Category Archives: Cooking

Adventures in the culinary arts, mistakes and all.

Crops for the End of the Harvest

My neighbors are letting their fruit rot. For weeks, I have walked by a house with three bountiful peach trees at the edge of the sidewalk, spilling fruit onto their lawn and gravel driveway, where it has turned into a mash and rotted under October’s weekly record-breaking temperatures, leaving a smell like stale beer in the air.

I’m tempted to nab a few good ones, take them home, can them or make a pie to bring back to the neighbors. But they have boarded their home with PRIVATE PROPERTY signs. Sometimes a man uses a chainsaw on the lawn to cut large chunks of wood next to the peaches. POSTED: PRIVATE PROPERTY. DO NOT DISTURB. This is Eastern Washington. This is the American West. I leave the wasted fruit alone. THIS LAND IS MY LAND.

I try to eat with the seasons. Eating locally, eating fresh, is easiest in the summer and fall, when fruit plummets freely from the trees with the evolutionary expectation that animals will eat it and take the seeds to flourish elsewhere. Taste is a necessary part of a thriving ecosystem. As Robin Wall Kimmerer puts it, “food arises from partnership” (126).

Winter is a different story. Without natural abundance, I try to choose to refuse unseasonable produce. Frances Moore Lappé wrote, back in 1982, that the American diet, defined by “unbridled freedom” to eat, grow, and sell whatever, whenever, is “a frontier concept” that has led to lasting damage: “There’s only so much farmland in the United States, and it’s shrinking, not growing. Yet we give some the right to own 100,000 acres when we know this denies dozens of farm families the right to own any land at all. Is this democratic?” (Lappé 110-111).

I love fall, and all the food associated with it, from peaches to winter squash. Thanksgiving and Halloween both derive from western European harvest festivals—Harvest Home in England, Samhain for the Celts of Ireland and its Welsh equivalent, Nos Galan Gaeaf. As much a way to prepare for winter as to celebrate the harvest, what remains of these old festivals today are the stories they associate with changing seasons.

While agriculture shaped a city-centered and often vegetable-based diet along the Mediterranean, the “modes of production and cultural values” at the edges of the Roman Empire—Celtic and Germanic—“had for centuries criss-crossed the great forests of central and northern Europe,” which shaped food access, and therefore cuisine: “Hunting and fishing, the gathering of wild fruits, and the free pasturing of livestock in the woods” made wild meat the primary dish for many Celts (Montanari 6).

Agricultural development was not necessarily absent, but less structural. Roman colonization “forced the Celts to start growing wheat on a large scale; once the wheat had been reaped and threshed the grain went to Rome,” and after the Romans fell into decline, a series of “invasions and poor or failed harvests sent people back to wild cereals” throughout the early Medieval period (Toussaint-Samat 129). Likewise, after the relative climatic stability of the Bronze Age, “the weather took a turn for the worse towards the beginning of the first millennium” across much of Europe, when “heavy rainfall and strong winds impoverished the soil, peat bogs proliferated, deforestation was rife and upland farms were deserted with alarming swiftness” (Jenkins 15).

Far from reliably cyclical, agricultural development experienced constant disruption, and as farmers adapted, so too did the culture. The harvest festivals of the Celts focused on bonfires, harvesting and storing barley and other wild cereals, apples, turnips, and ale brewed with wild hops. The prime feature of the feast was whichever animals could feed the most people, while guaranteeing they had enough cattle and pigs to make it through the winter.

After Julius Caesar led the first Roman invasion of Britain, he and others claimed that the Druids committed human sacrifice for religious purposes, for which there is modest archaeological evidence. While that evidence does not suggest the sacrifices coincided with the Celtic harvest festivals that predated Halloween—the period of human sacrifice may have been over long before the Romans arrived, who had a vested interest in portraying the Celts negatively anyway—legends about rural pagan sacrifice for mystical purposes have persisted. In The Wicker Man (1973) the residents of Summerisle endure failing harvests, either because the gods are unhappy or because the GMO fruit strains the island’s leader brought from the mainland are unsustainable in northern Scotland. Likewise, an elder in Midsommar (2019) introduces an isolated Swedish village’s festivities by remarking, “And what poetry that it’s now the hottest and brightest summer on record,” in a cheerful voice.

The 2021 Welsh language film The Feast is more overt. The film follows a wealthy, politically powerful family in the Welsh countryside who want to throw a feast for a traditional farming couple, Mair and Lori, whose land Gwyn, the head of the household and the local MP, wants to open up to oil drilling. Mair is angry at the prospect because it’s her farm, but also because of an old, vague legend about a goddess locked where the oil is, a hill called the Rise. Unfortunately, Gwyn and his business partner Euros have already started secretly drilling.

The family hires a maid from the countryside, Cadi, to help cook the feast, consisting of wine, a seasonal but tropical fruit salad, and rabbit. Cadi is mysterious, quiet, horrified at the death of the rabbits but fascinated by the people in the house, especially two spoiled sons. One, Guto, asks her for drugs, and she takes him to the woods to find psychedelic mushrooms. Another, Gweirydd, is a disgraced doctor known for his sexual aggression.

The film has a somewhat obvious ecological message (drilling for oil will incite the revenge of the land), but I think that’s the most surface-level interpretation. Read as folk horror, it’s about a working class woman whose presence disrupts and uncovers a wealthy family’s secrets, her labor in the kitchen an infiltration of the natural world into the enforced order of the aristocracy.

Glenda, Gwyn’s wife, helps Cadi prepare the feast. Early in the film, she praises herself for using local ingredients but complains about the local market’s limits while opening a Styrofoam package of mail-order produce: mangoes, pineapple, and pomegranate. Gwyn comes in with two freshly shot rabbits, casually dropping them onto the counter for Cadi to skin. The food is a mix of local and imported ingredients, all of which the family can access with their wealth and the scale of their land for hunting.

As a food movie, The Feast does something surprising: Every scene of someone eating is utterly disgusting. Euros eats with his bare hands, jamming rabbit deep into his throat, at times sliding his fingers well past his teeth. Gweirydd brags about his special diet of raw game meat, a version of the paleo diet, while the mushrooms Guto mashes into his food cause him to hallucinate maggots in his leg, which Cadi (either in reality or as another hallucination) graciously licks from his leg to devours in front of him. That leg is eventually severed in the woods by Gweirydd, which Glenda, in a trance, cuts into bacon-thin strips while Euros fills his jaw with unidentifiable meat.

