What Southern Folks Eat

Pumpkin carving and chili nights

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“Pumpkins, in October, as fat as the full moon, they sit on our doorstep at night and glow.” - Richelle E. Goodrich, author

Long ago in Ireland, people carved scary faces in vegetables, such as potatoes and turnips, believing they would somehow ward off evil spirits during the ancient festival of Samhain, also during Halloween. 

Irish people who immigrated to the Americas brought the tradition with them, but found that the native pumpkins here were more suited to hollowing out and carving. Can you imagine carving turnips? Not nearly as easy or fun, I would imagine, as carving pumpkins.

Thankfully now we carve pumpkins not because we feel the need to use them to ward off evil, but because it’s fun to artistically make funny or scary faces, or even create words, by carving the walls of the pumpkin after it’s been well cleaned out. I remember doing this many times over the years with my mom and sister, and I continued the tradition with my sons when they were children, as well. Now, if they’d just have some grandchildren for me, I’d be happy to continue the fun with them. 

But I digress. 

Pumpkins are beautiful in their many iterations. When I was little, we typically exclusively had available the big round “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” -style pumpkins available at the IGA down in Port St. Joe, or the Piggly Wiggly. Perhaps they also offered the sweet pie pumpkins as well, for grandmothers to bake with, but I don’t remember because the big orange ones drew me like a bee to a tupelo tree. As Halloween neared, Mama would let us look at all those beautiful orange gourds, some that looked big enough, to my young eyes, to create Cinderella’s carriage from, and we would choose the one we thought was the best. She’d hand over the couple of dollars and the bag boy would carry it to our car for her. We would be beside ourselves with excitement. 

I still remember watching mama cut out a circle around the stem of the pumpkin and remove it. Then, we would take turns scooping out the stringy flesh and seeds, getting our jack-o’-lantern prepared for his new visage. We didn’t have the carving kits that are available now; we would just use various tools from the kitchen drawers. We’d make triangle eyes, a funny-shaped nose, and a mouth with a big gap-toothed smile. 

Then, before it got dark, we would put him on the front steps of our house on DeSoto Street, and when it got dark, mom would let us put a saucer in the bottom of Jack, as we’d call him, and she’d set a pillar candle on the saucer. She would light it for us, put his “lid” back on, and we’d stand back and look admiringly at our smiling, orange piece of autumnal art. I’m smiling, myself, remembering it now.

Orange pumpkins are still my favorite, and I buy a few each year. But now I am also drawn like the aforementioned bee to a tupelo tree to the white pumpkins, so ghostly and elegant; the bumpy pumpkins, which look like a witch has cast a spell on them and given them warts; and the dark green pumpkins, which have the brooding color of the Gulf on a stormy day. I can’t resist these, either. Each time I walk into the grocery store, somehow at least one of them ends up in my cart and goes home with me. Strange. Must be those ol’ Irish spirits. 

Now in the spirit of trying different types of pumpkins, let’s also move our eating of pumpkin beyond pie and quick breads. This recipe for sausage-pumpkin chili is incredibly delicious, and so packed with nutrition that your body will be perfectly fueled for a fun night of pumpkin carving and, soon, trick-or-treating! Trust me, it doesn’t taste like a mixture of dessert and dinner. It tastes like one of the best chilis I’ve ever made. We absolutely love it at our house. I hope you will, too. 

"I will defend pumpkin until the day I die. It’s delicious. It’s healthy. I don’t understand the backlash." - Ana Kendrick, actor

Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three young adult sons who are significantly taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at www.whatsouthernfolkseat.com

Sausage-pumpkin chili

 

Ingredients

  • 3/4 to 1 pound ground Italian sausage (I used a blend of hot and mild; use whichever you like best)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic (about three cloves)
  • 1 red or orange bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)
  • 5 teaspoons chili powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground pepper\
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 28-ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes (or two 15-ounce cans)
  • 15-ounce can Great Northern beans, drained
  • 15-ounce can black beans, drained
  • 15 ounce cans plain pumpkin puree (don’t accidentally buy pumpkin pie filling!)
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth or stock

NOTE: If you like a spicy-hot chili, feel free to add several jalapeños, or a teaspoon of red pepper flakes to boost the heat a notch.

Topping ideas: Sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped onions, pepitas

Method

In a Dutch oven or soup pot, brown the Italian sausage in a little olive oil, breaking up the sausage into bite-sized pieces as you work. As it begins to brown, add the onion and bell pepper, and allow it to cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. (If needed at this point, drain any excess fat, or carefully absorb it with a few clean paper towels).

Next, stir in all the spices.

Add the tomatoes, beans, pumpkin, and broth. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir frequently. 

If it begins to boil too rapidly, turn it down to medium, and continue to stir often. Simmer for about 20 minutes. 

Taste to make sure you like the level of saltiness. Add more if needed.

Add toppings and serve with cornbread or crackers. Enjoy!

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