A few months ago, when the cottonwoods along the riverbank were just beginning to rustle into autumn gold, I bought a pumpkin. It was an impulse purchase. I picked it from the edge of a pyramid stacked curbside at Smith’s grocery store on my way to the plastic carts with the wonky wheels.
In the following weeks shoppers whittled that pyramid down to the last few misshapen gourds and pumpkins began popping up on my neighbors’ porches. I passed more each morning as my dog and I walked the block. Some were artfully arranged alongside potted mums and indigo ears of corn, others were carved with goofy or ghoulish faces for Halloween.
Eventually, they rotted inward and collapsed into their own hollows. One by one they disappeared. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I think most of the pumpkins from that pyramid became brief decorative dots and then went dark and fetid. They attracted flies and ended up back on the curb for the dump truck to haul off.
I never set my pumpkin out on the front stoop. Instead I pulled our largest butcher knife from the kitchen drawer, unsheathed its blade, and lopped into the pumpkin’s side with a satisfying thwack. I halved it, scooped out the gooey seeds, laid its hemispheres facedown on a baking tray, and slid it into the hot oven. The flickering blue of the gas flame beneath the oven’s base sent up heat and light that licked the pumpkin’s orange flanks. Over the course of an hour, its matte surface began to glisten, curl brown at the edges like leaves, and bubble with caramelizing juices.
That single four-dollar curbside pumpkin offered us weeks’ worth of nourishment. I rinsed, salted, and toasted the seeds. I spooned the steaming flesh from its half-melted skin and pureed it into two giant bowls’ worth of fibrous glop. The first couple cups I whipped with eggs and milk and spices, then poured into a crust to bake a pale, sweet, cinnamon-specked pie. Another two cups became earthy bread, and two more became soft orange cookies drizzled with thin glaze.
And three cups of my pumpkin puree became soup. It was easy: I just plopped it in a pot and added heat, water, oil, onion, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, salt, pepper. A pinch of brown sugar. Stir. Savory and sweet. Rich and warm.
It’s January now—winter. A year’s worth of seasons lie ahead, slowly unspooling. When autumn returns, I want to recreate this soup, but this time I want to do more than bring forth overlooked nourishment from a curbside pumpkin. I want to bring it forth from the land itself. In the coming months I want to transform my barren backyard into a food garden.
All my life I’ve celebrated the concept of harvest with token gestures like store-bought pumpkins on porches; this year, for the first time, I want to return to the earth and actually earn that season’s bounty with my own labor. Work “from scratch” not just in the kitchen, but in the dirt. Simple. Simple as soup.