The Feast is an eco-Gothic parable that ties together the rural symbolism of folk horror, the class anxieties of Gothic literature, and the environmental terror of ecohorror. Director Lee Haven Jones has explicitly stated that Cadi was inspired by the Welsh story of Blodeuwedd, in which two magicians create a woman from flowers and oak to give the legendary hero Lleu Llaw Gyffes a wife. Much like Frankenstein’s monster, though, Blodeuwedd is angered at her creators for bringing her into their world to serve someone else’s needs, and takes revenge on them.

With rural, agricultural settings as the backdrop and harvesting a common plot device, folk horror often calls back to premodernity. Many classic English folk horror movies—The Witch, The Blood on Satan’s Claw, Witchfinder General, and A Field in England—take place in the seventeenth century. Starvation is a looming threat in folk horror, before something even worse emerges from the woods, the same woods the ancient Celts used to scavenge freely for their food. Horror often reflects broader social anxieties—body horror mirrored the AIDS epidemic, ecohorror reflects climate change. What secrets buried in the woods does English folk horror seek to uncover?

Seventeenth century England saw another round of political disruptions to established agricultural practices. Parliament began passing a series of laws known as the Acts of Enclosure, which codified “the abolition of the open-field system, an arrangement by which villagers owned non-contiguous strips of land in a non-hedged field. Enclosing also included the fencing off of the commons and the pulling down of the shacks of poor cottagers who had no land but could survive because they had access to customary rights” (Federici 69).

The Enclosure Acts allowed English lords to privatize the commons—the woods and fields that peasants had used to freely gather food and firewood for centuries—as well as state-owned and communal Catholic land. Previously, King Henry VII had propped up individual peasant families by mandating that small-scale farmers possess a minimum standard of sheep and acreage, the effect of which, according to Francis Bacon, allowed English farmers to “keep the plough in the hands of the owners and not mere hirelings.” In Marx’s formulation, the destruction of the commons and often violent privatization of state land, “given away, sold at ridiculous prices, or even annexed to private estates by direct seizure,” coincided with the expulsion of peasants from their familial estates. With nowhere to go, they became the first proletariat, a class of workers who, for the first time in history, were legally required to purchase the privilege of shelter (Marx 884). Building on this analysis, Silvia Federici looks at the effect of enclosure on women through the lens of Europe’s witch hunts, which “destroyed a whole world of female practices, collective relations, and systems of knowledge that had been the foundation of women’s power in pre-capitalist Europe” (Federici 103). By privatizing state and common land, by legislating away centuries of agricultural relationships to reclassify as “private property” as many forests and lakes as possible, the state-sanctioned beginning of capitalism marked a severe turning point in people’s relationship with land, and therefore food.

Nia Roberts as Glenda in The Feast (2021), making a good case for vegetarianism.

Horror has plenty of gastronomical elements: Dracula drinks blood, zombies eat brains, and cannibalism appears in everything from Silence of the Lambs to Sweeney Todd. In ecohorror, as in folk horror, food is understood to be a collective problem that dwells on contamination. Food is poisoned, crops fail, or we bring into the kitchen something unwanted. Food in horror is often a reminder of how fragile we are to interruptions in season, diet, and health.

Gwyn’s motive in The Feast mirrors the enclosure acts, and Cadi reflects the classed, gendered, and ecological consequences of enclosure. English folk horror calls back to a world that was understood to be held in common. Anyone could fish, hunt, or pick fruit in the wild forests, so starvation was primarily a concern during winter. A successful harvest, after all, was an important communal affair.

Maybe I’m a coward for not picking those peaches. The warm months are finally over in Spokane, and the fruit is no longer falling from the trees. I could have baked a late harvest pie, a dozen pies even, but instead I stick to what I have from my grandparents’ little garden, carrots and tomatoes and buttercup squash, making chili and roast squash. I cook for myself. Private property has broken so many people’s brains out West that it’s become a kind of religion. It can turn people into outright monsters. If there’s one lesson horror movies have taught me, it’s that you never, ever, leave the group and set out on your own.

Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch. Autonomedia, 2014.

Jenkins, Geraint H. A Concise History of Wales. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Kimmer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweet Grass. Milkweed Editions, 2013.

Lappé, Frances Moor. Diet for a Small Planet. Ballantine Books, 1982.

Marx, Karl. Capital Vol. 1. Penguin Books, 1990.

Montanari, Massimo. The Culture of Food. Blackwell Publishers, 1994.

Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne. A History of Food. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.

Quick Breads for Saint’s Days

Every year, members of my family mark St. Patrick’s Day with loaves and loaves of Irish soda bread, which is partly an excuse to put currants from our many gardens into a quick bread for Spring. Where my grandparents live in western Montana, peppered with copper boom towns, massive St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are a holdover of the Irish who worked the mines alongside many other immigrant communities. Most Keenes I know aren’t Catholic, and we’re not connected to the nineteenth century Irish diaspora, so we’re not exactly using family recipes. Nevertheless, the soda bread is a way for my family to connect with each other and with communities in the Northwest. Baking bread is an excuse to celebrate, or maybe it’s the other way around.

I don’t make quick breads often. For me, the joy in baking is the artistry of leavening, which requires patience, dedication, attention. We rarely made them in baking school, too, focusing instead on the science of yeast. Quick breads, leavened by salt and acid releasing carbon dioxide when applied to heat and moisture, have their name for a reason.

Linda Civitello writes that the popularity of Irish soda bread in the US was in part because the 1847 famine in Ireland “produced an atypical diaspora. When Europeans migrated, the men usually came first, in order to work and then later send for their families. With the Irish, however, a disproportionate number of single women” emigrated (39), finding work in US and Canadian households as maids or cooks.

When visiting some Keenes near Portland recently, one of my cousins told me that when he was in high school, boys were not allowed to take home economics, but because he and his friends wanted to learn to cook, they struck a deal with the teacher to show them some of the basics during her grading hour.

This gendered division of culinary labor has deep roots. Civitello points out that women “have been connected to bread making since antiquity. . . The Old English word for ‘loaf,’ the staple of life, was hlaf. ‘Loaf-keeper,’ hlaford, became ‘lord’; loaf-kneader, hlafdige, became ‘lady'” (6).

For most of human history, bakers relied on yeast that was locally available, either from old batches of bread, the residue of beer brewing, or yeast cultures that had to be maintained. In ancient kitchens, “the presence of yeast was mostly accidental” (Gisslen 4) because any mash of grain collects those microscopic organisms on their own. In medieval European bakeries, it was common for cooks to tend ovens separately from bakers, whose professional focus was on leavening (5). Baking was often mysterious because its ingredients were difficult to quantify, recreate, and package. No two yeast sources were alike.

