If you are, like me, a gardener, you already know about the family Cucurbitaceae. Commonly known as curcurbits, they encompass a wide variety of edible plant life including cucumbers, melons, gourds and squash. Of course squash is just the larger grouping for our friend the pumpkin, which grows plentifully in North America and is one of the most popular crops in the U.S.—many varieties of heirloom squash even trace their roots back to the colonies.
The Halloween jack-o-lantern originated here in the late nineteenth century, with the attendant folklore that the glowering faces distracted evil spirits lurking to harm wayward travelers (revelers?) during the early-coming autumn nights. Whether or not they deter devilish imps, pumpkins are closely tied to fall because, as a warm weather vegetable, they ripen around the turn of the season and are thus a natural emblem of harvest. As a bonus, they are very tasty.
This recipe also comes from Raising the Bar. Apples and pumpkins are both plentiful in the fall, and are commonly used together with delicious results. This recipe is no exception, combining the sweetness of the apple with the earthier notes of the curcurbit. And for the morning after, Mautone recommends reducing any leftover cider (as though you’ll have any) into a pancake syrup.
1 Tbsp butter or margarine
1 Tbsp sugar
12 1-inch cubes pumpkin or butternut squash
64 oz fresh apple cider
12 whole cloves
6 whole star anise
3 cinnamon sticks
12 oz dark rum
12 oz calvados or applejack
Yield: 12 7-ounce servings
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the sugar and pumpkin. Sauté the pumpkin, turning, until caramelized on all sides. If you feel the pumpkin cubes softening, remove the pan from the heat to keep them from overcooking. Stir in all the remaining ingredients except the liquor. Reduce the heat and simmer until hot; stir in the rum and calvados or applejack, ladle into warmed mugs and grate fresh nutmeg over the top. Serve.
Well, wow. I picked this recipe because it sounded so perfectly seasonal, but it really knocked our socks off. You have to use fresh cider to emphasize true apple flavor, but the caramelized pumpkin adds an very intriguing oomph to what is otherwise a fairly straightforward spiked cider. I used Laird’s Bonded Applejack to give it some bite, but regular applejack, apple brandy or calvados would all be delicious here. It is pleasantly warming (even when it cools, because that’s quite a bit of liquor) and smells like all the most homey parts of the holidays. Keep a cauldron of this bubbling and you’ll have to beat your neighbors away with a broom!