Preparation time.

Yesterday I stood at the kitchen counter, knife in hand, finally confronting the pumpkin that had sat on my table for the better part of the last week.  I found myself weirdly appreciative of my mother for teaching me how to cook.  The pumpkin is, after all, one of the weirder-looking vegetables, and, if one doesn’t already know better, also appears fairly inedible.  I think if I had not spent so much time in the kitchen with my mother when I was younger, I might have given up in despair before I even started attempting to cut the thing (“pie, soup, muffins, roasted seeds, perhaps, but damned if I know how to get at them”); more likely, I would have tried to cut the large gourd and made an utter mess of things (there’s a story in my family where I tried to serve ice cream before it had time to thaw: my brother came home to an angry little sister and a block of half melted, half frozen ice cream with the scoop, two bent spoons, and a knife stuck in the frozen half).

Following the fairly simple procedure for pumpkin preparation, I did not make a mess of things: insert the knife halfway and use the middle of the blade to slice once around the circumference, producing two halves.  Scoop out the interior of the pumpkin (the part which seven-year-olds universally refer to as “pumpkin guts”) with your hands, separating the seeds from the stringy flesh. Use a spoon to scrape out any remaining strings; dispose.  Quarter  the halves, and halve the quarter segments.  Slice off the rinds.

By the time I went to sleep yesterday, I had a large container of cubed pumpkin, and one each of butternut and buttercup squash, from which I made two separate meals (pie, and soup) for the rest of the week. I had also realised why it never bothered me that my mother was so insistent that I learn how to cook.  She never approached cooking as something that was an inevitable part of being female; indeed, my brother, too, learned how to cook, and some of the best memories we have together are spent in the kitchen, preparing meals for our parents (for a change).  My mother taught me how to cook because, as she would reiterate, “you’ll need to know it when you live on your own.” Cooking was the farthest thing from an education for a future that would end in marriage and cooking for my three children: it was preparation for a future as an independent adult.

When I was older, and busier (and snarkier), I used to brush off my mother’s cooking lessons, telling her I would learn how to cook when I finally did live on my own.  I’m pleased, now, that she was so persistent.  Otherwise I may not have been able to do all this today:

Pumpkin pie: always looks funny not made with sugar, but it tastes the same (the crust is pleasantly like a non-sweet shortbread).

Dill and cucumber salad.  Needs more dill.

Squash and wild rice soup. Goes well with spicy white wine.

Penne, spinich, and portabello casserole (the best of the four dishes today).

Soy-roasted pumpkin seeds.

1 November 2009 ~ Hamilton


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