Journalist Kevin West, who has a new book out tied to his home-canning blog Saving The Season,
shares his Thanksgiving secrets and very own pumpkin butter recipe.
The key to a perfect Thanksgiving meal…
You know that old saying about being well-dressed — that before you leave the house, you should look in the mirror and take off one thing? Thanksgiving menus are like that. The day before you start shopping for ingredients, look at your menu and scratch off one dish. Remember: Thanksgiving is a feast to celebrate the harvest season, but what we really give thanks for is each other’s company. So don’t worry so much about the food.
My Thanksgiving traditions…
I like to get up early and do all the prep work, then take a few minutes to walk outside and forage for the centerpiece: fall leaves, berries, a branch of conifer, maybe the last of the wild aster flowers, or even bare lichen-covered sticks — anything to bring nature inside and remind us of the seasonal cycle.
My stuffing always includes…
Ham or turkey…
Oh, definitely turkey. You can have ham any time.
Seated or buffet…
Always a buffet, because you get to move around and talk to everyone. Plus, no one can tell how many times you’ve refilled your plate.
My favorite Thanksgiving ever…
One year, I decided last minute to have an “orphan’s dinner” at my house in L.A. but waited too late to get my turkey. All I could find were little eight-pound mini-turkeys. I got several, cut them up like chickens, marinated them overnight with strong Latin-inspired spices and “grilled” them under the broiler until they were perfectly crispy-scorched. People laughed about the scrawny birds but then devoured them. It was the first and last time I’ve seen people pick up turkey and eat it off the bone.
The dish I most look forward to cooking…
Brussels sprouts. Is that crazy? I get them at the farmers’ market still attached to the stalk, and breaking the little “cabbages” off the stalk and prepping them is like child’s play for me.
And the dish I most look forward to eating…
Pumpkin pie. Several years ago, I needed to make pumpkin pies to take to a friend’s house, so I called Nanny, my mom’s mother, to ask her secret. It turns out there are two. First, you always start with a whole pumpkin — never canned — and you roast it in the oven until soft. Next, use a light hand when it comes time to spice the pie filling. Nanny isn’t one for precise measurements, though. She says: “You just add spices until it tastes right.” Nobody’s pies are as good as hers.
Pumpkin Butter Recipe
Yields about 2 pints
6 lbs unpeeled pumpkin
2 c water
2 c organic sugar
¼ tsp smoked pimentón or Espelette paprika
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
1⁄8 tsp salt
Optional: molasses or honey
1. Halve pumpkin and scrape out seeds. Cut into inch-wide strips along the natural vertical creases. Remove rind with a vegetable peeler, cube pumpkin and put in a pot with the water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 20 minutes, until very soft.
2. Run cooked pulp through a food mill, or use a potato masher for a chunkier consistency. Measure the purée, and put it in a preserving pan with a scant 1 cup of sugar for every 3 cups of pumpkin. (If you wish, add a few tablespoons of molasses for flavor, or replace ½ cup sugar with ¼ cup honey.) Reduce over high heat, stirring constantly, until a spoonful of the mixture placed on a chilled saucer in the freezer for 1 minute no longer leaks liquid at the edge.
3. Stir in the smoked paprika, red pepper flakes and salt. Taste, and adjust the seasonings. Ladle the hot mixture into airtight containers and store in the refrigerator, or freeze it in a snap-seal container.
Note: Pumpkin butter should be stored in the refrigerator and eaten within a week.