What makes Irish soda bread Irish isn’t the soda, though, which only became common in Ireland in the 1830s as a cheap alternative to yeast. The use of soda ash, or potash (potassium) from burned plant material, was common in the Americas centuries before. Instead, what makes Irish soda bread Irish is the buttermilk, which farmers had on hand to provide the acid necessary to act on the soda.

Louis Pasteur identified yeast in 1857, around the same time American chemists began packaging commercial baking powder to eliminate the need to add acid to leaven quick breads. These developments democratized bread, but they also made it much easier to commercialize and monetize.

By the time I was in high school, it was a given that baking is a science, not an art. My own high school cooking class was taught by a former military man from the South. A decade later, in baking school, I found myself disappointed that it wasn’t the art of baking I was being taught, but the science of cost efficiency. I was being trained to be a good employee, not a skilled baker.

It’s almost a cliche to distinguish baking from cooking by the chemistry involved in the former, which itself is false because all cooking involves chemistry. In other respects, distinguishing cooks from bakers is also gendered.

There’s a scene in the 2021 film Pig in which Chef Feld, played by Nicholas Cage, reconnects with a baker, Helen, played by October Moore. Feld has been off the Portland culinary scene for decades, and is only returning to find his stolen truffle pig. It’s unclear why he left the scene, but in his absence, the cooks he inspired became manipulative, self-serving, violent sell-outs, trading their own interests for trends, all except for Helen.

In the logic of the film, cooks are cutthroat and solipsistic, while bakers are patient and generous. This dichotomy reflects the gender roles in a traditional action movie (the men stoically kill the bad guys on behalf of women who then tend to their wounds), and while Pig starts like a typical action movie, it ends somewhat differently.

After talking with Helen, Feld changes his approach. When he confronts Darius, the restaurant owner who stole his pig, he doesn’t exact his revenge. Instead, he cooks the meal he once made for Darius and his now comatose wife years ago. We see him cooking slowly, patiently, finally serving a meal that brings Darius to tears. In the film’s logic, Feld acts as a baker, not a cook, using the dish (“a bird, a bottle, and a salted baguette”) as a medium for human connection.

Bread is often a symbol for human connection. Political analysts describe household economic policies like taxes and local infrastructure as bread-and-butter issues. One Bolshevik slogan during the Russian Revolution called for three things: Bread, Peace, and Land. The Labor slogan bread and roses comes from suffragist Helen Todd’s statement, “we want bread for all, but roses too,” a call for material sustenance as well as social freedoms. Bread distinguished pastoral nomadic societies from sedentary agriculturalists who settled along rivers to grow their grain. In Biblical tradition, God tells the Israelites to eat unleavened bread in their hurried exodus from Egypt, and in the Gospels, Jesus breaks unleavened bread during Passover the night before his crucifixion, resulting in the production of billions of unleavened communion wafers for the Catholic Eucharist.

In baking school, I became deeply depressed, in part because I had volunteered to overwork myself, but also because the program dissolved the sense of connectivity that I had associated with baking. I had to admit to myself that I was there not to learn new skills, but to monetize one of my hobbies, and in that monetization, I became alienated from it. Mark Fisher describes the process like this: “Work and life become inseparable. Capital follows you when you dream. Time ceases to be linear, becomes chaotic, broken down into punctiform divisions. As production and distribution are restructured, so are nervous systems” (34).

So, I make a loaf of soda bread and think of family. I don’t have buttermilk, so I add vinegar for the acid. I use oat milk, too, and a recipe I’m unfamiliar with. It comes out soft and crumbly and a little dense. I cut into it too fast, too eager to taste it. I place a chunk on my tongue and chew it slowly.

Civitello, Linda. Baking Powder Wars. University of Illinois Press, 2017.

GIsslen, Wayne. Professional Baking. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2017.

Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism. Zero Books, 2009.

Desserts for the New Year

The last month has been a blur. I spent the holidays on the road visiting family and friends, driving long hours across the inner west. Days before Christmas, I met up with my father in southern Idaho. From there, we drove to Salt Lake City to visit my grandfather as he returned from the hospital to settle into hospice. The details are for another time, but he passed away shortly after.

One of the last things he said, something that I keep thinking about, was how much he enjoyed the chocolate cake he ate the day he left the hospital. It was a small, tangible memory, something that let him direct the conversation toward a simple pleasure, away from the situation. I remember the way he emphasized the dessert clearly in his otherwise unclear voice, a little louder and more precise, so that we could share the memory with him.

I entered the new year in a series of late-night panic attacks, my heart rate spiking and my mind racing, unable to sleep nights in a row. These come and go but lately they’ve been getting worse. The holidays are an increasingly difficult time for me, which I deny because I want to enjoy them. For a few years now, I’ve started to rely on cooking to calm me down, especially baking. It gives me a small, tangible activity to focus on, something to keep my mind and body occupied.

After the funeral in southern Idaho, my dad and I wandered into a used bookstore in his hometown, run by volunteers. I perused the cooking section and was intrigued by a rare artifact: A cookbook issued by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in 1981, addressed to Salt Lake families to provide “easy, economical recipes that will add variety and interest to your diet.” The very brief introduction insists that its readers should cook, “nutritious meals to build strong bodies and alert minds” (ii). The dessert section is the longest and most obviously used, peppered with little brown stains from batters or syrups, though someone has drawn a large X across a recipe for graham crackers and written “Awful” above it.

This is Mormon country, where keeping “strong bodies and alert minds” through diet is considered a divine ordinance commonly referred to as the word of wisdom. Terry Tempest Williams writes that the word of wisdom, “a religious doctrine of health, kept the women in [her] family aligned with good foods: no coffee, no tea, tobacco, or alcohol” (Williams 183). She attributes her family’s long life prior to atomic testing in the 1950s to this strict Mormon diet, and she’s not alone. Physicians and sociologists have studied Mormon communities to determine a correlation between the word of wisdom and statistically lower-than-average cancer rates among practicing Saints (Badanta et al., 1581).

It’s also commonly accepted that Mormons eat a lot of desserts, especially ice cream. Without coffee or alcohol, sweets are the only remaining vice for LDS social life.

My grandfather was not particularly religious, nor did he adhere to the word of wisdom. He had a good, long life, anyway, enjoying it as much as he could. He was a trucker with a union job procured before the era of deregulation, and much of his social life was in the Elks Club. In fact, the local Elks Lodge hosted a small meal after the funeral, consisting of sandwiches, pasta salad, and cookies for dessert.

