The Daily

for 23 November 2022

The Hunter’s Moon is dark today. Tomorrow begins the Winter Sleep Moon. In this culture we don’t do that… sleep more in winter, that is. This is one of the things my body has never made peace with. I am not on the work-day sleep schedule at the best of times. When I’m on my natural rhythm, I’m not an early riser, though I get by in the summer because there is sunlight to get me going. But in the winter? Well, my body really wants to sleep when it’s dark. And nobody can do that in this culture at Vermont latitudes. If I let my body sleep until sunrise, I’d never get to work on time. So I force myself to get going in the dark. I never feel rested even though I think I may actually get more sleep than in the summer months. It’s just not as much as my body thinks it needs in the cold darkness. I’m pretty sure that this is not an unusual response, and I wish our culture made more allowances for it. But, alas, there are much bigger problems than awkward sleep schedules, so…

In my town’s local paper this past weekend there was an Associated Press article on the high cost of Thanksgiving this year. A lady was quoted saying that she told her family she could only afford two side dishes this year, so they had to vote on what those would be. She feared she would not be eating her favorite sweet potato casserole because it was nobody else’s first or second choice.

I know turkey is expensive this year. How could it not be? There was the avian flu that wiped out millions of birds early in the year. Also, everything is more expensive to ship, and most turkeys are heavy and travel a good distance to get to the table. Unless you are buying a local bird. Which isn’t really an option for many millions of people. So the bird costs more.

The article then went on to talk about all the other price increases, saying that the traditional side dishes are increasingly unaffordable. The article cited increases in canned pumpkin and boxed stuffing and potatoes. Cranberries apparently are no more expensive than usual, for the canned stuff anyway. And you can have that green bean casserole for only a couple cents more per pound. But I was reading this article thinking that these price increases were not on food. This was an increase on packaging and shipping and maybe labor. Though it’s probably the first two. And there is no reason your holiday meal should accommodate our flailing economy.

Canned pumpkin? Why? It tastes weirdly metallic. The texture is sort of slimy. And it comes in a can. You really don’t need that can. Nobody needs the can. The can is just waste. Along with all the processing and shipping that it takes to get the pumpkin (or whatever it is) into that can. Roasted pumpkin is cheap, easy, and delicious. It is more nutritious. It works better in most recipes (no adding water in hopes of getting the right moisture level… ie that of actual pumpkin). And there is no can. Also you will likely be supporting local or regional farmers. More of the money you spend on a real pumpkin will go to the people who made the pumpkin because none of that money is necessary for the can, among other things.

This is also true for canned cranberry sauce. (Not food… not even sure what that gelatinous stuff is…) It is true for canned green beans. (Gross.) It is true for all the various things made out of potatoes (dubiously) that get canned or frozen. It is really true for “boxed stuffing”. I mean, what is that! Why would you buy chopped up day-old bread in a box? All of these things are cheaper and better for you if you just buy local food. Even the day-old bread can be easily acquired at your local bakery. In fact, I’ve worked in places where they give that stuff away (though not at Thanksgiving… only time of the year that people will pay for stale bread).

Anyway, it’s just not necessary to pay for the can — and all the other cost increases associated with that can. What are you buying? The convenience of not having to wash and chop the veg? I think that may be it. Because you still have to cook it. And then you have to deal with the can waste. So it’s not like you are saving yourself much work. You’re just paying for lots of other kinds of work — processing — that don’t need to happen if all you want is good food.

So don’t pay for the can. Go buy real food from the people who made it. They probably have tips for what to do with it also. They may even have cider donuts. Well, in certain places anyway…

The article got me to thinking about what I’ll be having for Thanksgiving this year. For the first time in a long time, I don’t have to cook the whole meal. Everybody will be bringing what they like. I doubt there will be turkey, not with this group of mainly vegetarians. There may not be anything but “sides”. But these will be family recipes from many different cultures. The food will be varied, plentiful and probably not that fancy. Also probably not that expensive because simple food made from scratch isn’t expensive. It will be a good meal of good food made with care by many hands.

