Weekend Dish column: Guess boo’s coming to dinner
The Weekend Dish
Autumn has its own unique smell. The scent of damp leaves, smoky chimneys and cinnamon permeate the chilled air. The world transforms from green to gold as nature takes a sleepy yawn before the great slumber.
The days become shorter, and the nights grow longer. Even as nature drifts into sleep, there seems to be a certain magic in the aromatic air. The lengthening darkness of night invites the ghosts and goblins to come out and play for yet another year.
Glowing jack-o’-lanterns light up our porches, while both young and old alike delight in playing dress-up. Fall is not the same without Halloween, and pumpkins are the tricksters of this ancient tradition.
The word “Halloween” originates from Scotland and means “All Hallows’ Eve.” Like so many of our most important American holidays, Halloween is a blending of both Christian and Pagan traditions. It is a night when we remember the saints or the dead.
All Saints’ (Hallows’) Day falls on the first of November, so Christians began using Halloween as a night of celebration to remember saints, martyrs and true believers. On this night, they would reflect on those who passed while celebrating life with feasts and treats.
At some point, Christian revelers would go from house to house, asking for “soul-cakes.” This practice would evolve into trick or treating.
Many elements of Halloween also come from ancient Celtic traditions to celebrate the yearly harvest. In those days, life or death was the difference between a bountiful or scarce harvest. It was appropriate to give thanks for an abundant year because that meant life during the harsh northern winters.
It was also a time to show respect to the dearly departed. A dinner setting was placed by the fire for the ancestral spirits to join the family for one night a year. But ghosts can also be mischievous, so it became necessary to frighten the uninvited souls away.
The living began to don make-up and spooky costumes to frighten the evil spirits away. Eventually, this tradition grew to include less-scary costumes such as superheroes and sexy cats. Both children and adults delight in becoming something else for a night.
Next to playing dress up as an adult, the best part of Halloween is the pumpkins. They can be art, and you can also eat them. They are extremely functional in these ways.
Like Halloween, the tradition of carving pumpkins also dates back to our Celtic friends. They carved turnips, pumpkins, and other root vegetables and placed a light inside of them. The eerie, flickering light represented the otherworldly glow of spirit folk.
There is also the Irish myth of Stingy Jack. Jack was a drunk who made a bad deal with the devil, and he was condemned to roam the earth with only a hollowed-out turnip to light his way. Later, stories, such as the Headless Horseman, are roughly based on this myth and would continue to terrify children for generations.
Whether you need to replace your head with a pumpkin, or you enjoy carving out faces, these orange fruits are ubiquitous right now. The dreaded pumpkin spice latte has become a meme staple for some hipster influencers.
There are also endless pumpkins recipes ranging from soups to pasta to cookies. Its guts can be scraped out for seeds, and they are great baked with either salt or sugar.
Since it is not quite Thanksgiving yet, it is a little early for pumpkin pie. But I have a sweet tooth and want to get my pancreas ready for the sugar rush of Halloween candy.
To get my sugar fix, I prepared a flaxseed pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting.
Serves eight to 10 people
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon flaxseed, ground
3 tablespoons water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 (29 ounces) can pumpkin puree
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Lemon zest as desired
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a small bowl, mix flaxseed and water. Stir until gelatinous, and let sit for about five minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flaxseed mixture, eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin.
- Gently stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Stir until ingredients are combined but do not over mix.
- Pour batter into greased baking pan or dish and bake for about 40 minutes. Insert a toothpick in the center, and if it comes out clean, then the cake is ready.
- Allow to thoroughly cool before adding frosting. Optionally add lemon zest and a spritz of lemon juice for a brighter flavor. Serve immediately and refrigerate leftovers.
Like many of my recipes, this can be as easy or complicated as you wish. I decided to go the easy route because I still need some extra time to create my costume for Halloween.
I bought some canned organic pumpkin filling and cream cheese frosting, but these can also be made from scratch. Using store bought ingredients, this recipe took about 55 minutes to prepare.
I forgot to buy eggs and did not realize this until I got home. I only had two eggs while my recipe called for three. To substitute the missing egg, I used ground flaxseed mixed with water. This works nicely and adds some extra flavor and nutrition.
It is best to cool this cake before adding the frosting and optional lemon zest. This is a tasty and nutritious treat and contains more than a daily serving of vitamin A and a healthy helping of fiber, protein, vitamin C, and iron.
The smell of this cake baking in the oven is better than a Yankee candle. Whether you take Halloween seriously or not, pumpkins are one of the reasons for the season. As the mercury plummets, give thanks for the last of nature’s bounty this year. And make sure to leave out an extra setting for any friendly spirits who may want to pop by and say hello.
Jordan Callier is an avid foodie and business owner in Glenwood Springs.
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