Eat Your Jack-O-Lantern
Last year on Christmas Eve, a fascinating op-ed from an unlikely source appeared in The New York Times. Chef Rene Redzepi, of the high-profile Copenhagen restaurant Noma, called for Americans to think twice before throwing out their Christmas trees on December 26. “Evergreen, Ever Delicious” was the headline.
Redzepi is known for his extreme adherence to local food; everything served in his restaurant comes from the Nordic region, and some components even come from parks in Copenhagen where he and his crew forage. Spruce and fir, Redezpi argued, can be used much like rosemary or thyme to flavor food. There were three recipes—for spruce butter, spruce oil, and spruce vinegar—as well as a few suggestions. Toss a sprig in with steaming spinach. Dry the needles and turn into a powder; sprinkle into cookie dough. Rub on a chicken before roasting.
The article was super well written and thought provoking, even for a Jew. But come December, I’m not gonna try to eat my menorah—Halloween is right around the corner, and, in fact, last year, I unknowingly applied Mr. Redzepi’s ideas to another ornament: the Jack-O-Lantern.
I was a couple months into my study abroad experience in Morocco last Halloween and starting to get twinges of homesickness. Knowing that Halloween does not exist in Morocco only made this worse. But on October 31, I schlepped all over the souks of Rabat in a late-fall drizzle to find a suitable host for my ersatz Jack-O-Lantern. My host sister was kind enough to come with me, but, because of language complications, nobody in my host family really knew what the fuck was going on.
After much schlepping, my host sister and I came to the mutual conclusion that they don’t have what I identify as a “pumpkin” in Morocco. They do have pumpkins, I guess, but they’re puke-green on the outside and sort of bulbous. I bought a seven-kilo one of these and brought it back to my homestay to carve with my friends and my hysterically laughing one-year-old host baby Yazid.
Earlier in the day I had explained to my host family that the pumpkin I was going to get would be for decoration, but that I’d also cook with it. So as I carved, I separated the pumpkin seeds and the pulp into bowls. I went out and found tagliatelle, sage, and parmesan. I had a plan. First I toasted the pumpkin seeds with salt and heady Moroccan cumin. Those turned out great, and, at that point, I dare say, everybody was snackin’. My next venture, though, was less successful.
I sautéed the pumpkin pulp in brown butter and added sage. I tossed it with tagliatelle and topped it with shaved parmesan and some of the leftover pumpkin seeds. The part of the pumpkin I used, though definitely edible, is not the best part of the pumpkin to eat. It’s not smooth and sweet like the rest of the gourd, but I was under pressure to produce something that night, and I didn’t have time to roast the flesh. In the end, the pasta tasted good, but my host family was not into it. They turned their attention to a platter of croissants and noted that the cheese in the pasta had been too salty.
So this Halloween, eat your Jack-O-Lantern wisely. Toast the seeds. Scoop out the pulp, but maybe steep it in custard to make ice cream or use it for pumpkin bread. And after the holiday, butcher the whole thing and roast it off. Pumpkin soup. Afghan-style sweet and sour pumpkin. There’s a lot you can do with a pumpkin. And honestly, eat the candle, too. Do it; you won’t.