October 09, 2012

apologies for a poisonous pumpkin

No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize - Julia Child

I fully support the notion that you should never apologize for a dish that hasn't turned out as you envisioned. First of all your guests have no idea what you envisioned (always best to keep the menu to yourself) and secondly they are happy to be out of the house, away from their oven and dishwasher, and dining with friends. Melissa Clark in last Friday's Good Appetite column reiterates Julia's never apologize sentiment and offers suggestions to save dishes gone awry. If the dish is simply a lesser version of it's cookbook-self then simply rename it; braised duck turned slick with fat becomes confit de canard and undercooked brownies become molten chocolate cake (both of which in my mind sound better than the original). If the dish has failed beyond a simple renaming Clark has ideas for reinventing the meal; slumped meringues and failed pastries become trifle and overcooked veggies are born anew in a quiche. 

But what about when the meal is actually inedible? Can you apologize then? I did, over and over and over again. In this case it wasn't something I did or didn't do; it was the pumpkin, I had a scapegoat. The little green and white-stripped pumpkins tasted like they had been swimming in a bath of nail polish remover. At first we thought it might just be the skin, sprayed with something or perhaps simply inedible, but no, it was the entire gourd, flesh and all. My friend Bea was a trooper, saying it was fine and not to worry as we shoveled the toxic pumpkins to their own plate and the extra rice and stuffing to our new plates. Had I learned about the toxic pumpkins before offering them as dinner I would have renamed the dish Autumn Rice but I didn't know and once you take a bite of Toxic Stuffed Pumpkin it's impossible to go back. 
While we ate Toxic Stuffed Pumpkin Remnants we discussed the possible trajectory of said toxic pumpkins from farm to table and searched the Internet to see if I had unknowingly elected to serve a poisonous pumpkin variety. Google offered us little in the way of answers. I didn't really expect answers though because I had made the exact same dish, with the exact same pumpkins purchased from the exact same stand at the farmers market, and it was good, stellar even, ready to be written into our weekly fall menu. It's funny how quickly things can change. 
I thought about saving the toxic pumpkins and bringing them back to the stand at the farmers market and demanding an answer for why my stomach was turned into a chemical dump, but then I realized I'd  have to have the conversation in German, which made my head hurt more than my stomach. Anyway, I doubt they were aware that their Speisekürbis (food pumpkin) were in fact not food at all. And as it generally goes with me I'll just assume someone else had the same experience and did enough complaining for the two of us. 
I bet you've been wondering if the pictures here are of the poisonous pumpkin and probably why I've decided to share any pictures at all. The pumpkin featured here was one of the edible ones that I made last week. I was so excited to share it, eager for you to read about the sweet flesh stuffed with savory sausage stuffing, an autumn meal that you'll still want to make well into winter. It's also ones of those meals that is easy but impressive, great guests gathered on a chilly October night. Because I still have some faith in pumpkins as food I wanted to share the recipe with you. 

/ /  stuffed pumpkins //
be sure to ask if the pumpkins you are buying are edible and organic
feel free to add or subtract any of the veggies in the stuffing, it is just a guideline
serves 2 

2 small pumpkins

1 potato

olive oil
2 medium onions
4 carrots
1 celery stalk

salt and pepper

6 small sausage links or 2 big ones

Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC

Slice the top off of the pumpkins and scoop out the seeds (you might need to cut a circle in the middle of the pumpkin first). Place the pumpkins in a dutch oven, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover and bake for about 35-45 minutes until soft and easily punctured with a fork. 

While the pumpkin is cooking prepare the stuffing. 

Peel the potato and chop into small cubes, place in to a pot of boiling water until just soft and then strain. Set aside. 

Pour a glug or two of olive oil into a pan. Chop the onion and add it to the pan, cooking over medium heat, stirring often. Add in the carrots and the celery, chopped. Continue to cook and stir. 

Chop herbs and add a little bit to start, knowing that you can add more later. Stir in the chopped potato. 

Remove the sausage from its casing and once the vegetables are soft add it to the pan, stirring to cook and brown. Taste the stuffing and adjust with more herbs and salt and pepper as desired. 

Once the pumpkins are soft fill them with the stuffing (there will be stuffing leftover) and then place the stuffed pumpkins back in the oven for about 10-15 minutes so that the flavors can cook together. 

Serve with rice, the extra stuffing and salad. 


  1. Oh Talley, I'm so sorry to hear about your pumpkin troubles! I can see why it was a little difficult to keep yourself from apologizing in this case. It seems like it would be situation hard to recover from with just a little re-naming.

    Stuffed (edible!) pumpkins do sound just like a chilly October night calls for. I will have to keep it in mind for when we have people over! I always seem to have an interminable list of people I want to have over for dinner...

  2. Talley, I still think the dish sounds wonderful and certainly LOOKS fabulous. There is nothing more frustrating than making something that doesn't work out... and I always seem to choose dinner parties for experimentation (a huge no-no, I know). I particularly love the photo of the woman on the bike with flowers.

  3. I'm sorry your pumpkins didn't turn out as expected! Nail polish remover does actually qualify as toxic, doesn't it? Aptly named dish. :) And those savoy cabbages are so incredibly pretty!

  4. Wow, toxic pumpkins! That's a tough one to recover from. Hopefully there was dessert (?), which always makes things ok again. The recipe for stuffed pumpkin with sausage does look tasty.

  5. Talley, I love it. This was hilarious. And so bizarre? I am curious. Can you take some advil and then go inquire at the farmers' market? Others had to have had the same experience. In any case, the stuffing sounds divine! And, granted the pumpkins are edible, the presentation is so darling and festive. Fun!

  6. Hey, i think you just chose pumpkins that are too old!

  7. Hey, what made u believe they were poisonous? Is it possible they were too old...try with young ones, they can become inedible for their taste ( however nicer looking in some cases), hence the difference with ornamental pumpkins