Search results for: "pumpkin"

Note: The pumpkins are back! Recycling this column and encouraging everyone to buy a pumpkin at the church on the corner of Quaker & Seminary in Alexandria. It’s a small price to watch little children giggle and toddle through the pumpkin patch. 

photo 1

I know fall has arrived when the Episcopalians set out the pumpkins.

The front yard of Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill turns orange with pumpkins every October. The congregation unloads hundreds of pumpkins of all colors and sizes, trucked in from a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Then church members sell the pumpkins (and some other goodies) from morning til night, through Halloween. The profits go to local charities like ALIVE! and Carpenter’s Shelter and international ones like Heifer International. “Buy pumpkins, help the world,” the church sign says.1186252_518431311583381_357164123_n

Like many places in 250-year-old Alexandria, Immanuel has a historical footnote. Gerald R. Ford lived a few blocks away and the Ford family attended Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill for years. He served as an usher and the first lady taught Sunday school (presumably before presidential duties intervened).

The church plays a role in our family history as well. After we moved to this neighborhood, we would roll a red wagon to the pumpkin sale with our sons and they would carefully choose among the pumpkin bounty. One year, Sam insisted that I not discard the pumpkin “guts” when we carved his pumpkin, and make a pie instead. So from that year forward, I have roasted a pumpkin and pureed it for a pie. A little more work than the $3.19 canned pumpkin from the store, but it brings back memories of Halloweens past.

This year, our “mystery” volunteer plant in the garden turned out to be a pumpkin vine that sent runners around two sides of the garden. Though lush with many blossoms, it produced exactly two pumpkins. CRR turned one into a savory pumpkin soup. The other one will be carved at Laurie and Mark’s annual pumpkin salon.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

The season of spooktacular pumpkins is upon us, an October ritual that brings back so many family memories. When a friend of Sam’s visited for a week, she brought her own memories of making pumpkin pie with her father.

So Tessa and Sam baked pumpkin pie last weekend. They walked over to the pumpkin patch at the Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill Church (“Buy a pumpkin, help the world”) and picked out a sugar pumpkin. They cut up the pumpkin and boiled it and then pulled out my tried and true, battered and splattered Betty Crocker’s Cookbook that my mother gave me when I was a teen.

This is a basic pie recipe that I have prepared since I was 10. I am still drawn to this cookbook for nostalgia – whenever I use it, I think about my mom. There are no fancy recipes in it. Nothing like the fabulous pumpkin desserts that our friend Sandy bakes every Thanksgiving. Or the touch of genius that Laurie puts in her pumpkin pie — diced crystalized ginger. Just solid American cooking.

It was fun watching Sam and Tessa cook together in the kitchen. It was quite a team production. The pie was delicious and a few days later we begged them to make another. As if on cue, the bottom heating element of the oven broke down. We concocted a plan to cook the pie using the broiler – we put the pie pan on the lowest rack, and turned the broiler on for 5 minutes, then off for 5 minutes. Pie turned out great. A cloud of whipped cream cured any small imperfections.

Betty Crocker’s Pumpkin Pie

2 c. cooked pumpkin (see note)

2 eggs

¾ c. sugar

½ t. salt

1 t. cinnamon

½ t. ground ginger

½ t. ground cloves

1 can evaporated milk

Note: Cut a sugar pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds. Place the halves cut-side down in a baking pan. Add 1 cup of water so the pumpkin doesn’t dry out. Bake at 350 for about an hour, or until a knife inserts easily. Cool, then scrape the pumpkin flesh and discard the skin. Puree pumpkin in a food processor until very smooth.

Beat the eggs. Add the pumpkin. Then add the other ingredients and mix until smooth. Carefully pour the custard into a prepared 9-inch pie crust. Cover the edges of the pie crust with foil so they don’t burn. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, lower temp to 350 and bake another 40 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

I know fall has arrived when the Episcopalians set out the pumpkins.

The front yard of Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill turns orange with pumpkins every October. The congregation unloads hundreds of pumpkins of all colors and sizes, trucked in from a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Then church members sell the pumpkins (and some other goodies) from morning til night, through Halloween. The profits go to local charities like ALIVE! and Carpenter’s Shelter and international ones like Heifer International. “Buy pumpkins, help the world,” the church sign says.1186252_518431311583381_357164123_n

Like many places in 250-year-old Alexandria, Immanuel has a historical footnote. Gerald R. Ford lived a few blocks away and the Ford family attended Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill for years. He served as an usher and the first lady taught Sunday school (presumably before presidential duties intervened).