Dessert as a concept comes from French culinary tradition, referring to the last course of a meal. Its etymology, though, has nothing to do with sweets or cakes. The prefix des means “remove,” from Latin dis, as in dissolve, disassociate, distance. The root, sert, comes from service. Dessert, then, is the removal of what has been served, a clearing of the table.

October through December is the prime season for bakery sales, as bakers work overtime to satisfy demands for pumpkin pies, Christmas cookies, and treats for New Year’s parties that pair well with champagne. Claire Saffitz writes that a love of baking—and by extension a love of desserts—is “about embracing cooking and eating as fundamental sources of pleasure,” and that through her own recipes, she favors “an approach to food that is celebratory, abundant, and at times a tad luxurious” (Saffitz 12). This is the opposite of the word of wisdom, which treats food as purely utilitarian. Dessert doesn’t just mean closure, but a triumphant closure, something to celebrate: birthday cakes, the cakes at retirement parties, even wedding cakes signal both an ending and a beginning.

I have hardly felt celebratory lately. Every New Year’s ends up being the same for me: I want to clear away the old year’s detritus and start with a clean table, but when I tug away the tablecloth, a mess of dirty dishes remains. I never find closure. The idea that “a new year means a new you” feels like just as much an illusion.

Unable to afford therapy, I start each year trying to manage my anxiety similarly to the word of wisdom. I cut back on caffeine and alcohol, cut down on salt, rededicate myself to eating piles of vegetables and homemade fruit-based desserts that mold in a week. I take vitamin D supplements to make up for the limited sunlight. I imagine that I can minimize panic attacks by regulating what I consume, but I can never tell if it works.

Nevertheless, two weeks into January, I took pleasure in baking a small layer cake for my girlfriend’s birthday. I spent the hours she was at work baking two sponge cakes, one chocolate and one vanilla, waiting for them to cool and then carving them into thin discs and layering them between swaths of butter cream, then frosting the stack in thick chocolate ganache with piped buttercream kisses and chocolate shavings on top. It may not have been abundant or even luxurious, but it was at least celebratory, and in the process of baking, I felt calm, even a little cocky.

This year is not off to a promising start, but I keep thinking about the chocolate cake my grandfather mentioned. It mattered enough that he enjoyed it, that he made room for that joy. There isn’t much to celebrate these days, as this country fails once again to serve the welfare of its population, but I want to find what little there is, bring to the table what little I have, and make it last through yet another terrible year.

Author unknown. Deseret Recipes. 1981.

Badanta, Barbara, Giancarlo Lucchetti, Rocio de Diego-Cordero. “‘A Temple of God’: A Qualitative Analysis of the Connection Between Spiritual/Religious Beliefs and Health Among Mormons.” Journal of Religion and Health 59 (2020), 1580-1595.

Saffitz, Claire. Dessert Person. Clarkson-Porter, 2020.

Williams, Terry Tempest. “The Clan of One-Breasted Women.” Northern Lights, ed. Deborah Clow and Donald Snow. Vintage Books, 1994, 183-191.

Soup For Eternity

A late spring frost followed by a heat wave suppressed most of my grandparents’ garden this summer. The weather stunted their otherwise abundant fruits, their berries and apricots and grapes. Some crops made it through, though, a steady supply of carrots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and lots of squash.

The last few times I’ve visited, I’ve made them food with the same combination of ingredients: roasted squash and carrots in a tomato sauce, ratatouille in a cast iron, pizza with beet greens and thinly sliced yellow squash, and most recently tomato soup, which was probably the best meal I’ve made for my grandparents.

Soup becomes a daily meal for me in winter. Starting in November, I make a pot of soup every Sunday to last through the week: Lentil tomato, cream of mushroom, leek and potato. When there isn’t a readily obvious protein, I throw in beans or lentils, catered to my own vegetarian needs and wants.

M.F.K Fisher writes on the subject, “As a steady diet, plain water is inclined to make thin fare, and even saints, of which there are an unexpected number these days, will gladly agree that a few herbs and perhaps a carrot or two and maybe a bit of meager bone on feast days can mightily improve the somewhat monotonous flavor of the hot liquid. Soup, in other words, is good” (209).

Soup is intuitive. Soup is ubiquitous. I almost never use a recipe these days, instead relying on basic soup principles (start with onions and garlic in oil, evenly cut vegetables, simmer with broth, salt along the way) and different combinations of the ingredients I have, the nutrients I need, and the flavors of the season. Soup is necessary. Soup is forever.

Goodness aside, Fisher is right that soup connotes simplicity, even meagerness. During the Irish Famine, Irish farmers mockingly referred to famine relief measures as the Soup Kitchen Act (Preet). In western cuisine, soup is a side dish, essential only as a complement to other dishes. Frances Moore Lappé writes in Diet for a Small Planet that her soup recipes are based on ingredients she usually has on hand: “carrots, potatoes, canned tomatoes, and onions” (289). She even titles her soup chapter “A Meal in a Soup Pot.”

However good it might be, to live on soup alone is considered foolhardy martyrdom. Here, I think of the “bread ale soup” in the 1987 film Babette’s Feast. In the film, two sisters named Martine and Philippa keep the modest traditions of their father’s pious Protestant congregation alive on the Danish coast, whose typical meal is a brown viscous soup possibly based on Øllebrød, a Danish porridge of rye bread, dark beer, and honey.

Babette, a friend of a former suitor of one of the sisters, seeks refuge with them after fleeing political violence in France. She, like the audience, is unsettled by the blandness of the sisters’ food. As their new cook, she adds simple ingredients, an onion, sugar. The whole congregation comes to appreciate the small additions. When Babette receives an immense fortune from France, her decision to spend it on a feast for her hosts is an act of grace (for Protestants) or sacrifice (for Catholics).

Scene from Babette’s Feast

Culinary traditions are historically and culturally informed. Babette brings to the modest piety of small-town Protestants the traditions of upper-class Catholic French society, two unique styles that come to benefit from one another as the congregants’ modesty playfully competes with the cook’s exuberance. The film is not about a snobby French chef looking down on peasant food, nor is it about salt-of-the-earth farmers turning their noses up at pretentious gluttony, but about characters whose trajectories require them, simply, to try new things.

I think one of the reasons I enjoy cooking with and for my grandparents is that our cultural contexts for food are quite similar: We both learned to cook during financial crises that coincided with national obsessions over health and nutrition.

