I might be a full-fledged grown up (I am finally done with school once and for all, I’m married, I have a mortgage, and this list goes on), but there’s something about the first few days of October—with their cool, crisp air and earthy aroma—that has me channeling my inner trick-or-treater. Or, to be more accurate, my inner jack-o-latern artiste. Carving pumpkins—-carefully selecting my gourd of choice at the pumpkin patch; rolling up my sleeves, reaching inside the deep pumpkin and scooping out the stringly middle; crafting a snaggle-toothed, triangle-eyed face on the slick orange skin; lighting a votive candle nestled inside the hollowed-out pumpkin, which promptly casts a flickery glow and warms the pumpkin’s flesh, emitting a scent that only exists in October—has always been my favorite part about Halloween.
As a kid, this autumnal ritual generally unfolded sometime during the week before the 31st, when our house was abuzz with other Halloween preparations: assembling costumes (often embarassing and always homemade); filling a behemoth, marigold-colored Tupperware with miniature candies; baking sugar cookies shaped like pumpkins, bats and witches’ hats. Back then, the knife work—always performed with the biggest wooden-handled knife in our Chicago Cutlery knife block—was a strictly parental duty. My sister and I stuck to scooping out the pumpkin seeds and outlining the faces with a thick black magic marker.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
As luck would have it, now that I’m old enough to wield a knife all by self, I live on the top floor of a four-floor walk-up. Not only am I front stoop-less, but we get absolutely no foot traffic (in fact, we’ve practically lost a couple friends over the Everest-esque climb). No trick-or-treaters. No jack-o-laterns. In short: no fun.
But, this year, I decided that—adulthood and condo-dwelling be damned—I would still carve a pumpkin! And I even invented a halfway decent excuse. For the last couple autumns, I have gone though can after can of pumpkin puree (I like the Whole Foods generic brand). I figured that, this year, it would be fun to try a homemade version of the same.
This ruse allowed me to relive one of my favorite childhood fall events and, even though there were no face-carvings and no flickery votive candles, it was still a good approximation.
The process itself is easy enough: halve a sugar pumpkin, scrape out the insides with the edge of a spoon (save the seeds!) and roast until the pumpkin’s flesh yields to the touch. Next, scrape out the softened flesh, puree and drain overnight.
In the end, you’ll have a bowl full of lush, bright orange mounds of pureed pumpkin flesh. And you know what that means, right? Pumpkin baked goods galore! Stay tuned (and feel free to chime in with ideas of your own!).
Martha Stewart Body + Soul
Yield: About 2 cups
1 sugar pumpkin (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Snap off the pumpkin’s stem and halve the gourd lengthwise. With a spoon or melon baller, remove seeds and rinse for roasting or discard.
Place pumpkin halves cut-side down on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 1 hour.
When cool enough to handle, scoop out cooked pumpkin flesh; discard skin. Transfer pumpkin flesh to a food processor; process until smooth.
Set a colander in a large bowl and line with a double-layer of cheesecloth. Place pumpkin puree in cheesecloth. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to drain, at least 4 hours, and up to 3 days.