Smashing Pumpkins--"Cinnamon Girl (live)" (mp3)
A few words about pumpkins. It isn't that I hate them. In fact, I like them. I bought three for the front of the house so that we would look more inviting on Halloween, since our neighborhood can't sort out its overall ambivalence toward trick or treaters who come in from the outside and some people just go dark so they won't have to deal with the hordes. But, my wife and I, we love it. We set up shop in the front yard, or she does, with or without the help of a friend or two, while I prepare inside for the Halloween after party and fret about whether or not we'll have enough candy to withstand the onslaught. It's a fine line. Because we don't want to have a bunch of candy leftover that we'll eat for no good reason; nor do we want to run out and have to turn children (and adults) away. But back to the pumpkins. So there they sit, two on side, one on the other, to let visitors know that we're all in for Halloween. Some years, if I'm home early enough, I carve them and put candles inside--an even more obvious beacon. But that's all. I don't ever buy pumpkins to cook with. And that's where my current frustration lies. You see, pumpkins as an ingredient, as a flavor, are everywhere, and I just don't see it. An average flavor at best, with a limited number of uses, pumpkin has become the darling of the fall. When I gave up Facebook several weeks ago, I joined Pinterest instead. And I joined it for the food, because I like to cook. But lately, as I've started to figure out how to use the site, I have been overwhelmed by pumpkins. Cruise through the "Food and Drink" section of Pinterest, and you will be bombarded by the offerings--pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake, pumpkin creme brulee, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin soup, pumpkin-based pasta sauce, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pie, pumpkin coffee drinks, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin ale and on and on and on. It's like Forrest Gump made friends with the Great Pumpkin instead of Bubba. The lead story in the food section of the Chattanooga newspaper the last two weeks has been either all pumpkin or half pumpkin (pumpkin and squash). Really? That's the extent of our fall palate? Hey, I like a piece of pumpkin pie as much as the next guy, especially homemade, where the ingredients have kind of carmelized and maybe somebody's got some whipped cream to put on top, but it's not like I'm then thinking, 'Wow, I've got a whole lotta pumpkin pie left in the fridge and I'll be mealin' on that bad boy all week.' Nope, one and done. Enjoy the slice and wait until next Thanksgiving for another one. Because, if you think about it, it's all over by Thanksgiving. The turkey, the dressing, the cranberries, and all that other stuff, even butternut squash? They might get a repeat performance at Christmas, but not the pumpkin. Serving pumpkin after Thanksgiving would be like ordering a gin and tonic after Labor Day. Gauche! It's like we're supposed to indulge in this pumpkin mania for the month of October (because no one is talking pumpkin in September) and most of November, but that's it. Let's face it, the chance to eat pumpkin is not like that fleeting chance to get a McRib sandwich--we don't (or at least I don't) head to a restaurant just for the chance to try a pumpkin-based entree. I'm not praying for a pumpkin pizza or Reese's Pumpkin Cups. And I'm not really sure when I realized that I was living in the middle of a pumpkin frenzy. I just don't need to eat it or drink it to rubber stamp my transition to autumn. No, I think the pumpkin is best left uneaten, is better served with a black cat and a witch than with gourmet coffee. Pumpkin works better by the innuendo and implication of being just a little afraid of walking alone in the dark with carved orange lanterns glowing in random places down the street than by the literal blandness of its flavor. You've got to do a lot of work to eat a pumpkin, not just the physical effort necessary to get its flesh separate from the stringy innards and seeds, but the creativity and compensation to make it desirable by overwhelming it with sugar and spices and the fat contained in butter or cream. But leave it alone, let it sit out in front of a house, even untouched, and it contains within its walls all of the imagination needed to anticipate dozens of stories and tales, movies and nightmares, and an entire magical evening of childhood fantasy and adult nostalgia.