Nutritional science is a relatively recent field. The first isolation of a vitamin was only in 1926, and post-WWI crises sparked greater interest in food efficiency to combat scarcity. The 1933 Federal Emergency Relief Act, for example, included the distribution of household nutritional guides. One such pamphlet, Food Budgets for Nutrition and Production Programs, detailed nutritional estimates for a “liberal diet,” an “adequate diet,” and an emergency “restricted diet.” However, nutritional standards were still highly experimental at the time. As Ziegelman and Coe put it, “the scientific precision of federal food relief was illusory” (174).

Food pyramids and panics over nutrition shaped my childhood in an inverse way. In middle school, we were required to watch Supersize Me multiple times, were regularly shown “got milk?” corporate ads, and the standard 2,000 calories per day we were told we needed is actually a very rough estimation. Budgeting wasn’t our concern. Instead, as public schools installed soda machines, we were told to take personal responsibility for our own healthy decision-making.

Megan Elias, in an article titled “Summoning the Food Ghosts: Food History as Public History,” describes the disconnect between nutritionists’ emphasis on budgeting the healthiest ingredients and the recipes different American communities were used to. Nutritionists “saw canned tomatoes as a good source of vitamin C” and so they encouraged Americans to buy tomatoes instead of other vitamin C-rich foods. However, most American households “had no idea what to do with tomatoes aside from making tomato soup, which was one of the few tomato recipes to consistently appear in American cookbooks at the time,” most of which called for butter or milk, both in short supply (Elias 26). Nevertheless, Italian-American families fared well with this suggestion because Italian-American cuisine frequently used tomatoes in many recipes, making them “heroes to the relief agency.”

Elias’s point is that “expectations, tastes, and cultural biases do not disappear when the food does” (26). Food is historically informed and culturally interpreted, and therefore cannot be reduced only to its chemical components in a time of food scarcity. When I make soup, I have a bad habit of overvaluing nutritional efficiency. Like the Protestants in Babette’s Feast, I’m slowly attending to taste.

My grandmother tells me that her father’s garden in Kennewick was a lifesaver. This was and is true for many, many families. In a time of crisis, a modest plot of land to grow fruits and vegetables on produced enough to keep the family afloat. My family cooked with what grew best in the landscape, with what would keep well in winter or was easily canned for the pantry.

This fall, I experimented with what was available in their garden. I tested out different combinations of familiar ingredients in a time of relative scarcity, making use of small abundance. I don’t know what ingredients will be unavailable in coming years, as climate change worsens agriculture, but I do know that culinary adaptation will succeed only through a willingness, above all else, to try new things.

Elias, Megan. “Summoning the Food Ghosts: Food History as Public History.” The Public Historian Vol. 34 no. 2 (Spring 2012), pp. 13-29.

Fisher, MFK. The Art of Eating. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004.

Lappé, Frances Moor. Diet for a Small Planet. Ballantine Books, 1982.

Preet, Edythe. “The History of Irish Soup.” Irish America Vol. 16 no. 6. January 31, 2001.

Ziegelman, Jane, Andrew Coe. A Square Meal. Harper Collins, 2016.

Scones for Friends

Orange pumpkin scones in a black cast iron skillet.

A few weekends ago, I drove from Spokane to Moscow to see some friends. On the seat next to me was a plate of peach scones, wrapped in foil, sliding from side to side as I curved through the yellow hills of the Palouse, vibrant miles and miles of wheat.

A sign on the last county before Idaho reads “Entering Whitman County, The Nation’s Leading Producer of Wheat.” Most of the wheat in the Palouse is soft white winter wheat, which produces flour with less moisture, making it useful for cakes, pastries, and crackers. On day three of baking school, cake flour was just one of fifteen flours I sifted my fingers through to identify by texture, color, and moisture content, all of us pre-chefs standings around tiny bread pans filled with cake flour, whole wheat, cracked wheat, soy flour, all powdering our fingertips. I’ve only used all-purpose flour for my scones.

This wasn’t the first or last time I baked scones for social purposes. For an English department event I thought was a potluck but was actually just some beers and chips among mostly tenured faculty outside the Humanities Building, I brought a platter of pumpkin scones. Having the excuse of a gift makes it less nerve-racking, these social interactions, and there’s something anachronistic about it, too.

It’s comforting, I think, because of how bad I usually am at building and maintaining friendships. When I leave a place, I leave it entirely, forgetting too soon how lonely my preferred state of aloneness can become. Scones give me purpose, something to absorb my anxiety like a sponge: I promise I care about you, and here’s a plate of fresh-baked evidence that I hope will speak for me so I can stay quiet.

Supposedly the first recorded reference to scones is from the Scottish bishop Gavin Douglas’s 1513 translation of Virgil’s Aeneid: “On grene herbis and sonkis gres./The flour sconnis war sett in, by and by” (88). The word scone possibly comes from the Scottish Sgonn, which Alexander MacBain’s 1896 Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language defines as “a block of wood, blockhead; sgonn-balaich, lump of a boy, ‘section'” (317). However, the aptly named Dictionary Containing English Words of Difficult Etymology (self-published by the Reverend Thomas Richard Brown in 1843) identifies sgonn as a Gaelic word meaning “a prater; and droll, an idle person: which seems to be synonymous with sgonn-bhalach, a scoundrel” (124).

All western baking traditions are products of modernity, though. The earliest references to scones appear just before the widespread use of ingredients we think of as essential for them. Sugar was one of the primary crops of the slave trade, which the British were in the process of expanding in the Caribbean in the seventeenth century; tea imported from China did not enter conventional British social life until the early eighteenth century; and baking soda wasn’t a household product until the nineteenth century. As Great Britain expanded its reach, afternoon tea time became a form of “participating in the continued success of the British Empire” (Fromer 538), a symbolic act of consuming the fruits of violent conquest abroad.

I don’t know what premodern scones were like, but their etymology (from lump, not scoundrel) could accurately describe many different kinds of bread. In 1999, a team of Oxford archaeologists working in Yarnton discovered what the BBC called the oldest bread in Britain: small burned blobs of 5,500-year-old crushed barley. Plenty of evidence suggests that in Neolithic Britain, “cereals were primarily cultivated on a fairly small scale,” such as “garden plots that would have shifted around with people” (Cummings & Harris 831), so unlike the static winter wheat fields of the Palouse.

I’m drawn to these ancient bits of toast because of their context. The Neolithic period was one of intense climatic change, of chaos and uncertainty. One important note: the barley chunks were also found with apple cores and hazelnut shells. Barley was probably difficult to grow in large quantities, so the first bread in Britain may have been ritualistic, a treat for a special occasion rather than a staple.

