When Food = Home

Home is a lovely warm word, isn’t it? As round and enclosing as the womb. Womb, home—the two almost rhyme, but not quite. And what is home exactly, if not, in the end a metaphorical womb? A sensation. An instinct. A blessed lack of fear and discomfort and uncertainty. Home is being where you belong—wherever that may be. It’s not a constant, the feeling of being at home. Some days it’s stronger than others. Sometimes the yearning for the feeling inspires day dreaming our way into the past—armchair time-traveling—in search of old anchors and roots and ties. Sometimes home is in a taste. This week, for me, it was the warm orange flesh of a pumpkin.

The pumpkins back home were—and I imagine, for the most part, still are—orange. I seldom ate them though I loved them. They were so wedded to their associated festivities, that it was hard to imagine eating them at other times. So I savored spicy pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas, as if it were impossible to eat them on other days of those long, cold winters. How ridiculous that was! Here, in Milan, I most frequently see the zucca mantovana — a squat, drab, military green squash, as hard as rock, with vivid orange insides that fall outside the category of “web safe colors.” ‘Tis the season, and Italians are eating them with or without a party.

I’m the only one in my little bi-cultural, nuclear family who likes pumpkin, even though Italians have a long and lovely tradition of eating it in spectacularly inventive and soul-soothing ways. (Pumpkin ravioli with sage or hazelnut sauce. Pumpkin risotto finished with a knob of butter and freshly grated parmigiano.) But yesterday, with Thanksgiving still days away, and a slight seasonal melancholy beginning to nag at my innards, I needed a “hit” that could be quickly whipped together, and there it was, delivered to my inbox by one of my favorite cooking blogs, Smitten Kitchen.

Pumpkin puddings with a sour cream topping! I’ll let you go to the source for the recipe, if it interests you, as I wouldn’t want to take credit for such a delicious anti-depressant. Suffice it to say, that it was just what the mood doctor ordered, and it was ready in no time at all with some slight modifications (NOTE: I am not a diet-obsessed cook, but seeing as I had decided to eat my dessert for lunch (!) some modifications were necessary):

1. Instead of canned pumpkin, I baked pieces of fresh with scant olive oil, then squashed them with a potato masher before uniting them with the sugar, egg and milk.
2. I used no cream, just non-fat milk, and the recipe came out well.
3. I substituted non-fat Greek yogurt for the sour cream and diminished the sugar quantities all around with no ill side-effects whatsoever.
4. I took great liberties with all the spices.

This is not to say that I am sad. Nor that I am homesick. I am not. It is not to say, either, that I find solace in french fries and hamburgers and all things (edibles) American. It is just to say that sometimes, just sometimes, you need to taste that thing that carries you back to the safest, the warmest, the dearest of times, even if in reality those times weren’t any sweeter than the ones you’re lucky enough to be living through now.

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7 Responses to When Food = Home

  1. Debra Kolkka says:

    Oh my! This looks delicious. Australians don’t do Thanksgiving and pumpkins are something we eat all year round and usually as a vegetable rather than a pie. I doubt that you could buy canned pumpkins in Australia. Certain food can certainly take you “home”

  2. Anna Harrison says:

    Mmmm. I LOVE pumpkin! Your recipe sounds delicious!
    Have you ever had pumpkin soup???
    Also, I make my pumpkin pie (always have to do things differently, does Anna) with a rice flour and chopped almonds crust, and mix in a bit of sweet potato with the pumpkin.

  3. Anna Harrison says:

    oops, sorry. typos in that last comment…

    • Typos are ALLOWED! I make them all the time. (I’m sure you’ve noticed!) Now, on to your earlier comment. You’re definitely on to something, because what’s better than pumpkin? Sweet potato, of course. In fact, I was just thinking today as I was making the puddings again for my children who suddenly decided that they “liked” pumpkin, how good sweet potato would be good in there. But…and here’s another blog…sweet potatoes — the kind we’re used to — aren’t easy to find here. It’s tricky. Anyway, your pie sounds great and could you send me the recipe for pumpkin soup??? I think I’d love it.

  4. Joselin says:

    So timely! I’m tasked this year with bringing pumpkin pies to my inlaws’ house for Thanksgiving, and I’ll be using my mother’s recipe as closely as possible. It’s one of those things that I make where I have no desire to deviate. The smells and tastes associated with pumpkin pie bring back those mornings where she got up at 3 to put the turkey in, so by the time I came into the kitchen, I was bombarded by a very distinct, unique set of smells. The whole day would be about food and friends (and football), and it was perfect. (I’m suddenly overwhelmed writing this, though, because my mother no longer has the strength (or inclination) to even attempt a mini version of that Thanksgiving Feast. The unstoppable beat of time…)

    Interestingly enough, now it’s butternut squash that is my “home” food – Joe makes a lovely butternut squash soup that I crave when I come into the house on a cold, blustery day. Or his butternut squash lasagna or ravioli.

    But for this week, it’s all about the pumpkin.

  5. Pingback: Another orange food | The Daily Cure

  6. Gracie says:

    That’s the way I feel about pumpkin & food bringing you home too, and what is home too…all those things. Snap.

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