23 October 2005

It doesn't take guts to do this

My father is obsessed with giant pumpkin competitions, clipping newspaper articles about colossal cucurbits (yeah, had to look it up) and tacking them to the bulletin board. I don’t know if he was ever truly serious about growing them—the competition-sized ones—but he did try his hand at it, much to mum’s chagrin.

But growing pumpkins in a small backyard plot, is kind of like just allowing a camel's head in the tent...pretty soon the entire beast is indoors and you are out in the desert cold: slowly more and more of the garden was devoted to growing, obese squash.

While the veg’s size was impressive, their colour wasn't. Instead of the violently orange specimens that populate the grocery stores, our home-grown ones were pallid, almost anaemic-looking beach balls that infested the garden…there’s a reason pumpkin patches are out in the open and not in shady areas.

So...what do you do with all that pumpkin flesh? I mean, 10 or 50 pounds is doable, but what do you do with a couple of hundred pounds of it? Most of it went into pies and side dishes (steamed, pureed, roasted)...and some were sacrificed via interesting kitchen experiments that will neither be repeated nor mentioned.

For the halva of it
To me, apart from those garden-memories, pumpkins remind me of halva. “Halva” is a sort of catch-all term for sweets found in the Middle East, Central Asia and India. In India, the versions and textures change with ingredients—semolina vs zedoary flour, fruit vs. veg, nuts, coconut, raisins and, of course, spices. It can be served as a type of warm milkshake, a milk pudding or as dense as fudge.

Mum's version is fudgey with a sticky-dense consistency, loaded with cashews and raisins and caramelly-colour...well more like the colour of treacle toffee. It’s cardamom-scented and loaded with nuts and raisins.

I'll be honest with you. Making it from scratch is time and labour-consuming—approximately three and a half hours of stirring. I’ve developed an easier version that won’t leave you tied to the hob for a good part of the day.

There’s lots of play room for it. If you’d rather not have a fudge, but would prefer something more like milk pudding, then omit the cornstarch. If you want it sweeter add more sugar, if you want it less sweet (the raisins will add a lot of sugar to the confection), then take out some of the brown sugar...it also depends upon your favourite brand of canned pureed pumpkin and what the manufacturers have added to it. You can also change the nuts or dried fruit or even add things like shredded coconut.

Easy Pumpkin Halva

900mL(2 x 15oz cans) of canned pureed pumpkin
150g brown sugar
2mL salt
250mL warm milk
30g cornstarch
50g butter
5mL ground cardamom
50g toasted almonds
50g plumped sultana raisins

Make a slurry from 250 milk and cornstarch; set aside.

In a heavy bottomed skillet, over medium heat, combine the pumpkin, sugar and salt; stir until incorporated. Pour in the slurry and stir well. Add the butter and cardamom and continue stirring. If the mixture seems too runny to form a fudge, add more slurry, if it’s too thick add some more milk and continue stirring.

Keep stirring until the mixture gets to the soft-ball stage and cleanly pulls away from the pot’s sides and forms a sticky ball. Fold in the nuts and sultanas.

Pour into a 1.5L pan and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. You might find some butter rising to the surface—that’s fine just get out your skimming spoon again. After it has cooled, cut into pieces and enjoy.

as always,


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