Here in northeast Pennsylvania, the flakes are flying fast and furiously. We’ve gone from a bright beautiful fall day to howling winds and about four inches of snow on the ground in the space of 24 hours. It is, you can imagine, quite a shock to the system.
An old farmhouse finds new life as a family gathering place. (Family photo, circa 1908)
There are two places of refuge when the thermometer dips. Without a doubt, a comfortable chair before a warm fire wins hands down. The second option is the kitchen. Today, I spent in the kitchen as the countdown to Thanksgiving has begun.
The local farmer’s market had a sell-out bargain on pie pumpkins and there is nothing I love better this time of year than pumpkin pie, except of course, pumpkin bread. Processing pumpkins is really quite simple, if time consuming. I cut around the stem in the same manner as one would begin to carve a jack-o-lantern, then scoop out as much of the insides as I can reach. Two pie pumpkins fit nicely in a shallow roaster lined with parchment paper. Two of the smaller ones squeeze into a rectangular cake pan and both pans just fit into the oven. I wonder why I bought the fifth one. Oh, yes – they were $1.00 each! Well, that will have to go in by itself.
I add a little water to the pans (not more than a cup) then roast 350 degrees for about an hour - until a sharp knife slips easily through the pumpkin shell. After they cool, I cut each pumpkin into slices, as one would a cantaloupe, scrape off the remaining seeds and pulp, peel back the skin, then puree the chunks in a food processor. Because the pumpkins are baked, rather than steamed, there is very little water in the flesh.
Five average sized pie pumpkins make about a gallon of thick puree, which seems like a lot of pumpkin until one starts parsing it out. I use about a half of that in making two pumpkin pies and three big loaves of pumpkin bread. The remainder goes into the freezer in measured bags for future baking. (I also freeze some in ice-cube trays, then pop them out into a freezer bag to be administered to any unfortunate dog presenting with an upset tummy.) Suddenly, the house smells like Thanksgiving – even though it looks like Christmas outside!
This year we are celebrating Thanksgiving at the farm as a surprise for my mother, who at 93, has watched the changes wrought on her childhood home with a sometimes questioning eye, followed by the statement, “Kenny (who is my husband) is a miracle worker.” That he is, and it is to his credit that we are able to this year, hold our first full holiday meal there.
I honestly can’t say how many years it has been since the aroma of roasting turkey wafted through the old farm house – if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say 1964 -ish. I have a childhood memory of my grandfather praying…and praying…and praying, while I watched squinty-eyed at the steam rising from the dish of sweet corn in front of me.
The prayer may well be shorter this year, though equally heartfelt. I am grateful for so many things, not the least of which is the fellowship of family in a gathering place that we all love, surrounded by objects that remind us from past generations. The farm is, and always will be, home to me.