The family and football game visit to the motherland of Wisconsin is now just a memory, one filled with plenty of things that portray Wisconsin. Cheese, bratwurst and beer. Farms, acres of corn ready for harvest and cows. Colored leaves, pumpkins, squash and cranberries, mums and Halloween décor. Green Bay Packer and Wisconsin Badger football games. Dinners of fried lake perch and brandy old-fashioned cocktails. Delicious cheese, chocolates and sausage made from recipes handed down through generations made at family-operated dairies, shops and meat markets. Lots of smiles, laughs and hugs from all the relatives that make up our zany, wonderful family we don’t see often.
I wish I brought squash back to Alaska with me. The Other Fisherman and I bought butternut squash at a roadside stand on a sunny fall day. I had a tough time not buying several to carry back to Alaska. One evening for dinner with the family, I roasted it, scraped the flesh into a bowl, added lots of good butter, some brown sugar, a big glug of pure maple syrup, salted it to taste and ground in generous amounts of black pepper. I mashed it smooth with a fork until it was lump free and creamy. It was the best squash I have ever eaten, ever. Mom said something about the squash being ripe and possibly the squash we are used to buying at the market up here aren’t picked ripe. Whatever the reason, I am not returning from a visit again without at least one squash. Interesting things return home with me when you are into cooking as much as I am.
Fall brings us pumpkins, squash, mushrooms, cranberries, apples and pears. I love them all.
Makes 21⁄2 cups
In the fall, when squash and pumpkins are in season and plentiful, make this delicious pumpkin butter. The silky preserve is sweet and savory. Try it on toast with cream cheese, in whipped cream, or melted into a mixture of sage and brown butter for an autumnal pasta sauce.
1 (3-pound) sugar pumpkin, stemmed, halved lengthwise, and seeded (not the jack-o-lantern from Halloween!)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1⁄4 cup apple cider
1⁄3 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄4 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush cut sides of pumpkin halves with oil. Arrange pumpkin halves, cut side down, on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake in preheated oven until very tender when pierced with a fork, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
Scoop flesh from cooled pumpkin; transfer to bowl of a food processor.
Discard pumpkin shell.
Add apple cider; process until smooth, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed.
Add brown sugar, honey, vinegar, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, and cloves; process until smooth, about 20 seconds, stopping to scrape down sides as needed.
Transfer pumpkin mixture to a saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium, stirring occasionally.
What is autumn without baking something with warm spices and pumpkin? The browned butter in this recipe compliments all the ingredients well and gives it a special nutty taste.
Pumpkin Bread with Brown Butter
Adapted from Melissa Clark and Bon Appétit.
This hearty pumpkin bread is a sophisticated twist on the traditional version with the addition of bourbon, (substitute apple cider or dark rum for bourbon), browned butter and cardamom.
Makes two 8-inch loaves
½ cup (1 stick) butter
¼ cup bourbon (or use dark rum or apple cider)
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups pumpkin purée, homemade or canned (1 15-ounce can)
½ cup olive or other oil (such as canola)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 ¾ cups light brown sugar
½ teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup roasted pecans or hickory nuts (optional)
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees and arrange a rack in the center. Grease the insides of two 8-inch loaf pans with butter or line with parchment paper.
2. In a large skillet, melt 1⁄2 cup (1 stick) butter over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the frothy white milk solids sink to the bottom of the pan and turn a fragrant, nutty brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Brown butter can burn quickly, so watch it carefully. (A tip: You will know your brown butter is almost ready when the frantic sound of bubbling begins to die down, so use your ears as well as your eyes and nose.)
3. In a glass liquid measuring cup, combine bourbon and vanilla. Add water until you reach the 2⁄3 cup mark. In a large bowl, whisk together bourbon mixture, pumpkin purée, eggs and oil. With a spatula, scrape all the brown butter from the skillet into the pumpkin mixture and stir to combine.
4. In another large bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine. Fold in nuts using.
5. Divide batter between the two greased loaf pans. Place them on a rimmed baking sheet and transfer to oven. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Allow bread to cool completely before removing from pan.
6. Sprinkle top of loaves generously with white sugar if desired.
I enjoy being in my kitchen this time of the year when it’s cool, dark and rainy, like last weekend was in Homer. Baking and roasting with pumpkin and squash this time of year fills the house with the homey, welcoming scent of spices and the holidays to come and the warmth of the oven chases away any chill in the kitchen.