The church plays a role in our family history as well. After we moved to this neighborhood, we would roll a red wagon to the pumpkin sale with our sons and they would carefully choose among the pumpkin bounty. One year, Sam insisted that I not discard the pumpkin “guts” when we carved his pumpkin, and make a pie instead. So from that year forward, I have roasted a pumpkin and pureed it for a pie. A little more work than the $3.19 canned pumpkin from the store, but it brings back memories of Halloweens past.

This year, our “mystery” volunteer plant in the garden turned out to be a pumpkin vine that sent runners around two sides of the garden. Though lush with many blossoms, it produced exactly two pumpkins. CRR turned one into a savory pumpkin soup. The other one will be carved at Laurie and Mark’s annual pumpkin salon.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

It’s time to shut down the garden and reflect on six lessons learned in 2013.

1. Only buy locally grown tomato plants. The fancy twice-the-price superman plants we imported from Oregon actually underperformed the local yokels. I think they just couldn’t cope with a Washington summer that saw a long drought followed by monsoon rains, interspersed with the usual hot and humid weather. CRR ordered some of the grafted tomatoes for his parents, and their plants thrived in the cooler South Dakota climate. We rather enviously helped his mother harvest the last of her tomatoes in mid-October.

2. Studiously ignore the parsnip section of the seed catalogs. I thought I loved parsnips, but it turns out I like parsnips in small doses. Like buying half a dozen at a time at the farmers market. We had two full rows of parsnips, and simply grew tired of the few preparations we concocted. There is still a bag full of them in the back of the spare refrigerator. I hope they don’t multiply in there.

3. In fact, studiously ignore the seed catalogs altogether until spring is just around the corner. Otherwise, we cave to winter cravings rather than stick to the tried-and-true.

4. Thin the ridiculous mint and horseradish. Let me repeat in harsher terms: Ruthlessly hack back the mint and horseradish, which both grow like the invasive species they are. A flame-thrower might be in order. (Hint: Christmas gift?)

5. Call my brother in Minneapolis for instructions on when to plant the fall crop. He had a huge late October harvest, including a massive haul of green beans, by planting in mid-August. We put our fall seeds into the ground too late. #EpicFail.fall-leaves-autumn-graphy-views_356851

6. Show no mercy to volunteer plants that sprout amid our carefully plotted rows. We wound up with a stupid curved squash whose vines menaced a terrified Brandywine tomato. And a pumpkin vine that crept around two sides of the garden and produced exactly 1.5 pumpkins.

Enough venting. Just remind me to re-read this list when spring rolls around.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

I just got off the phone with my mom, who asked about this week’s blog post. I told her I was just too dispirited to write about the garden, which is shaping up as the worst we’ve ever had.

We’re normally tired of tomatoes by now, and this year we’ve barely eked out enough for us and a handful of select friends (you know who you are). I’ve put away exactly three pints of tomato sauce for the winter. It appears we’ll be buying 99-cent canned tomatoes like the rest of America.

Those fancy grafted tomatoes we bought from Oregon? No better than anything we bought locally, and in fact, one has already gone belly up. It might be a sign – why buy tomato plants from Oregon, where the climate is far different from ours, rather than tomato plants hardened locally. Never again.

I bought some broccoli seedlings while CRR frowned – and sure enough, they’ve turned brown and dried up.

Even the horseradish is suffering.

It hasn’t been a complete bust. We had a decent beet crop. The peppers have dutifully produced (though not a single jalapeno yet!). The “mystery” volunteer plant turned out to be pumpkin, which has produced two promising fruits. We’ve got a second beet crop coming along, about two inches tall.

Come to think of it, there are still some promising signs. And maybe next weekend, we’ll sow some lettuce and spinach for a fall harvest.

A gardener, like a farmer, is ever the optimist. The next best crop is just around the corner.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

When Thomas Jefferson first visited England, a British nobleman sniffed that TJ looked like “a tall large-boned farmer.”

Which is exactly what he was.

As a young man, Jefferson carved Monticello out of a mountainside high above Charlottesville. After his presidency, he planted beautifully laid-out ornamental gardens, designed on the drawings he sketched into notebooks during his European travels.

