flesh with each serving of stuffing.
(Note: Don’t be alarmed if your Thanksgiving turkey begins to turn green with envy when placed next to this good-looker!)