Thursday, 24 October 2013

Hermitcraft: Pumpkin Pickles

October is an odd time in North America: for these thirty-one days, you can buy a pumpkin here. Any other time, you get: "What, are you crazy?" (One of us must be.)

And it only gets weirder: virtually none of the pumpkins Canucks and Yanks buy by the metric tonne this month will be eaten. Come All Saints Day, they will be thrown in the garbage. Even the thousands that were never cut.

Why are overseas readers now aghast? Because on all other continents, people know pumpkin for excellent food. One of the most versatile vegetables on earth, useful in every course of a meal, it's both delicious and nutritious. I've no idea why North Americans have demoted it to a gourd, but if it weren't for that Druid holiday we dug up and transplanted across the sea, this First Nations masterpiece (utterly unknown to the Druids) would have gone extinct here a century ago. If the irony gets any thicker, we can carve our jack o' lanterns out of that instead.

Or you can; I pickle mine. Pickles – a staple of Japanese monasteries – anchor the flavour plates I build for sesshins. (It's an ancient Zen art intended to pique mindfulness with a shotgun blast to the senses). And the pumpkin ones are my favourite: marrowy, neon orange, and sweet spicy-sour, with just a hint of musky bitterness from the lime.

The recipe:

PUMPKIN SESSHIN PICKLES

(Makes about 3 1/2 pints. Note that after step 3, you will have to wait 24 hours before continuing.)

7 cups raw pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 sticks cinnamon, shredded
2 1/3 cups cider vinegar
2 1/3 cups sugar
15 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole black pepper corns
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons whole allspice
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2 inches gingerroot, sliced thin
lime slices, 1/4 inch thick, one per jar
dried cranberries ("craisins")
canning jars and lids

1. Cover the pumpkin cubes with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and lightly blanch, about 10 minutes. (Not longer; they'll cook another three times before you're done.) Drain immediately to avoid overcooking.

2. Put all other ingredients except lime slices and cranberries in a large pot and bring to a boil. (Warning: hot syrup boils over very quickly; stay present and alert.) Turn heat down to lowest setting, cover the pot, and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Add the pumpkin cubes and bring back to a boil. Then cover the pot, lower heat, and simmer for 3 minutes. Afterward, remove the pot from the burner and set it aside for 24 hours.

4.Next day: Sterilise jars in a water bath canner. Heat the pumpkin and syrup mixture to boiling, then lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

5. Remove the jars one at a time from the hot water, drop in four to five cranberries, and ladle in hot pickles to 1/2 inch from the rim. Be sure to include spices.

6. Slide a lime slice between the pickles and the jar's side, fit a sterilised lid, screw the band down tight, and return the sealed jar to the water bath. Repeat until all the pickles are packed.

7. Turn up the heat under the canner and process (cook) the jars for an additional 5 minutes after the water has returned to a boil.

10. Remove the jars from the water and allow them to cool naturally until the lids pop. Store in a cool dark place for at least a month before opening. (Any that don't pop should be stored in the fridge and eaten first.)

Specific points on pickling jack o' lanterns:

To insure fresh pickle stock, carve your jack o' lantern on Hallowe'en and refrigerate the scraps; if you light it with a candle, line the lid with aluminium foil. Make your pickles next day, peeling off any soot or scorched flesh with a vegetable peeler. Later, when you eat them, you'll recognise bits of eye and teeth on your plate.

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