But Jefferson was, at heart, a farmer. He grew 125 varieties of fruit trees, half of which were peach trees. He planted gooseberries and currants that Lewis and Clark discovered along the Missouri River. He tried to grow grapes for wine, but the French cultivars failed to thrive – and likely would not have pleased the palate for fine wine he developed in Paris anyway.

His kitchen garden was 1,000 feet long – more than three football fields. Overseeing the garden was Jefferson’s favorite pastime in his retirement. He considered it a horticultural lab. He meticulously kept a Garden Book, noting planting and harvest dates, names of plants, number of seeds planted. He sorted “fruits” from “leaves” and “roots.”

What did TJ sow? Many varieties of English beans, pumpkin from Africa, French lettuces, Roman broccoli, kale from Malta, New York corn, Swedish turnips, Prussian peas. He planted 40 varieties of kidney beans over the years, before finally settling on two favorites.

Monticello gardens

Monticello gardens

And of course he kept the seeds sorted in a special cupboard.

In the twilight of his life, Jefferson relished his agrarian roots at Monticello. “Tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener,” he wrote.

For more about TJ’s gardens, check out these videos from Monticello. And you can buy seeds and plants descended from his gardens online.

I think a visit to the estate of my favorite president may be in order as his gardens awaken from the earth.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

I was headed for Capitol Hill, in a rush, as is everyone who has business with Congress. As I walked up the escalator (like I said, everyone is in a faux-hurry in Washington), I almost tumbled into the person behind me.

What stopped me in my tracks was a beacon: A sign for Dangerously Delicious Pies. Amid the awful food court offerings in Union Station was a small stall that offered the thing-I-can’t-resist.

I quickly calibrated my Hill trip. Get my business over with, hie straight back to the DDP, and call it lunch.

After carefully considering the possibilities, I ordered a piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie. Warmed up? No thanks. A good pie stands up to room temperature. With whipped cream? NO. I might have succumbed to a quenelle of ice cream but whipped cream has no business topping a fruit pie.

I took my $6 slice to a nearby table and poised my fork.

It was heavenly. The fruit filling was amazing, the tart rhubarb softening the sweetness of small whole berries, held together with exactly the right ratio of fruity binding. Delicate crust. I savored every delicious bite.

Then I went up to the counter and told the two clerks that their pie was the best pie I’d ever had — outside my mother’s kitchen.

My mother, Mavis Marie Benner Johnson, is a pie queen. She claims she didn’t know how to cook as a newlywed bride, but along the way she learned how to make the best darned pie in the world. Her crust, flaky by the graces of pork lard, is legendary. Her command of the pie genre is without peer.

She is the reason one of my childhood nicknames was PieHead.Image

Cherry, apple, blueberry, rhubarb, peach, raspberries, rhubarb. Of those, her apple is my favorite, scented with a hint of cinnamon. And oh lord the cream pies: tart lemon meringue, pumpkin, chocolate cream, banana cream, coconut cream, butterscotch. I’m sure I’m forgetting some of her repertoire.

The Johnson children could always count on a pie for Sunday dinner. (This is one of the few times I ever wished there were fewer sibs – a pie split eight ways is a mere taste. We still fight over Mom’s pies when we get together. JJJ—get outta the way!)

My mother’s butterscotch pie remains my all-time favorite. Her recipe was passed down from her mother, from a 1950s cookbook. Once when we were home, she made it for my children. My son, Will, said the filling tickled his tummy. Exactly as it did when I was a child…and still does.

In tribute to my grandmother, Eva, and my mother, Mavis: queens for a day on Mother’s Day. I love you Mom.

Butterscotch Pie

1 cup brown sugar, packed                        3 eggs, separated

3 tablespoons flour                                     3 tablespoons butter

4½  teaspoons cornstarch                          ¾ teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon salt                                             baked pie shell

1 ½ c. scalded milk                                       whipped cream or meringue

Mix sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt thoroughly in top of double boiler. Add ¾ c. of the hot milk and stir over direct heat until smooth. Add remaining milk, then place over boiling water and cook, stirring frequently for 15 minutes. Beat egg yolks thoroughly. Stir in a little of the hot mixture, and pour back into the double boiler. Cook for 3 minutes longer, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla and stir until mixed. (optional: While mixture cools, beat egg whites until stiff and fold into the warm filling) Pour immediately into cooled pie shell. Either top with meringue and bake further, or serve with whipped cream with cool.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.