That’s the whole point of celebrating. It’s not about what you eat, it’s about eating it together. This culture has completely inverted that — for all celebrations, but particularly Thanksgiving. The focus is on table settings and elaborate menu planning and wine pairings. Whole magazines are printed, telling us what we should put on the table and how it should be presented. I suspect there is much sharing of photos on social media… But we don’t really gather much more than a nuclear family for the actual celebratory meal. Maybe it’s adult siblings and their children going to see the Grands… But it’s not a communal day of thanks.

This isolation also makes a celebration into a hard slog of labor for Grandma/Mom/Resident cook. This too is the opposite of more normal celebrating. In most cultures, a holiday meal is shared. Shared food, but also shared labor. It’s not one person in the kitchen trying to wrangle four courses of food for five, six, ten, twenty others who are largely watching television until the food is served to them. In fact, our form of holiday-making doesn’t actually make a holiday. One or two people get to work extra hard and everybody else just does what they normally do.

So I’m glad I’m going to a potluck with friends. It will be a real holiday. We all will contribute to the preparation — from expense to labor — and we will all partake in the meal. We’ll get to try food from other kitchens, other cultures, other families. We’ll get to share our own traditions — and the memories that go with those traditions — with others. And everybody will take home what doesn’t get eaten. So no mountains of leftovers for any one household either.

I can’t help but think that this is what Thanksgiving is supposed to be. I, at any rate, am very thankful!

Now, here are a few tips on making cheap and delicious roasted pumpkin sans cans. First, don’t limit yourself to pumpkin. All the large winter squash can be roasted together. I cook whatever will fit on one baking pan. Sometimes it’s one Hubbard. Sometimes it’s a medley.

Before you put it in the oven, insert a knife into the hollow part of each squash. This will help to vent the steam as it cooks so the fruit won’t burst open.

Roast the squash in a 275°F oven until the rinds are somewhat browned and the fruit is squishy. This can take several hours. Don’t rush it. Let it cook slowly. Go do other things while it cooks.

After coming out of the oven, let it cool until you can handle it, then slice each squash in half. Remove the seeds. Then, if the fruit is soft enough, scoop the flesh out of the rind. If it’s too hard to scoop, just cut the rind off.

Place all the flesh in a large mixing bowl. You can use a potato masher to turn it into pulp, or you can just use your hands. (This is a sticky mess, but warm roasted squash feels wonderful on arthritic joints.)

When it’s all pulped, you can use it in your recipe right away or you can store it for later. It keeps in a covered container in the fridge for quite a while.

I freeze most of what I roast. You can use freezer containers, but it’s easiest to get all the air out of the pulp (to reduce freezer burn) if you use freezer bags. These can be used repeatedly on low-acid foods like squash as long as you take care not to damage the seal.

To get the pulp into the bag with minimal mess, turn the opening edge down. And prep more bags than you are going to need. It’s really easy to put away the clean bags. It’s not at all easy to get your hands clean to go get more if you run out.

Measure what goes into the bag, so you can just grab whatever amount is needed for a given recipe.

Before closing the bag, gently roll the pulp around to get air bubbles out of the squash. Then press as much air out of the top of the bag as you can right before sealing it. Air is generally not freezer food friendly.

Write the measured amount on the label and don’t forget to date it. Plan to use it within a year.

For the record, I got six cups of pulp out of two small pie pumpkins and a very small butternut squash. These all came out of my garden, but I suspect they would cost about $6-$7 all together at a farm stand. A 15oz (not quite 2 cups) can of pumpkin seems to be about $2.90 today. So roasting and freezing the squash is, in fact, cheaper than the can. For much better food! And no can…

©Elizabeth Anker 2022

1 thought on “The Daily”

  1. Canned pumpkin is pretty much taste free which might be why it has to be drowned in spices and sugar to make a pie. Fresh pumpkin is definitely the best! I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving gathering!


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