Vixxie’s Pumpkin Nirvana in November.

Pumpkins. Squashes. Gourds. Pepo. Yeah…. There is a lot more to pumpkins than pumpkin spice lattes. 

Pumpkins are typically October fruits. Yes, fruits, because pumpkins are not considered vegetables. They are from the same family as melons, cucumbers, and zucchini. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true. Fine, Google it! 

Anyway, here at Vixxie’s, I’m waaaay too busy with Autumn vegetables in September and October, so I choose my pumpkins to be the stars in my entire home in during the whole month of November. With daylight saving time also comes a lot more time spent around dusk. Which makes carving pumpkins just about ten times more fun. Jack-o-lanterns shine so beautifully! 

But did you know that pumpkins haven’t always been as popular as they are today? Pumpkins were hardly eaten by people for a considerable part of the 19th century. In fact, for the longest of times it was only fed to livestock. Ironically, when you think ‘pumpkin pie’, you instantly think ‘Thanksgiving’ too. Well… pumpkin pie probably wasn’t even on the pilgrim’s menu to begin with. Hard to believe considering the huge amount of foods with added pumpkin spice flavour that are cropping up on our supermarket shelves every year around this time.

I just love pumpkins and everything pumpkin related. But next to using them as an ingredient to every possible thing I can cook or bake, I also just love carving them. I’m not good at it, but I do love to fill up my window sill with the cutest of pumpkin faces and light them all around dusk.

Jack-o’lanterns

The custom of carving pumpkins originated from the lighting of candles for the dead to follow as they walked the earth. These candles were placed in hallowed out turnips or potatoes and put on the ground to light the way. Scary faces were carved into the vegetables to frighten away the wandering evil spirits. When immigrants brought the Celtic tradition to America, they found the pumpkin (a fruit native to America), that made the perfect jack o’lanterns.

There is also a cute Catholic attempt to claim the origin of the Jack O’Lantern, a legend called “Stingy Jack.” 

Stingy Jack and the Devil entered a pub to have a drink. Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for the drinks. But instead of using the coin, Jack slipped the coin into his pocket, standing next to a silver cross. The cross prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother him for one year. And should he die during that year, the Devil would not claim his soul. The Devil agreed to these terms. The next year, when the devil turned up again, Jack attempted to trick the devil again. This time, the Devil climbed into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down. Once again, Jacked struck a bargain with the Devil. He would free the Devil from the tree if he promised not to bother Jack for ten more years. And if Jack died during those years, the Devil would not claim his soul. And the Devil again agreed to these terms.

Not long after this, Jack did indeed die. But because of his trickery, God would not allow him into heaven. In keeping his word not to take his soul, the Devil would not allow Jack into hell either. Instead, the Devil sent Jack out into the darkness of the world between worlds with nothing but a burning piece of coal. Jack placed the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since. One began to refer to Jack’s ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply as “Jack O’Lantern.”

Now, I don’t know if you have ever carved or hollowed out a pumpkin… that shit ain’t easy, bro ! I need a butcher’s cleaver to even just open up mine. Then it takes another hour and some serious wrist cramps to spoon out the contents. So when I see the pumpkin sculpture art of Ray Villafane, I can only be astonished and stare at the breathtakingly beautiful details. I’m in awe. 

Pumpkin noms in Vixxie’s Kitchen

I may not know how to hold a sculpture tool, but I can dual wield cooking pots and baking trays! And I like to show that off in November, with the most amazing pumpkin inspired dishes. Here’s a few of my favourites !