With limited resources, one type of probably rougher flour, no baking soda, and only honey as a sweetener, the barley lumps/scoundrels may have looked more the “oily cakes” that the protagonists make in Kelly Reichardt’s 2019 First Cow. Set in 1820 in the Oregon Territory, the characters Cookie and King-Lu begin making a kind of fried dough using milk stolen from the only cow in the region, owned by a British governor known by his title as the Chief Factor. When Factor finally tastes the cakes, he remarks without an ounce of self-awareness for what the cake implies that it “tastes of England.”

The film is ostensibly about friendship, but I think it’s also about the difficulty of an authentic friendship under capitalism. When the working class must sell their labor—their mind, body, time, and spirit—to the ruling class, it becomes easier to treat one another as mere resources, just as our bosses do. In First Cow, it’s unclear until the final scene how much King-Lu and Cookie’s friendship is transactional, a mere business deal.

A journalist obtained from A24 Reichardt’s recipe for the oily cakes, from co-writer Jonathan Raymond, which was developed “from historical recipes of the time.” Requiring “just an astonishing amount of lard” to cook the yeast, fat, egg, and all-purpose flour, the formula is more like rustic pancakes.

Like a conventional short story, the film coalesces around one character’s final decision to act or to not act: King-Lu could take the profits from the cake sales and abandon Cookie, or remain with him, as Factor hunts them down after discovering their thievery. The friendship portrayed is both sincere and realistically fraught, even doomed, by the social circumstances that originally shape it.

Every time I make scones, I either use a different recipe or a different flavor. This is the opposite of industrial baking for profit, which requires uniformity. I’m glad for the uneven, lumpy, rustic shape my scones often take. I like that no two batches are the same. The pumpkin scones were the best batch I’ve made in a while (an earlier attempt at pear scones were less successful). I shared half of the batch with some fellow humanities adjuncts over dinner after the department event, along with soup made from the produce of a theology professor’s garden.

I don’t know what I’ll bake for the next occasion to share a meal. Maybe I’ll experiment with barley flour. Lumpy scoundrel already sounds like a type of doughnut. Maybe I’ll bake them with hazelnut, local apples, and fresh milk.

Brown, Thomas Richard. A Dictionary Containing English Words of Difficult Etymology. 1843.

Cummings, Vicki, Oliver T.J. Harris. “The Continuity of Hunting and Gathering in the Neolithic and Beyond.” The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Hunter-Gatherers. Ed. Vicki Cummings, Peter Jordan, & Marek Zvelebil. Oxford University Press, 2014, 825-837.

Douglas, Gavin. The poetical works of Gavin Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld; with memoir, notes, and glossary. Edinburgh, 1874.

Fromer, E. Julia. “‘Deeply Indebted to the Plant’: Representations of English National Identity in Victorian Histories of Tea.” Victorian Literature and Culture Vol. 36 (2008) pg. 531-547.

Ratatouille for One

My new apartment is small. People tell me it’s too small and I shrug them off, but when I cook here, I realize how important kitchen space is to me. I stack three plastic bins of books (lacking the shelf space for all my fiction) as a makeshift island. I leave dishes next to my modem to dry on a mat.

Pile of uncooked tomatoes, yellow squash, carrot, garlic, and onion.

I moved to Spokane for several reasons: A fresh start, to teach part-time, to live in a state with (relatively) better healthcare, and to get professional training as a baker. I can write, read, and sleep well enough just about anywhere, but I didn’t realize how precious kitchen space can be.

When I get home with a bag of squash, tomatoes, and onions from my grandparents’ garden after visiting them in Montana, I squeeze myself between my door as it barges against a lamp and my fridge. Here, I feel like I’m in a scene from the 2007 Pixar film Ratatouille, in which Linguini brings Remy to his own similarly tiny Parisian apartment, where Remy takes in the view of the Eiffel Tower from the studio window. My new place doesn’t have an equivalent view, though, no apparent silver lining. I can only make do with what I bring to this place.

As I assemble my ingredients and begin heating oil in a small cast iron skillet for a lone vegetarian dinner, I think about the bright, colorful ratatouille that Remy makes in the film. The premise is much like an old fable: Remy the rat emerges from the sewers, befriends a garbage boy, and reinvigorates a restaurant and the soul of a pretentious critic, Anton Ego, with his cooking.

In the film, the character Colette calls ratatouille “a peasant dish” and Ego balks at it when presented with a plate of it before taking a bite. It’s telling that his first bite transports him to memories of his childhood eating a heaping bowl of stewed vegetables in the countryside, reminding him of what we can assume are the working-class roots he pushes away now as an arbiter of expense and prestige.

The twist is predicated on the dish’s obscurity. Mollie Katzen describes ratatouille as a “Mediterranean vegetable stew” in the original Moosewood Cookbook, to be served “on a bed of rice, or in a bowl” (Katzen 119). Rebecca Seal notes that in the nineteenth century, ratatouille was “a staple for the armed forces and prisoners.” Like other peasant dishes of nineteenth century Europe, it was probably similar to the gruel that Ebeneezer Scrooge sulkily eats in his miserable apartment, alone with his ghosts. Laure Murat makes much of the dish’s obscurity, observing that the Tresor de la langue francaise, a voluminous French dictionary, locates the origins of ratatouille in “a crossing between ‘tatouiller’ which means ‘to stir, to handle a lot; to spill in the mud’ and ‘ratouiller,’ ‘to make murky, to shake, to stir; to make dirty'” (Murat 144).

The dish is broad, flexible, open to interpretation. In fact, what Remy makes in the film is actually based on a culinary variation of ratatouille called confit biyaldi, which the pioneering health-conscious chef Michel Guérard invented in the 1970s during the Nouvelle cuisine movement, which revolutionized what is now an accepted standard in Western cuisine (and partly stolen from Japanese traditions) for culinary presentation, with an emphasis on a smaller quantity of food neatly organized at the center of the plate. What Ego eats—a small stack of carefully prepared vegetables and sauce—is the culmination of cultural changes in Europe that some scholars trace to the May 1968 protests that swept across France. After May ’68, Nouvelle cuisine began as “a bid to enhance the professional control of restaurants by chefs” by transforming cooks into “inventors rather than mere technicians” (Rao et al. 805).

Murat’s interpretation is that the murkiness of the dish is one of several ways that Remy is marked as an outsider generally, as queer specifically. For Murat, the movie “suggests that the culinary work of art implies the transformation of what the norm treats as discarded material. . . it is no coincidence that it is cooked by the ‘rejects’ of society” (Murat 144). The title of the movie could refer to the cast of characters themselves, who come together to form a better community through collaboration, to be inventors rather than rehashing the restaurant’s same old recipes.

