Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pride and Joy

I pondered if cutting into the small, rock hard pumpkin, removing the slimy seeds, and placing it in the oven for a hour was going to be better than the stuff Libby puts into her cans. The process seemed more daunting then it actually was. The most trying part proved to be getting this thick skinned gourd to crack open. Mom daringly placed her hands on the knife, while I hammered away with our large meat tenderizer.
Scooping out the hundreds of white seeds brought back memories of carving pumpkins from a young age, and in previous years with a handsome bearded fellow. Finally, I placed the halves, wrapped in foil in the oven. After an hour and a half at 350 they were a soft as mashed potatoes. All that is left to do, is to scope the soft flesh and mash, mash, mash.
I used Ruby Bowman's tried and true pumpkin pie recipe. A small white haired lady, who went to my grandmother's Lutheran Church, and worked at Chick-fil-a until she passed away at the age of 90 something.
Usually, my pumpkin pies come out like pumpkin pudding; mushy with little texture and no form. The consistency is sometimes hard to swallow. I cut the first slice and it came out as neat as if I was slicing a piece of cake. There was no oozz of pumpkin filling. A smile spread across my face. Could this be the perfect pumpkin pie I had been searching for? Will this be the recipe I turn to year after year? The one where I proudly carry my pie to the Coble Thanksgiving get-together? As I took the first bite I nodded. Yes, this pumpkin pie was all that I had hoped it would be.

Ruby Bowman's Pumpkin Pie (with some minor adjustments)

2 cups fresh pumpkin
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbl. flour
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
a dash of allspice
freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of salt
3/4 stick of butter melted
1 tsp. vanilla

Pour into a prepared pie crust and bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes.

One day in late October...

I decided it was time to experiment with the canning process. A little late I know. Mom and Dad have long canned the tomatoes and beans. Unfortunately, I missed that lesson in the art of canning. Though I was not in our kitchen seeing this process with my own to eyes, I did manage to read several articles about the canning process, and it seemed simple enough.

Finally, on the first autumn like weekend of the month, I had found my excuse to can something. Passed from one family to another, and finally to ours, a large plastic bag of muscadines and scuppernongs had made their way to our refrigerator. For anyone who is unfamiliar with these fruits, they are native to North Carolina. They have a thick, tough skin and small seeds. As for eating them fresh, I cannot stomach the consistency of the gooey flesh, and spitting out the slippery seeds. However, their aroma is another story. These strong fragrant grapes remind me of a sweet wine.

Luckily, Mom was doing her typical Saturday cleaning rituals and was around to answer the few questions I had. I only used her expertise sparingly, because creating a jam was quite simple. Once the fruit juices have jelled, into a smooth, sweet consistency, you have the rewarding pleasure of pouring it into a sanitized small glass jar, and sealing it with a tin lid. After the jar has cooled, a loud pop will occur and you will know you have successfully canned something.

Recipe (I used as a guide from my dear friend Martha Stewart)

Muscadine and Scuppernong Jam

Makes one small jar

A large bag of musacdines and scuppernongs (2-3 pounds)

The juice of half a lemon

1 ½ cups of granulated sugar

(That’s it)

Preheat you oven to 300 degrees and place one small Mason jar in to sanitize.

In a large pot dump your rinsed grapes in and add the juice of the lemon. I like to take the end of a knife and stab at each segment of the lemon, making sure I don’t miss any juice. Boil on high for 10 or more minutes until most of the fruits have burst and released their liquids.

Start to boil a small pot of water and place one seal and one lid in the water.

Once the juices have all been forced out of the grapes, place small batches of the fruit into a sieve and separate the flesh from the juices. Return the juice to the pot and stir in the sugar. Bring to a boil and then simmer until thickened. This takes ten minutes or so.

Retrieve the Mason jar from the oven and pour in jam. Remove the seal and lid from the boiling water and place on a clean napkin. Wipe of the top of the jar to make sure no food particles remain. Place lid on top and seal. It will be very hot and as it cools down you should hear a pop.