by Katharyn Privett-Duren
My whole life, I’ve been enthralled with pumpkins. The earthy, warm smell takes me to a lovely place in my otherwise rough childhood and sparks visions of Charlie Brown and his existential pumpkin patch.
I was never allowed to carve one, myself—not until I was roughly seventeen and out on my own—and even then, the possibility of cutting my finger off only lent a deeper thrill to my favorite season. I could finally revel in it all, far away from the limitations of curfews, sugar rations, and the requisite ban on horror movies. Yet, somehow there was still a longing, a melancholy in carving my pumpkin, all alone. My search was not over, it seemed. The alchemy of it all remained just out of reach, somewhere in a memory, ever only the evidence of The Ghost of Halloween Past.
Then, I had children.
Purposefully tilling the lore of harvest into their hearts, I raised my brood to revere the leaf-crunching, spice-scented season in all of its glory. Every year, even as broke as we were, I found one tallish pumpkin for my kids to take home from the local grocery. They would stare longingly at the others: The little ones, the gourds, the warty squashes in shades of gray and green. Decisions had to be made.
Inevitably, we could only afford the one. As it was lit night after night on the mantle, the mold would begin to make our jack-o-lantern wither and grimace against the candlelight–and we would grieve the moment that would force it to the backyard to feed the wildlife. There, we would stand one last time before dark to say goodbye. Like you do for a dream.
I say “we,” because the little girl in me (now raising three children quite alone) needed that pumpkin just as much as my babes. The search for The Great Pumpkin had, in fact, inspired one overly-romantic soul long ago. The skit that began my adoration of all things Halloween aired on October 27, 1966 when I had just begun to sit up in my crib.
In spite of the trauma and ache of my childhood, there was recompense in the fall. I wore my hard, plastic mask, carried the “bucket of hope” from house to house, and for just one night: My world sparkled in black and orange. Of course, the next day brought tragedy as my father unceremoniously dumped my beloved jack-o-lantern into the trashcan . . . and with it, all things hopeful and good.
I am forever Linus, forever broken at a gutted pumpkin, forever hoping for a magic moment to make everything better. And sometimes, it does. Yet, as all worthy stories go, there must be the arduous journey before victory.
My children grew up, and we continued to search for The Great Pumpkin. My sons would bring their girlfriends in tow to our yearly trek to the local pumpkin patch, stopping for pictures in the fields and the occasional fried pie. We rode the tractors with hay piercing our bottoms, valiantly flaunted our flannel shirts, stomped through vines and the occasional briar patch and left most of our paycheck with the farmhands at sunset.
Though saddened that the farm used pesticides, we knew that our Alabama garden could barely survive the squash bugs that regularly descended upon our little farm. As organic gardeners, we were doomed to gather what my son called “poison pumpkins.” How could the ever-allusive Pumpkin King find us? Would he not rebuff our efforts, reject our squashy sacrifice if the fruits had been tainted? For years, the necks of our vines cracked under the swell of larvae, creating only one or two small survival pumpkins before they withered into winding skeletons across the rows.
It had all been in vain, it seemed, and the magic of harvest slipped away each year into summer ground, too early to bed. But then…
I read about Seminole pumpkins, dusty-orange, bell-shaped dreams that grew and hung in trees in our zone. Practically impervious to bugs, these miraculous squashes could be grown in Zone 8b without chemicals—and that, my friends, is magic. The first year’s haul could have filled a pickup truck.
This year, they are a bit late due to strange weather patterns in 2020. I found myself wandering through the patch yesterday, maneuvering my feet this way and that, whilst humming a carol that only Linus knew in the fall of 1966. I sing it now, too, for I have glimpsed The Great Pumpkin. He has graced my land and washed that wonderful smell across my memory, healing so much in his wake.
I know the long, arduous wait that is required for this kind of hope here at harvest. I know that hope, even dashed against the rocks and weakened by the wind, is like a seed…and there’s only one thing I know to do with that.
Into the ground of my heart, it goes. It turns out, Linus was just a farmer like me.
Well, and one tough, romantic cookie of a guy.
Happy Harvest to all!
Little Halawakee Dessert Pumpkin
One 3 lb. Seminole (or other sweeter variety)
¼ pound stale bread, cubed
½ cup roughly chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup or round of Brie, cut into cubes (freezing first helps!)*
Pinch nutmeg, cinnamon, salt
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
½ stick butter
½ cup heavy cream (or more, depending on saturation level)
Cut a clean, round top off the pumpkin and set it to the side. Clean the pumpkin out well, then lightly oil the skin (olive oil works well here, but any oil will do). Place on parchment-lined cooking sheet. Melt butter, then stir in spices and brown sugar.
Toss bread cubes in mixture well. Add nuts and cheese cubes and toss again. Drizzle with heavy cream and replace the top of the pumpkin. Bake for 1½ to 2 hours, depending on the browning of the pumpkin skin. Remove the cap for the last 20 minutes or so.
Remember to let this one cool, as it will be bubbly!
*We remove the rind of Brie. This is a matter of personal taste.
Cooks Note: Everything is up for debate here! This is adapted from a savory version that included bacon, chives and garlic. We have occasionally increased the sugar for a sweeter dessert, added more nuts, tried Gouda, and have thrown in cranberries. Have fun with it!
photo credit: Jason Leung, Unsplash