This has its limits. The film is not kind to its one female protagonist, Colette, whose hard work in the industry Remy supplants at the last minute. Likewise, Linguini and Remy lose whatever intimate friendship they have when Linguini chooses to be with Colette, who is then expected to let her new lover’s former mentor (or friend or top or something) take the role of innovator, subjugating her again to the role of a technician. The film really only suggests radical shifts against hierarchy without fully arriving at them. It is Disney, after all.

Chefs like Guérard and Thomas Keller (of the French Laundry) popularized ratatouille for their generation, but for my generation, the 2007 film drew attention to the dish in the playful way it deserves. Ratatouille can be made from the detritus of castaway ingredients. Like other stews, it’s useful for getting rid of ingredients before they go bad. It’s a way of making the best of what’s available, easily adapted to new and changing circumstances. It’s a good dish to master in my tiny, viewless apartment. It’s a dish that, literally, anyone can cook, and ultimately, it’s a good dish for the Anthropocene, adaptable to whatever manages to grow in the garden after abnormal weather patterns, drought, smoke, and other effects of climate change. This is true of my grandparents’ garden, which has taken hit after climatic hit this year, and yet they still have plenty of squash.

My version of this dish uses ingredients available at most farmers markets in the Northwest, or from a variety of backyards if you have friends who are homeowners.

Dish of ratatouille with yellow squash and zucchini over tomato sauce.
  1. Assemble vegetables. Eggplant is traditional but I had yellow squash, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and zucchini.
  2. Add olive oil to a cast iron skillet (the size depends on who you’re cooking for). Chop the onion and mince garlic and add to the oil on medium heat with a pinch of salt and pepper, to brown.
  3. Add sliced red tomatoes and halved cherry tomatoes. Add basil, oregano, and a dash of red wine vinegar or a squeeze of fresh lemon.
  4. Stir occasionally for fifteen minutes. Slice veggies thinly, using a mandoline if available.
  5. Remove the skillet from the heat when the sauce is stewed down a bit. Arrange veggies in a stack on top of the tomato sauce, fitting in as many as possible. You can be fancy and make it a confit byaldi by packing in the slices vertically, or go for a rustic look with something more pile-shaped. You can make it vegan or top with grated cheese, before or after baking. You can garnish with parsley, or basil, or more cherry tomatoes. This recipe is open-minded. It’s up for whatever.
  6. Cover the pan with foil. Bake in the oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes (use more time for a bigger pan).
  7. Serve with bread, or with wine, or on a bed of rice, or whatever you have available.
  8. If dining alone, watch a movie or listen to the radio while eating. If ghosts or rats arrive, listen carefully to what they have to say.

Katzen, Mollie. Moosewood Cookbook. Ten Speed Press, 1977.

Murat, Laure. “What’s Queer About Remy, Ratatouille, and French Cuisine?” What’s Queer About Europe? Productive Encounters and Re-Enchanting Paradigms, edited by Mireille Rosello & Sudeep Dasgupta, Fordham University Press, 2014, 136-147.

Rao, Hayagreeva, Philippe Monin & Rodolphe Durand. “Institutional Change in Toque Ville: Nouvelle Cuisine as an Identity Movement in French Gastronomy.” American Journal of Sociology Vol. 108 No. 4 (2003), 795-843.

Seal, Rebecca. “Deconstructing Ratatouille. National Geographic, May 10, 2019.

Recipes for Grad Students: The Office Hour Banana Smoothie in a Used Salsa Jar

smoothieLet’s say you’re a grad student who teaches in the morning and takes classes at night. What do you do for lunch between those times? You have grading to do and office hours to keep and assignments to write. Going home for lunch is an option, for those who have time or enjoy skipping homework assignments. A useful alternative is a smoothie: easy to make, easy to eat, and usually easy to digest, all in the relative comfort of a small graduate office while you work on job applications during your office hours.

The recipe is simple:

1 banana

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup yogurt

2-3 Tablespoons peanut butter

1/4 cup granola

1 Tablespoon honey

A dash of cinnamon

Mix all ingredients in a blender or mash them in a bowl with a potato masher if your blender is broken again or as stress relief. Make sure to blend thoroughly, as the peanut butter will make the smoothie more pudding-like in texture.

Presentation matters; just watch any show on the Food Network for five minutes. If you find yourself in need of a stylish smoothie container, just remember that, as a grad student, chances are you have an empty salsa jar somewhere in the back of you fridge (just admit it, you know you do). It’s trendy to put cocktails in Mason jars, but a smoothie in a salsa jar is ahead of its time. The plus is that nobody will think to steal your lunch from the grad lounge refrigerator, especially not when they open a salsa jar to the smell of bananas.

If your students catch you drinking from a salsa jar, they might think twice about asking for an extension, so really, this recipe is a win-win, assuming that phrase means two wins for you and you alone. Enjoy your smoothie, and enjoy your office hours.


Edible Ekphrasis

babette's feastLast week, I had the pleasure of watching the 1987 Danish film Babette’s Feast, directed by Gabriel Axel. Based on a short story by Karen Blixen, Babette’s Feast is set in a small village in the nineteenth century, focusing on two sisters in a strict pseudo-Puritan sect and their French cook Babette, whom they took in as an act of charity after she fled violence in France (as we all do from time to time). Her mastery of French cuisine contrasts the bland, simple food the sisters eat. Babette eventually inherits 10,000 francs, and decides to cook an elaborate, “real” French dinner for the churchgoers, who wrinkle their noses at the appearance of her imported ingredients (live quails, a turtle, various wines and champagnes), vowing not to mention the quality of the food to maintain their piety. Their decision to refrain from commenting on the food becomes more and more difficult as they eat, and the wine certainly complicates things, too.

It was one of the two last films that I watched on a Sunday night tradition that has become known as Single Guy Movie Night, hosted by a kind and brilliant PhD student and attended by myself and a fellow second-year MA student (and sometimes a married honorary single guy when he’s available). Since August, I have enjoyed our host’s meals and taste in movies, and he has occasionally tolerated the movie tastes of his guests.

This last year, I have watched more films on Sunday nights than I can remember: The 400 Blows, Road Warrior, Mad Max: Fury Road, Moonlight, Elizabeth, Halloween, Carrie, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, Rogue One, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, Spartacus, ParaNorman, The VVitch, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, among many others. It was fitting, I think, to end with a soft film about food, and perhaps the best film about food I have seen.

