Pumpkins, Persimmons, and Pomegranates

        “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”                                                                                            — L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables)

I’ve been feeling a little down lately. It’s been a struggle to get any writing done. I am feeling a bit cheerier now as I sit here with a cup of Bavarian Vanilla Tea, taking a break from reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It isn’t the tea or the book that are improving my mood, though both are wonderful, but the fact that autumn has arrived.  I know the calendar said it arrived a month ago. For me, though, it’s not official until certain events have occurred.

The first event is the return of the buzzards. Every October, like clockwork, the turkey vultures or buzzards returns to the High Desert for the winter. This return isn’t as celebrated as it is in Hinckley, Ohio when the buzzards return to the Midwest in March signaling the return of spring, but it still anticipated by desert residents. You can’t miss them, they fly in large groups, called kettles. Identified by their two-toned wings and red head, they circle high in the sky. Some kettles can exceed a hundred birds. Their graceful acrobatics are a joy to watch. Seeing them on the ground or in a tree, not so much. Their bulbous red head and awkward gait make them almost comical, but in the air, they are king.

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Turkey Vulture, AKA Buzzard, a winter resident of the High Desert

The second event is the arrival of fall produce. It is in October that some of my favorite foods return to the Farmers Market. This week I have enjoyed roasted pumpkin soup, hard sweet Fuyu persimmons, and tangy pomegranates. This marks the true beginning of autumn for me.

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Pumpkins are not just for Jack-o-lanterns and lattes. (Of course, your pumpkin spice latte doesn’t have any pumpkin in it, only the spices that are generally used in pumpkin pie.) The giant ones use for decoration are not the ones I’m referring to but the smaller sugar or pie pumpkin. These small gourds are amazingly versatile. They can be roasted and eaten, like any squash. Steamed and pureed to make pies that more flavorful than anything store bought. My favorite is soup, it’s my go-to autumn comfort food.

pumpkin-soup

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

5 pounds – sugar or pie pumpkin, seeded and quartered

½ cup – diced onion

1 spray – olive oil cooking spray

4 cups – vegetable broth

½ tsp – sea salt (optional)

2 tsp – fresh thyme leaves

2 tsp – fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

1 tbsps – fresh sage leaves, chopped

¼ tsp – course black pepper

Place pumpkin quarters in a shallow roasting pan, cut sides up, and place in 375-degree oven until tender and starting to brown. 30 – 45 minutes.

Scrape cooked pumpkin from shells and puree, using a portion of the vegetable broth as needed.

Spray a large pot with cooking spray and cook the onions until tender.

Stir in pureed pumpkin and remaining ingredients.

Simmer until hot and slightly thickened.

Adjust the herbs to your personal preference and if using dry herbs, reduce the amount by half. Canned pumpkin, pureed butternut squash or mashed sweet potato can be substituted. If you desire a creamier soup, add a cup of 2% or whole milk can be added.

Serves 8

Persimmons are a puzzle to most people. They look this odd-looking fruit and wonder what to do with it. There are two types of persimmons found in U.S. stores. My favorite is the Fuyu, native to Japan, it is orange and tomato-shaped. It is firm and sweet, like an apple and is good for eating or adding to salads. The second is American persimmon, native to Virginia. This larger orange-red, acorn-shaped fruit must be allowed to fully ripen before you eat it. The fruit will feel over-ripe when it is ready. If you eat it too soon it will chalky and a bit sour. It’s best to eat the pudding-like flesh with a spoon. I don’t care to eat these but will occasionally use them for baking. Substitute the skinned persimmons in recipes calling for other pureed fruit such as pumpkin bread.

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Pomegranates derive their name from the French word for “hand grenade” due to their resemblance to 18th-century grenades. They can be difficult to work with as the juice stains just about anything it touches. I have found if you split the skin and keep it submerged you can pull it open and work the arils (the pulp covered seeds) free without staining your hands. It’s great just to munch down on the crunchy red arils, but I also like to put them in salads.

citus-salad

Pomegranate-Citrus Salad

Pomegranate-Citrus Salad

1 large – grapefruit, peeled and sectioned

1 medium – navel or blood orange, peeled and sectioned

½ cup – pomegranate arils

A dash of sea salt (optional)

2 cups – arugula (or other salad green)

Gently mix citrus sections and pomegranate in a bowl, sprinkle with salt.

Divide the greens onto two plates.

Add half of the citrus mix on the greens.

I like this especially with blood oranges, which are only available in the winter months.

Serves 2

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Harvesting cranberries

And here’s a bonus – cranberries! This tart fall staple is going to be a little pricey this year due to a drought in Maine affecting the cranberry bogs. But if you can get them I recommend making your own cranberry relish, so delicious and easy you’ll never go back to canned.

cranberry

Homemade Cranberry Relish

Cranberry Relish

½ cup – water

½ – 1 cup – sugar (depends on how sweet you like it.)

12 oz – fresh cranberries

Bring water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan.

Add cranberries and return to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer until the cranberries begin to pop (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Store in a covered container and refrigerate. It will thicken as it cools.

Makes approximately 2 ½ cups

Please share your favorite autumn recipes in the comments.

Until next time, remember the door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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