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I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.
~Anne Shirley

The rapture over Autumn seems to have ramped up in recent years, what with Pinterest Printables and Pumpkin-Spice Everything. It’s to the point where it seems almost cliche to declare one’s love for it. But I really and truly do adore it, to my very core. I even bestowed Autumn to my daughter as a middle name, though she was born in March. 

Elisabeth Autumn: not afraid of patterns

Do you believe me now?

Of course, an obvious symbol and byproduct of Autumn are Pumpkins. Last year we had so many pumpkins that we did not even visit a pumpkin patch or purchase any at the store. It was very satisfying to carve our own pumpkins and decorate with our own Jack-be-littles and small “Sugar” pumpkins. But this year, the “Big Max” variety I planted did absolutely nothing. In fact, all they produced were two weird, gourdy, warty, pumpkins and it made me think that something was wrong with the starts I bought. So, a trip to the pumpkin patch was definitely needed to obtain carving pumpkins. 

Carving pumpkins is one of those traditional activities that Caleb and I dread each year because of the parental-labor involved. Often you’ll find us October 30th frantically carving because we’ve realized we cannot put it off any longer. But this year, we put Graham to bed, so right away we were down to four. Britton was finally old enough to carve his own (see the Minecraft Creeper below) and we only allowed Rosie to get one big enough for eyes. That left us with really only two that we had to carve, and by “we”, I mean Caleb. But I was on guts-duty and spent an hour sorting and washing pumpkin seeds to roast, so I think the division of labor was fairly equal. 

I’ve realized the key to perfect pumpkin seeds is delayed gratification. We always want to roast them the night we carve, but they need to dry for at least two days. Otherwise they will not crisp up. 

Our favorite pumpkin seed recipe:
Rinse 4 cups pumpkins seeds and lay to dry on a wax-paper lined baking sheet
Stir together:
4 Tbs melted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs worcestershire sauce
1 tsp garlic salt
Pour over pumpkin seeds, stirring to coat
Bake at 300 for 45-60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes

What I did manage to grow this year was a nice harvest of Butternut Squash and Sugar Pumpkins.

Butternut Squash are a winter squash and so can be stored for several months.
In July I actually just used the final squash from last year, though the texture was a bit spongy. It was still useable for pureeing. This year I picked 20 beautiful squash.

In order to store Butternut Squash, they must be cured. This concentrates the fruit’s natural sugars, making them taste sweeter and also reducing the chance of rot. Curing is done by picking the squash and then allowing them to sit in a warm location with good air flow. Caleb built me this frame and I put it in our garage, which gets pretty warm on those Indian Summer days we had in September.

After a couple of weeks, I then move them to the unfinished part of our basement which stays consistently cool and doubles as my root cellar.

We have two favorite ways to use Butternut Squash. We simply call this first recipe “Winter Soup” and it is a cool-weather staple in our house. I serve it with bread, sometimes broiled with cheese on top, and it is pure comfort. 

Golden Winter Soup (from Cooking Light Magazine)
2 tablespoons butter 
5 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds) 
2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled russet potato (about 12 ounces) 
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups sliced leek (about 2 medium)
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth 
1 cup half-and-half 
3 tablespoons chopped chives

1. Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add squash, potato, salt, and pepper to pan; sauté 3 minutes. Add leek; sauté 1 minute. Stir in broth; bring to a boil. 
2. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is tender, stirring occasionally. Place half of potato mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining potato mixture. Stir in half-and-half. Cover and keep warm.

Secondly, I have tried many homemade mac and cheese recipes, but have struggled to find one with a smooth texture that was not overly rich. Surprisingly, pureed butternut squash lends perfect texture, gorgeous color, delicious taste, and unsurprisingly, a boost of nutrition to this classic dish.  

Creamy Macaroni and Four Cheeses (from USA Weekend – an unexpected place to find such a keeper of a recipe)

1 (16 ounce) box elbow macaroni
2 (10 ounce) packages frozen pureed winter squash (I roast and puree my own, which is about one large squash)
2 cups low-fat milk
1 1⁄3 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (4 oz)
2⁄3 cup grated monterey jack cheese (2 oz)
1⁄2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons plain breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon olive oil

Cook macaroni according to package directions.
Drain and transfer to baking dish.
Place frozen squash and milk in a large saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring and breaking up the squash with a spoon until it’s defrosted.
Turn heat up to medium and cook until mixture is almost simmering, stirring occasionally.
Remove pan from heat and stir in the cheddar, Jack cheese, ricotta, salt, mustard and cayenne and stir.
Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan and oil in a bowl.
Sprinkle over top of the mac and cheese.
Bake until the cheeses are bubbling around the edges, about 20 mins, then broil for 3 mins so the top is crisp and nicely browned.

Out of my whole garden, I think the think I was most excited about was the 16 Sugar Pumpkins I harvested. 

I grew them last year too but was disappointed in myself for letting them rot before I had done anything with them. For some reason, making my own pureed pumpkin always seemed intimidating and I had only ever used store-bought, canned. But this year I was determined not to be wasteful and reading this post from Oh She Glows gave me the confidence to try it. It is so simple. Each of my 3-4 pound pumpkins yields about 4 cups of puree, roughly the same amount as a large can of pumpkin. When I consider that one of those cans is $3, and I consider that each of my pumpkins also yields seeds that we roast for a healthy snack, and delicious innards and skins that our cows, goats, and chickens love, I feel very satisfied. Pumpkin cannot be safely home-canned, so I simply freeze the puree in one and two cup portions. We use it in just about everything, from waffles to oatmeal to pumpkin bread to an amazing Pumpkin Turkey Chili, which is our traditional Halloween dinner, which incidentally is today.

Tomorrow we will welcome November with all the Holiday anticipation and excitement it has to offer, but today we will savor one last day in this glorious month.

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