Once upon a time, long ago and far away, there lived a miserly, mean-tempered but very shrewd grouch named Jack, who happened to be very fond of turnips and often carried one or two with him in his pockets. (Keep this important fact in mind; you’ll need it later.)
Jack was not on good terms with the neighboring villagers, a very pious and upright group who prayed regularly for Jack’s soul, which they were certain was doomed.
One day, Jack got into serious trouble when he stole some items from those good people, and they, understandably upset, set out to bring him to redemption, and of course, get back their stolen goods. It looked like Jack was about to get his well-earned comeuppance, when up popped the Devil, right in Jack’s path.
“Jack,” said the Devil, “your time is up and I’ve come to collect your sinner’s soul.”
But Jack was, as I said, very shrewd, and knowing how much the Devil would love to bring down the pious villagers, he quickly came up with a clever plot.
“Devil,” he cackled, “if you turn yourself into a gold coin (the Devil could do things like that), I’ll give you to the villagers as payment for the things I stole. They’ll stop chasing me and take you back with them. Then you turn yourself back into the Devil, disappear, and when no one can find the money, they’ll accuse each other of stealing the gold. All those righteous people will be at each other’s throats trying to find out which one is the thief.”
Jack knew the Devil would like nothing better than to trick the virtuous, God-fearing villagers, and sure enough, the Devil went for it. (Methinks the Devil is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.) He turned himself into a coin, which cunningly Jack quickly popped into his wallet, right next to a cross he always carried there. Now, as everyone knows, once the Devil comes into close proximity with a cross, he loses all his powers, so Jack had him trapped.
“Jack,” the defeated Devil pleaded, “what will it take to get you to release me from this wallet and set me free to go on about my business?”
“Ah,” sayeth Jack, “make the villagers leave me alone and promise not to take my soul when I die.” The Devil quickly agreed, the villagers were thwarted (what they’ve been doing while Jack and the Devil are carrying out this plot is not clear), and Jack is free to live out his scurrilous, miserly life.
But the day comes, as it does to one and all, when Jack finally does give up the ghost and goes to meet his Maker.
He’s considered far too evil, however, to be allowed into Heaven and is told to go to the Devil. Ah, but the Devil has promised, at Jack’s own request, never to take his soul, so there’s Jack, denied access to both Heaven and Hell, doomed to roam the earth in darkness ever more. Jack, ever the whiner, complains that it’s too dark, he can’t see, and how’s he supposed to roam anywhere if he can’t see where he’s going.
The Devil, with a smug grin on his face, I’m sure, tosses Jack an ember from the ever-burning Hell fires, an ember which, of course, will burn for all eternity, and tells him to use it to light his way. Jack, desperately needing something in which to hold his ember, whips out his knife and a turnip from his pocket (see? I told you to remember the turnips) and hollows it out, making a sort of lantern he can carry to light his endless path.
And that, friends, is one ancient version of how the first Jack-o-lantern came to be. Think about Jack and the Devil as you carve that Halloween pumpkin, and if a tired old man with a turnip in his hand rings your doorbell on All Hallows Eve, I’d think twice about inviting him in.
Among the many good things about the October/November time of year are pumpkins. They’re everywhere and inexpensive, and so many tasty things can be done with pumpkin. It’s delicious in soup, salad, vegetable dishes and desserts; it’s also loaded with Vitamin A, potassium and phosphorous, and high in fiber, with zero cholesterol (until you turn it into cheesecake). If you painted your Jack-o-lantern instead of carving him into the pumpkin, you can make your own pumpkin puree (after Halloween, of course), which is easy to do.
I have a number of pumpkin soup recipes, from mild to savory; this one is a favorite because of the curry, which goes so well with pumpkin.
CURRIED PUMPKIN SOUP
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 T. unsalted butter
1 T. curry powder, or to taste
1 t. ground cumin (or to taste)
3½ cups chicken broth
1 pumpkin, 4-5 lbs., peeled and seeded (reserve the seeds) and flesh chopped
½ cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
1½ cups milk, possibly more for thinning
In a large pot, cook the onion and garlic in 3 T. of the butter over med.-low heat until softened. Stir in the curry powder, cumin, broth, chopped pumpkin and lentils. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, for 20-25 min., or until pumpkin is tender.
While soup is simmering, spread pumpkin seeds on a double layer of microwave-safe paper towels, set the towels on the bottom of the microwave oven and microwave on high power for 3-5 min., or until they are dry. Let seeds cool, remove from paper towels and, in a heavy skillet sauté them in the remaining butter over med.-high heat, stirring, for 1-2 min. or until golden. Transfer to paper towels to drain and season them with kosher salt and, if desired, a sprinkle of cumin powder or garlic powder.
In a food processor or blender, puree the soup mixture in batches, then force through a sieve back into the pot if you want a fine-textured, smooth soup; skip the sieve part if you want a less finely textured soup. Stir in the milk and bring the soup to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Thin to desired consistency with more milk, if desired. Serve in warmed bowls garnished with the toasted pumpkin seeds. Makes about 12 cups.
You could whip up a batch of these delicious pumpkin cookies to hand out as Halloween treats, but once you taste one (or more) with your favorite fall ice cream, I suspect you’ll want to keep them.
PUMPKIN SPICE COOKIES WITH ORANGE GLAZE
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temp.
½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
2 T. pure maple syrup
1 cup canned solid pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 t. grated orange peel
1 t. maple extract
1 t. cinnamon
½ t. ground allspice
2 cups flour
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1 cup raisins
Orange glaze (recipe follows)
Butter heavy large baking sheets. In a large bowl, beat together the first 5 ingredients until well blended. Add pumpkin, orange peel, maple extract, cinnamon and allspice; beat to blend.
Mix together flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Add to pumpkin mixture and beat until just combined. Stir in raisins.
Drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven about 10 min., or until edges are golden brown and centers are firm to light touch. Transfer to racks to cool. When cool, drizzle orange glaze over cookies and let stand until glaze sets. Serve with your favorite ice cream.
If storing, place between sheets of waxed paper in airtight container at room temp. Makes about
To make orange glaze: Mix together 1 cup powdered sugar,
4 t. orange juice, ½ t. grated orange peel and 2 drops orange food coloring (optional), mixing all ingredients to blend well. This glaze is also delicious drizzled over pumpkin spice cake.
PUMPKIN CIDER PUDDING CAKE
1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 t. salt
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 T. vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups refrigerated unfiltered fresh-pressed apple cider (it’s usually available in the refrigerated juice section of the supermarket during Oct., Nov., Dec.)
1 T. butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 T. cornstarch
1/4 t. pumpkin pie spice
In a med. bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, 1/2 t. pumpkin pie spice and salt. Stir in pumpkin, oil and milk, just until moistened. Spread mixture in an ungreased 8-inch square baking dish.
Heat the apple cider and butter to boiling in a 1-qt. saucepan over med.-high heat. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, cornstarch and pumpkin pie spice. Sprinkle this over the pumpkin batter in the baking dish, then pour the boiling cider mixture over all. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven 40-45 min. or until top is golden brown and edges are bubbly. Cool 15 min., then serve, warm, with soft whipped cream (add a bit of nutmeg or cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice to the whipped cream, if desired). Serves 8.