A Letter from a Pumpkin Witch
Sure, being a Pumpkin Witch is a rather specific profession, but it’s certainly an important one! After all, what would an American fall be without pumpkin spice everything? And can you imagine Halloween without jack-o’-lanterns? My trade began many centuries ago, when carved turnips and tubers were sacred talismans to keep away evil spirits as the veil between our worlds thinned. These vital plants and rituals kept our people safe, so my foremothers cast spells for bountiful harvests and protection. As the cultural notions around this time of year shifted, so too did the work of my ancestors—pumpkins instead of turnips, spices instead of sachets. But still, the importance of this work carries on. Perhaps you think my title trite or “cutesy,” even.
Perhaps you think pumpkins are nothing more than decorative squash or marketable signs of the season. Do allow me to correct you: Pumpkins still function as protective talismans and blessingson your home. Do you really think we would all continue to trek out to pumpkin patches and carve fearsome faces if we didn’t all know, deep down, that it was important? And do you really think our cultural obsession with pumpkin spice is just a marketing ploy started by large corporations? My dear, what is pumpkin spice but a powerful blend of protective plants intended to bless you and keep you safe from harm? It is thanks to our spells that you crave that pumpkin spice latte as soon as the autumnal winds shift. It is thanks to our magic that pumpkins still proliferate on doorstops to protect those within. Without us, October would be swarming with far more darkness, and you wouldn’t be nearly so safe in your bed.
But never fear, the Pumpkin Witches have sworn to uphold our sacred duties. Every fall, I call upon my coven to join me in summoning the white magic that we infuse into the pumpkins that all of you take home. It’s tough work that requires a lot of concentration, so afterward we celebrate with pumpkin treats and hot spiced pumpkin cider, poured out of a teapot passed down in my family for generations. It too holds the same ancient magic that flows out of our palms and, indeed, into the pumpkin sitting on your very stoop. May you sleep deeper tonight knowing the protective pumpkin magic that embraces you even now. And if you don’t yet have a pumpkin, you’d best move fast, since the spirits are extra restless this year…
Pumpkin Praline Pecan Bread Puddings
These wonderful teatime treats can be baked right inside adorable small pumpkins! Make sure you buy small eating pumpkins, not the tiny (and very hard) decorative ones, as they are difficult to hollow out. The roasted pumpkin flesh can be scooped out along with the bread pudding, so it’s best to choose fully ripe varieties for a treat that has an extra surprise!
12 small pumpkins
2 cups heavy coconut milk (or almond creamer) 1 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ to 2 pounds day-old bread
(more for dense bread)
2 cups pecans, chopped
Directions: Tear the bread into bite-size chunks. Sourdough or challah works wonderfully, but softer bread works too; it’ll just make a slightly softer pudding.
In a large bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, pumpkin puree, melted butter, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Once smooth, add the bread and stir to combine, making sure all the bread gets saturated. Let sit while you prepare the pumpkins.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut the tops off the pumpkins and hollow out the seeds, then place them on a nonstick baking mat.
Spoon the mixture evenly into all the hollowed pumpkins. Sprinkle the tops with the chopped pecans. Bake for 45 minutes with the lids on, then 15 to 20 more minutes with the lids off or until the pudding has fully set. Let cool slightly and serve warm, or refrigerate until cold.
Bourbon Sauce: In my mind, the whole reason for bread pudding is the hard sauce that goes on top—yum! This praline-inspired silky sauce is spiked with bourbon for a rich flavor that pairs wonderfully with the pumpkin. If you’re making this treat for kids, just substitute fresh pressed apple juice for the bourbon instead. (Or save this sauce for yourself and drizzle some maple syrup over theirs …)
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup heavy coconut cream
½ cup butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons bourbon
Bring brown sugar, coconut cream, butter, corn syrup, and salt to a boil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once boiling, immediately lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then stir in the bourbon.
Pumpkin Spice Apple Cider
This hearty warm drink is a mash-up of two seasonal favorites: pumpkin pie and apple cider! It has the fresh zest
of cider with a slightly rounder, richer flavor thanks to the pumpkin. Plenty of spices give it lots of autumnal flavor.
6 cups fresh-pressed apple cider (unfiltered apple juice)
1 cup roasted pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
4 cinnamon sticks
1 large apple, sliced into rounds
1 large orange, sliced into rounds
Maple syrup, to taste
Add the apple cider and the pumpkin puree to a blender and blend until smooth. Strain through cheesecloth into a large saucepan.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring often. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 to 2 hours or until fragrant. Taste a little bit, and add maple syrup to sweeten as desired. Use a ladle to serve, being careful not to disturb any sediment in the bottom. Enjoy hot!