An Autumn Treat: Baked Pumpkin with Milk

A 1903 article from the American Kitchen Magazine tells us that in days past families enjoyed a delicious and unusual supper dish. “From a hard-shelled pumpkin,” the author writes, “a section was cut around the stem, thus making a cover, like that of the Jack-o’-lantern, the seeds and fibers were scraped out, and the space filled with rich, sweet milk.” The pumpkin’s top was “replaced and the pumpkin was put into the brick oven, where it stayed for hours until the tissues of the gourd were soft and had absorbed much of the milk.”

Serving this dish presented no unnecessary mess; the cooked pumpkin was simply placed on the table, its hard shell acting as a bowl. Diners then scooped out a bit of pulp and a bit of milk, and ate the two together like “baked sweet apples and milk.”

Below is a similar recipe from Hispanic Kitchen. It originates from Mexico and is usually served in autumn at Day of the Dead festivals. The West Indian pumpkin, which is sometimes called a “fairy tale” pumpkin, is the tastiest variety to use in recipes of this sort.

Pumpkin Atole

1 medium-sized pumpkin
1-2 cups of brown sugar, or 1-2 piloncillo cones
1 quart of milk
cinnamon sticks
pinch of star anise

Cut the pumpkin into wedges and remove the seeds. Boil with cinnamon sticks until soft. Remove the skin if desired. Blend the pumpkin until creamy. Boil it again, this time adding the quart of milk (you can add more or less to make a thinner or thicker atole), the brown sugar (again, you can vary according to your desired level of sweetness) and the pinch of star anise. Boil on low heat until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Serve with a cinnamon stick as a garnish.

From the Fields of Switzerland: Poppy Seed Noodles

The young peasant girls of Switzerland believed the poppy flower held certain secrets–they believed the poppy could reveal the true nature of their lover’s heart. During the warm months of spring, the girls would scour the fields for the poppy’s tell-tale red blossoms. Once they located the distinctive flower, they would pluck a single petal and place it in the hollow of their left hand, which they would then fiercely smack with their right. If the petal made a sudden bursting sound, as of a sigh quickly escaping, their beloved was loyal and would remain so until his dying day. But if no sound issued from the crushed petal, coldness reigned in his heart and he would soon abandon the bearer of the mute petal.

The poppy was more than just a means for deciphering the ways of a man’s heart, however. It also frequently appeared in the kitchens of Central European peasants. German peasants boiled the poppy seeds and ate them like sago. When a child proved querulous, they soaked cloth in a sweetened mixture of poppy seeds and used it as a pacifier. But more commonly they used poppy seeds in a number of tasty and hearty desserts. Here’s a recipe for Mohnnudeln — a delightful Central European dish that can be eaten as a dessert or a light supper.

Poppy Seed Noodles (Mohnnudeln)

1 pound potatoes, boiled and peeled
1 egg yolk
1 ounce butter
4 ounces fine white flour
1 ounce farina (cream of wheat)
1 pinch salt

Topping

1 ounce butter, lightly browned
3.5 ounces poppy seeds
powdered sugar

Mash the potatoes and mix with the egg yolk, butter, flour, farina, and salt. Roll this dough out on a floured cutting board and cut into small pieces. Form these pieces into long noodles, with centers thicker than the ends. They should be 2-3 inches long. Cook these noodles in boiling water for about 6 minutes. Remove them from the boiling water, daub off any excess water and place in a serving dish. Pour the lightly browned butter and poppy seeds over the noodles. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.