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.