Deep, grooved ridges and gnarly warts, pockmarked orange skin and scabby patches of bedsore dirt: A pumpkin is one of those vegetables that’s so ugly it’s beautiful again.
Maybe it’s association – for me, they’re just about as fall as apple butter or hot toddies on cool and quickly-dimming evenings. It’s the memory of being a child and holding a huge pumpkin in my arms, big enough to bowl me over, straw from the patch clinging to my clothes. Or it’s the way a pumpkin halved offers up smooth, bright flesh and white, jewel-like seeds. Or how a Jack-O-Lantern leers glowingly from the porch on Halloween.
But not all pumpkins are alike, as I discovered this weekend at our neighborhood pumpkin festival. I went on a bit of a bender, making David drag home a big bag full of them: a dusty, purplish-hued muscat pumpkin with perfectly domed sections; a brightly speckled festival pumpkin with kaleidoscopic patterns of green and orange snaking up its creamy sides; and two delicata squash – long and pale yellow pinstriped with green. I’m sure I would have purchased more, had I not paused to think about how we were going to eat them all.
I still can’t really get over how quickly the fall has come – how quickly all the seasons are whooshing past. Have I really lived in this apartment for two whole years? Have I really been in Berlin for twice that? Today I’m wearing the brand new jeans I just bought in… February.
Yikes. And from what I hear, it doesn’t get better.
I remember long ago, my dad tried to explain the passage of time to me, how when you’re ten, a year is longer than when you’re twenty, since one tenth is bigger than one twentieth. The longer you live, the faster life really does go by, because each year is a little less chunk of time compared to the whole.
It’s an idea that’s really stuck with me, as I get older, feeling life whirl faster and faster, and me wondering where, inexplicably, it’s gone to.
It’s gotten me to thinking about my face’s first wrinkles – one morning I woke up, and there they were. Now, when I smile, my laugh line splits into two instead of one, and the fleshy bit beneath my eyelid begins to pucker. They’re so little – most likely, I’m the only one who notices them – but it’s weird, to watch your face change. I imagine it just gets weirder. My grandma used to say sometimes she’d look in the mirror and wonder with a start, “Who’s that?”
I like to think that as I continue to age, and my wrinkles begin to multiply, I’ll think of them as proof – of having been here, of having lived each swiftly spinning year. And in the accumulation will be memory and accomplishment, family and love, a whole history of experience.
I’ll be like my pretty, wrinkled pumpkins. Their grooves tell the story of how they grew – gnarled, whorled, beautiful, and unique. Without their wrinkles, they’d still be pumpkins, but they wouldn’t be ripe enough to eat.
Beef & Maple Delicata Squash Boats
If you can’t find delicata squash, butternut or acorn will work just as well. However, they’ll need to roast longer before being stuffed – they should be tender enough to slide a fork into. If you don’t have berbere, substitute with ¼ tsp. chili flakes. However, I highly recommend berbere for its subtle, warm spice – it plays off the cinnamon perfectly.
2 delicata squash
1 tbsp. olive oil + extra for squash
1 yellow onion, diced
½ lb. (250 g) ground beef
1 cup diced zucchini
¼ cup chopped prunes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. berbere
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup pureed tomatoes
¼ cup water
¼ cup coarsely-chopped almonds
1 tbsp. maple syrup
Grated parmesan, to serve
Pre-heat oven to 480º F (250º C). Slice squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Rub the cavity with a bit of olive oil, then place skin-side down on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.
Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet and add onion. Cook until just translucent and add beef. When beef has begun to brown, add zucchini, prunes, garlic, cinnamon, berbere, and salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Turn heat to low and add pureed tomatoes and water. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the squash has finished cooking, remove from oven and divide beef mixture evenly between each of the four halves. Top with chopped almonds and drizzle with maple syrup. Return to oven and bake for another 8 minutes, being careful not to burn the almonds.
Top with grated parmesan.