A big gray ghost of a pumpkin has been lurking around this household for several weeks if not months. Foisted on me by my friend, RuthieAnnie, as a doorstop or a centerpiece, it has taken legs and moves from the center of the dining room table to the center of the porch and has even been glimpsed out on the deck. I expect, given time, it would be haunting the beach or down by the ponds. It was a ghostly jack-o-lantern on Halloween; then, a few weeks ago, I said to my dotter, I think we should celebrate Thanksgiving by breaking open this big, gray squash. Her exultant answer was “Yes”. Turns out, though, that she thought I was talking about shooting it or using a sledgehammer, not making Thanksgiving more difficult by actually butchering and then cooking it.
Few nights ago I decided to break into it in a civilized manner, if that was even possible. Finally, thinking I might lose a finger or even an arm, and just short of disemboweling myself, I put it in the sink over the drain, to keep it from rolling and to get it down to my level, and with the help of an ice pick, a cleaver, and a hammer, finally extricated two lovely crescents. They were a rich orange, moist but not mushy. Wiping the sweat off my brow, I was pretty proud of myself, still breathing hard while trying to listen to Leo, whom I had not seen all day but who had chosen those moments of physical extremity to talk to me about, oh, I don’t know, something about what to do with the Costa Rican coffee he gets from the Audubon Society: should he freeze it?
Why don’t you just do what you’ve been doing with it for the last year or so, I said. Why are you asking me?
Hurt, he said, “I’m just trying to include you in the decision-making process.”
I give you that it is excellent coffee and I will back you up in whatever decision you make, I said. But, Excuse me, I add, do you not see what I’m dealing with here, this monster I’ve managed to break into?
“Yes,” he says, “I hope you win.”
Well, I’d better, I tell him, because this is dinner. Or, if you want something else, you can order it. I was thinking pizza, of course.
“...order it...,” he muses.
Or scramble it yourself, I mutter, disturbed that my squash butchering heroics have gone under-recognized. I was thinking eggs, of course.
“No, that’s fine with me,” he says. “I’d rather have a hamburger, but...pumpkin’s fine.”
A hamburger! How long have I lived with this man. No matter how good it sounds, deciding to have a hamburger at 6:30 on a Saturday night, without prior thought, is pretty impossible. In the olden days (but even then not on a Saturday evening), having a hamburger would involve no more than dashing up to the locker by 4:55 at least and buying a pound, then grilling it. But those days have been gone a good 5 to 7 years, and now the only hamburger I buy is frozen, from the farm. It needs to be planned on in the morning because it needs to be thawed.
It’s only 6:30, maybe you can get a hamburger from Evie at the Wallingford Deli, I suggest.
“No. No,” he says, holding up a brave, forbearing hand. “Squash it shall be!”
I melted a very good chunk of butter in the cast iron frying pan, placed the squash crescents in the butter, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, added 4 very large whole cloves of garlic with the skin on, a couple of bay leaves, threw over all some sliced shallots, put the top on the pan and put it in the preheated oven. About 400°. Baked it for about 20 minutes, took the pan out, turned the crescents over – they were tender – sprinkled with more salt and pepper, basted with the pan juices, scraped a bit of nutmeg, then drizzled a few drops of maple syrup over, put it back in the oven, uncovered, for another 15 minutes.
In the meantime I garnished two plates with the most exquisite little ruffled leaves of baby kale that I’d got from Josh and Meadow Squire at the Farmers’ Market, then placed a squash crescent on each plate, garnished with a neat creamy scoop of chèvre, poured the pan juices over the whole thing, added the roasted cloves of garlic, and we did, I have to say, feast.
Half way through I said, Oh, look at this, it’s a spaghetti squash. That rich burnished, orange flesh was indeed separating itself into the spaghetti texture, a fact that I don’t see mentioned anywhere in reviews of the squash, which goes by the name of Jarrahdale.
“I noticed that,” said Leo.
I noticed that he was treating those precious roasted cloves of garlic as plate-detritis and I asked him if he knew how to eat them, treating them like artichoke leaves, scraping out that unctuous paste from the husk with his teeth.
Not only could we each not clean up our plates of maybe a tenth of that humongous squash (good thing Dakity dog loves squash), but there the rest of it sits on the counter grinning at me like a mal-formed jack-o-lantern, and after I steam enough for a pumpkin pie, I do believe I know where the rest of it’s going to appear next: in the compost bin!
One must choose one’s battles in this festive season, and mine will be wrapping presents not exploding pumpkins.
Copying a farmer making her last appearance at this winter’s Farmers’ Market on Saturday, I say to you all,
And thank you ever so much for reading.