There is a small canon of food films. Ratatouille remains my favorite Pixar film, and I enjoyed Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott’s 1996 Big Night, about Italian cooking. Jon Favreau’s Chef belongs in this canon, and though it is about many other, disturbing and beautiful things, Peter Greenway’s 1989 The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and His Lover is a fantastic movie centered around the act of eating/consumption.

These movies are ekphrastic, in that they are about other forms of art. Most ekphrastic storytelling tends to be about painting or music. Putting the focus on food, and therefore taste, forces the audience to think about their own taste. The visual emphasis is on preparation, ingredients, cooking, and of course eating, a meta-narrativized mirroring of what audiences do when they watch movies, not literally eating the film but taking it in, enjoying its flavors, the blend of sweet or savory scenes, bitter or vibrant dialogue. As such, these films subtly ask their audience to reckon with the art they consume, the difference between taste and appetite, the difference between taste and quality, and do so in ways that invite variation. There is plenty to choose from on the menu; what will you watch tonight?

Babette’s Feast is different. At the forefront is gentleness. Rather than for competition or financial success, the film’s protagonist chef wants to give her patrons a free, perfect meal to show her gratitude. Her patrons, again contrasting from most food films, want to lower their expectations and resist enjoying the meal. The climax is the feast, but the pleasure of this long, drawn-out scene is watching the characters resist their own pleasure, and in subtle ways fail. The audience gets to see them lose, which means for them enjoying wonderful food. Babette brings them to their satisfaction by what she offers on the plate, giving them permission to enjoy life.

I prefer gentle movies, and that is a matter of taste. I like atmosphere, music, scenery, and subtle character developments that are easy to miss. But this is taste, and I give myself permission to enjoy everything on the menu. Life is short, and if I stuck to the same kind of movie, I’d miss out on the dozens of excellent movies I’ve had the gift of watching this past year with friends. It is too late to prepare a real French dinner for them to show my thanks. This has been an obscenely difficult and unpredictable academic year that left me paranoid, disillusioned, and feeling far from gentle. Babette’s Feast reminds me I am allowed to enjoy what I consume, whatever it is, and there is nothing wrong with taking pleasure in things, in as many things as possible.

The year is over for me. What comes next is new and uncertain, but I would prefer to go into it with an expanded pallet and the energy to enjoy generously.


Coffee: A Steamy Love Affair

Coffee Poet.jpg

Those who know me know that I love coffee. Those who don’t know me can easily guess, thus far, that I have a moderate fondness for coffee. To be clear, I’m not picky; I like tea, cocoa, water, smoothies, milkshakes, juice. But coffee has a special place in my life.

I had my first cup in my high school cooking class. During one of the baking sessions, our teacher turned on the coffee pot near my station while our muffins were still in the oven. That’s when I had my first cup of caffeinated hot brown acidic water, filled with cream and sugar like most first-timers. After a while, I started drinking coffee whenever I cooked, then every morning, then every morning and afternoon, then several times a day. For a while, I got headaches when I didn’t consume any caffeine by 10:00 AM.

I’ve since become less addicted. I once considered giving it up for Lent but decided that not even Jesus would have gone that far. Nevertheless, I have cut back, and not just because I’ll probably have an ulcer by the age of twenty-six if I don’t.

There are coffee addicts and there are coffee lovers, and I want to be the latter. The difference between a violinist and someone with a violin is making every note a masterpiece. The difference between a chef and somebody who cooks every meal is mastering the kitchen’s tools and ingredients, and cooking with gusto rather than mere hunger. Anything can be an art, and the only way to become an artist is to inhabit a practice so fully that we infuse ourselves with it.

Everything about coffee is perfect to me, and if not I try to make it perfect. Espresso, lattes, dark roasts, light roasts, the smell of the beans, the feel of them in my fingers, the careful measurement of fresh grounds into the coffee pot, pouring the first cup, breathing in the scented steam before the first sip, and feeling it run down my throat hot and fresh, until it bounces around my stomach looking for a place to sit. I write with it; I read with it; I get to know people with it. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly for me, which is likely why I haven’t slept since 2015.

What practice or hobby or food do you love? Let me know in the comments!


P.S. If you thought the title was cheap, consider all the other possibilities I had to work with. Drip coffee was only a starting place.

I Bought a Pumpkin. Now What?


Leaves are changing colors, candy is getting cheaper and oranger, and the farmer’s market is filled with freshly harvested pumpkins. Resisting temptation is hard; now I have a pumpkin. What does one even do with a pumpkin?

Orange Triptych

The first thing to do is get to know the pumpkin. Give it a cute name, something like Fred. Spend a few nights drinking with Fred. Really get to know him. From there, it’ll be easier to figure out what you want to do with Fred. In my case, I wanted to make Fred into a pie.

Fred 1

Give Fred a good bath, remove Fred’s stem, and slice Fred laterally with a large cutting knife. This might upset Fred, but he’ll just have to learn to live with it. Using a large spoon or ice cream scoop, remove all of Fred’s insides, scraping against the flesh to get all the strands and seeds out. It goes without saying you can save Fred’s inside for later consumption. Dash a little salt onto Fred’s flesh, place his two halves flesh-side down on a covered cookie sheet, and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about thirty minutes, or until Fred is nice and mushy, like he always gets after a few beers.

Fred 2

Again, using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, scrape out Fred’s flesh, which should come out easily after baking Fred. He may be confused at this point, but just remind him it’s for a good cause. Mash (or blend in a food processor) Fred’s flesh, until it’s nice and smooth. You can store some of Fred’s flesh in the freezer for future endeavors. For example, you can make muffins out of Fred, too.

Toss 1 cup of Fred’s pureed flesh into a sauce pan and cook until it simmers. Add 1 cup milk, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves. Feel free to adjust the spices to make Fred as spicy as you like. Fred, of course, prefers to be very spicy, if his sass didn’t tell you anything. Mix well and let simmer.

Fred 5

In a separate bowl, combine two eggs and 1 cup of brown sugar. Add this to Fred’s simmering remains and stir to combine.

Fred 4

Once the eggs, sugar, cream, and Fred are thoroughly combined, pour into a pie dish with a prepared crust. You can make your own crust (like I did, in a completely unpretentious way), or buy a premade crust. Place the pie dish on a cleaned cookie sheet and bake Fred at 350 degrees for forty to fifty minutes. Fred will be very disappointed, but delicious. You can make it up to Fred by covering him in whipped cream and serving him with hot beverages. Like all gingers, Fred loves whipped cream and hot beverages.

Fred 6