Grilled pumpkin insalata

Pumpkin & carrot soup with chestnut 

You need
500 gr cleaned pumpkin 
spring onions
dandelion salad,
Parisian Mushrooms 
dried thyme 
4 spoons of soy sauce 
chilli powder 
olive oil, pepper and salt

This is how you do it
Preheat the oven on 190°C. Peel the pumpkin meat and wedge it. Mix 3 spoons of olive oil with 3 spoons of soy sauce, then add thyme. Marinate the pumpkin slices in the liquid for a few minutes and grill them in the oven for 30 minutes.
Prep the salad and cut the onions in tiny little rings.
Stir-fry the shrooms shortly in olive oil. Season them with soysauce, salt, pepper and chili powder. 
Hussle the salad with the mushrooms and spring onions, then dress the grilled pumpkin on top and dish up !

Little pumpkins with couscous and mince filling 

You need
500 gr cleaned pumpkin
200 gr precooked chestnuts
bag of diced soup vegetables
1 onion
fresh thyme
Maredsous cream cheese
chicken stock
bouquet of dried herbs
olive oil, pepper and salt.

This is how you do it
Chop the pumpkin, onion and chestnuts. Heat olive oil in a big frying pan and stew the onion (don’t bake them brown). Add all the vegetables and the chestnuts and let them stew for 5 minutes while stirring. Add water until all the vegetables are submerged and add the bouquet of spices and the chicken stock. Add pepper and salt, let everything cook for 30 mins on moderate heat. Remove the spices and the leaves, and mix the soup, then add the cream cheese until you are satisfied with the texture.

This is how you do it
Remove the hats from the pumpkins and spoon out the core gently. Grate the inside flesh and store it for later. Clean and cut all the vegetables you want to use in small dices. The base recipe says zucchini and carrot but in my experience here “the more, the merrier”. So I like to also add chick peas, eggplant or sometimes even  broad beans and peas too). Celery, peppadew peppers and paprika if you want to give it a Moroccan flavour. 
Mushrooms work great if you love those. I don’t like mushrooms, though 🙂
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. 
Preheat the oven at 180 °C
Add the chopped red onion + a cloves of garlic in a pan and simmer them in oil or butter. Add the minced meat. When the mince is baked golden, add all the sliced and diced vegetables and keep stirring for 10 more minutes. Add salt and pepper if needed.
Boil water with broth and the spices you want to use in the couscous. (Today, I used Cumin and Turmeric. I’m not a fan of Coriander). Cook couscous the risotto way – add water slowly and continue to stir while the couscous soaks up the water. Stir fry it for 1 minute.
Mix the couscous with the vegetable and mince stew and fill the hollow pumpkins with it. Put the pumpkins in the oven and let them bake for 30 minutes without the pumpkin cover. Then another 10 minutes with the cover. Serve sizzling hot.

TIP for all the cheese lovers: You can add gratin cheese melt

You need
4 mini pumpkins
500gr mixed mince 
Zucchini and carrot 
cherrytomatoes
1 red onion
1 clove of garlic
2 spoons of chopped koriander
200g couscous
200ml beef stock
butter, pepper and salt, kurkuma, ras el hanout or kumin 

Halloween decorated pumpkin bakingz

There is no shortage of cupcake recipes available in books and online. Some prefer to bake with raw ingredients from scratch, others prefer ready-made cake mixes to which you only add a couple of eggs and some oil. And you know what, I don’t even blame you if you did. Messing around with baking soda, bicarbonate, baking powder, …. even I don’t know which is what and what is which. Either way, whatever you prefer, failing a cupcake is pretty difficult, so you’re all safe 🙂 

Combining pumpkin flavoured cupcakes or other bakeries is straight forward as well. Because pumpkin doesn’t really have THAT much of a distinctive taste, it goes well with a lot of other additions. I love combining my pumpkin flavoured base cake with maple syrup or brown sugar. Then use pecans and walnuts or hazelnuts with a cream based topping. But dark and white chocolate goes very well too, rice, oats and cranberries. If you prefer a spicy take: I recommend nutmeg, cinnamon and/or cayenne pepper!

As for the decoration…. go ham! Use your imagination 🙂
But since this is a pumpkin post…

(This is a mood board I created with inspiration plucked from Pinterest. )

My little baking project this year’s Samhain? This! 🙂 

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