Pumpkin Fields Forever

We are deep in the heart of pumpkin season. For local happenings, folks in the Willamette Valley depend on Bauman Farms to get with the program—especially now that their Fall Harvest Festival is in full swing.  I’ve heard their Pumpkin Patch referred to as the Disneyland of Pumpkin Patches.  Known far and wide for more than hay rides, corn mazes and tunnels, apple tastings and pumpkin hills, students by the busload line up for a jolt of their mayhem madness.

I stopped by on a recent pumpkin scouting expedition and was not disappointed.  With so many different varieties to choose from, they were helpfully organized by category and color. I stayed basic and settled on a very innocuous 5 pound Cinderella pumpkin.

It is so named because it is reminiscent of the pumpkin Cinderella’s fairy godmother transformed into a coach for her trip to the ball. It is a little flattish, with deep indentations; the skin is a dazzling red/orange tinged with shadows ranging from coral to eggplant.

The Cinderella pumpkin is highly regarded for its meaty deep-orange flesh and sweet, nutty flavor.  It has quite the lineage, too, with roots that harken clear back to France; so far back, the Pilgrims are thought to have served a variety of it at their second Thanksgiving in the new world.  Excellent stock, with historic significance—certainly ripe with culinary distraction potential.

Since Bauman’s features both produce and nursery items I headed over to the garden shop and poked around.  I discovered a couple of inexpensive spot color plants: a wine colored oxalis (shamrock plant) with bright white flowers and a trailing beauty called Superbells Coralberry Punch displaying showy lipstick-pink blossoms with magenta centers.

A few days later I cut off the top of the Cinderella pumpkin, scooped out its seeds and filled the interior with the plants.

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Cinderella pumpkin, Step 1

This could not have been simpler; so much for complicated carving.  I’ll probably add a bit more potting soil, but for now, it looks cheery—and not very scary—as it graces the entrance to my front door.

Cinderella pumpkin, Step 2
Cinderella pumpkin, Step 2

As an added perk, I gave the seeds a good cleaning, soaked them in a saline solution for a couple of hours and let them roast slowly in a 325-degree oven for about an hour.  A nice little bonus.

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A nice little bonus

 

Reason to Celebrate

We have a real glut of apples happening at my local market―a most certain nod that the winds of fall are fast approaching. Meanwhile, leaves begin to display golden shades and shadows stretch longer in the afternoon sun, it’s as if nature is taking one long breath.  I have mixed feelings about this change of seasons:  I’m both sad that summer is all but gone, yet excited for the approaching harvest.

Living closer to the land again, I’m regaining my awareness and connection with the natural life cycle. Peaches and nectarines replace summer berries now, while apple varieties like Jonathon, honey crisp, gala, and Fuji steadily gain prominence.  Absolutely nothing compares to eating produce at its peak. Freshly picked for consumption means it hasn’t been sitting in a cooler for months making its way to my grocery store.

Fuji apples
Fuji apples

I recently bought a few early Fuji apples to make a nice dessert for friends, and my favorite French Apple Torte came to mind.  I have been making it for so long that I have lost the original documentation. There’s nothing terribly unique about it―your normal baking staples and a few sweet, crisp apples wrapped in a moist custard-like batter. Just know that it is all about the apples.

The batter only requires a few stirs with a whisk or large spoon. The apples are added and it is unceremoniously dumped into a baking dish.  While in the oven, a simple topping is quickly put together and poured over the semi-baked torte. It continues to bake until fully set and the edges of the apples caramelize.Apple Torte

This little beauty hits all the right notes.  It’s bursting with bright nuances from fresh sweet apples and further enhanced by the rich egginess of the crazy-custard-like batter that binds it all together. The caramel topping’s buttery sweetness and texture becomes the perfect counterpoint to the clean apple flavors.

Apple Torte Slice (1)Elegant in taste and appearance, it is a dessert suitable for just about any occasion.  Consider it as the finish to a special dinner, an impromptu treat for drop-in company, or perhaps the best reason of all, to celebrate the apple harvest.  Do enjoy it warm from the oven with ice cream or a custard sauce.

French Apple Torte

Ingredients
1/2     cup all-purpose flour
1/3     cup sugar
1        Tbsp baking powder
1/8     tsp salt
1/2     tsp vanilla extract
2        eggs, lightly beaten
2        Tbsp olive oil
1/3     cup milk
4        baking apples such Braeburn, Rome, Fuji, etc, peel, core, thick slices (about 2 pounds)
Topping
3      Tbsp butter, melted
1/3   cup sugar
1       egg, lightly beaten
 
Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9″ springform pan or ovenproof quiche dish and set aside.
  2. In large bowl combine flour through salt and blend well.
  3. In small bowl combine vanilla through milk and blend well.  Add liquid to dry and stir until well blended.  Add the apples and stir to thoroughly coat with batter.  Spoon into pan and bake until firm and golden, about 25 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile prepare topping by combining butter, sugar and egg in small bowl.  Stir to blend, and set aside.
  5. Remove torte from oven and pour the topping mixture over it.  Return to the oven and bake until top is deep golden brown and quite firm when pressed, about 10 minutes.
  6. Remove to rack and cool from 10 minutes.  Run knife around edge and remove sides or serve from dish at room temperature or warmed served with vanilla ice cream or custard sauce.  Serves 6 to 8.