My Forgotten Kabocha: A Love Story Gone Awry

I have a thing for gorgeous vegetables. Seriously.

     Now this isn’t some twisted fetish like the Ala Carte Professor at the Culinary School I attended had; he walked around showing select female students his album full of pictures of carrots he had grown shaped liked genitalia. No, I don’t go that far. Still I do get pretty jazzed up at the sight of a certain favorite grocery store’s multi-colored carrots. I nearly swoon strolling through the farmer’s market admiring dozens of varietals of greens. I’ve even been known to whisper sweet nothings to heirloom tomatoes while making caprese.

     Once, when staying at the home of friends who farm for a living, I came across an heirloom seed catalog. I had never seen such a thing. I was instantly engrossed, flipping pages and muttering to myself occasionally. “Ohhhh, look at those stripes…I can’t believe the size of that eggplant….yum yum yum yum….the beans are purple…gorgeous….look at the shape of that melon.” I didn’t realize my friend had come up behind me and was listening to all this until the giggle she had been suppressing spilled out of her and became a full fledged guffaw. When she could breathe again she declared, “You sounded like you were looking at a dirty magazine. Plant porn!”

     Don’t judge me, ya’ll. You should have seen those purple beans. Here’s one web site where you can indulge in a peep show of your very own Let me recommend the beans.

     With that background information, you won’t be surprised to know that when I saw that sweet little kabocha sitting there in the grocery store, I had to bring him home. Now for those of you that don’t know, kabochas are small fleshy Japanese pumpkins with dark green shells striped with flecks of lighter green. They’re pleasantly plump though rather squat little beauties full of vivid orange flesh and this one was particularly attractive and clearly meant for me.  I had no special plans for this particular gourd, you understand; I had simply fallen in love. So I took him home and placed him on the counter next to my fruit bowl and there he sat.

     Then, it must be admitted, I forgot I had bought him.

    A week or so later, my youngest daughter called while I was at work. She had seen a recipe on Pinterest for a hack of a certain coffee chain’s popular fall beverage and all she needed was a can of pumpkin. A can of pumpkin? A can! In my house!? Then I remembered my little kabocha. “Half it, de-seed it, bake it cut-side down on a cookie sheet in a 375 degree until the flesh is soft and mushy. Let it cool, then mash it with a fork. Voila, pumpkin puree!” When I got home that evening, there were ice cube trays full of pumpkin puree chilling in my freezer all ready to be the base for spiced pumpkin frappes.

    Then, with the smell of roasted pumpkin still lingering in the air, my daughter started feeling a bit queasy. By the next day she was bedridden and miserable with the stomach flu. Her body eventually recovered,  but her taste buds suffered lasting effects. She had gone off of pumpkin. So, the pumpkin puree sat in my freezer in ice cube trays, until I eventually transferred it to a freezer bag and stuck the package in the freezer door. There my poor little pumpkin got forgotten about. Again.

   That is, until today. Today I came home in a baking mood and decided a great way to kick off my food blogging career would be with pumpkin muffins. Who doesn’t swoon over the smell of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves wafting from the kitchen? Who cares if it’s Spring, I felt like pumpkin! So I found a lovely little recipe to use a spring board from Once Upon A Chef. Find it here

     Then, as I always do, I began to play. I had a diabetes scare a while back and try to avoid too much white flour so I played with the flour, changing it to a mixture of white, whole wheat, almond meal, and oats. I pulled out the sugar canister, and realized my oldest had depleted it with a baking spree she’d been on all day. I only had about 1/3 cup of white and 1/3 cup of brown. I put that in, but was still shy more than a cup of sugar. I fudged with honey and added a little flour to the dries to compensate. I decided I wanted nuts, and threw toasted pecan pieces into the dries as well. Why not? I played with the spices, adding cardamom and subbing pumpkin pie spice. I had an inch of fresh ginger root in my fruit bowl, so I peeled and grated that into the wets. Then, as long as the grater was out, I zested an orange.

     Usually I know when to stop- at least in the kitchen. If I had just stopped there (do you sense the impeding disaster?), I think I would have done the recipe justice…..but I didn’t.  I cut that orange in half, and I squeezed every bit of juice right into my wets. And it was a juicy orange. Really juicy. Then I folded the whole thing together, portioned it out for muffins, set it to bake and set down to write this blog, a bit proud of myself to tell you the truth. The consistency of the batter had been lovely despite the freedom I had taken with the precise and scientific laws of baking. The aroma that started drifting out from the kitchen shortly thereafter seemed to further applaud my efforts. When the timer rang, I ran a toothpick through one of those muffins and it came up clean, but just to make sure they were done, I broke one open. It wasn’t just moist, it was raw! So back those babies went for another 8 minutes. Then another 8 minutes. Then finally 12 more. At last, with the tops looking quite toasty and the muffins still wet in the center, I gave up and pulled them, turning off my oven in defeat.

     I ate one, of course I did. (You knew I would!) They are delicious, the flavors of ginger, cardamom, orange, and pumpkin fairly burst on your tongue. However, they are not muffins. They have the consistency of a steamed Christmas pudding in the middle, and an over-mixed, over-baked banana bread on the outside. Most unlike my kabocha, they are not beautiful at all. They are bumpy, dull, short, homely muffin wanna-be’s. They are sitting there still on the counter….

….but they are not forgotten.


Photo Credit: Spicy Kabocha Squash Soup by Isabelle Boucher on Flickr; used under Creative Commons License.

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