I love fall. I love the smell of the air… that crisp chilly morning smell. I love the process of pulling out my scarves and discovering all the layers of treasures to bury myself under. I love watching the leaves go from green to red. I love spooky things and Halloween and snuggling on the sofa with hot drinks by candlelight. But more than anything, I love pumpkin spiced foods!
In fact, this time of year is saturated in my mind with memories of pumpkin more than anything else in terms of fall memories.
High school = pumpkin muffins
One image in particular dominates all of them. It’s the scene of myself sitting in my best friend’s living room, surrounded by my “group” of highschool besties, and a bag of pumpkin muffins in the center of it all. In that memory it’s as if we are there transcended in time, gossiping about who knows what, laughing and giggling, telling tales, and all stuffing ourselves with the pumpkin muffins.
I say muffin but it’s like a mini cake. Similar in texture to banana bread, these “muffins” are just a basic spice cake with pumpkin puree and chocolate chips, baked in a muffin tin. Imagine pumpkin pie in a cake form… but with chocolate chips, like a cookie. The best “fall” treat ever invented.
Pumpkin muffins: a symbol of friendship
This memory is a special one for me. It’s one of those memories that you want to hold onto forever; one that makes you think about how young you once were, all the dreams you once had, and how you wish you had realized then just how precious that moment was.
We must have eaten a bag of chocolate chip pumpkin muffins at every single sleepover (of which there were hundreds). We all got the recipe from our friend’s mom and we all begged our own moms to make them. We carried bags of them on trips. We carried bags of them in the car back and forth to our after school jobs. That was our favorite food. That food was “ours”. A symbol of our friendship.
Those pumpkin muffins take me to that bubble of naive teenage perfection. To dreams and friendships that have since evolved and grown. I am so thankful for those girls, for those sleepovers with the pumpkin muffins. I am so glad they were there for me whenever I needed them… always with a muffin nearby, either to celebrate good news or to eat during those moments when you just need a shoulder to cry on…and cake.
Fall and pumpkins in Istanbul
As an expat, the pumpkin situation here is heartbreaking. As stated, I love fall and pumpkin, but now live in a country where Libby’s canned pumpkin does not exist. I was fortunate enough to share my expat life and home with one of the besties mentioned above, the one whose very mom brought these muffins into our lives. In those first years living abroad I remember we tried and failed so many times to figure out the pumpkin situation.
First of all, pumpkins in Turkey are actually big enough for Cinderella to ride inside of them and go to the ball. You have to go to the market and ask the man to carve you up slices of pumpkin. They are that big. But how many slices? Also the texture is thicker and tougher than a small sweet baby pumpkin. How long do I cook it? Also Turkish pumpkins are green. Yes. Not orange.
After many years and many trials with many different cooking styles attempted, I finally figured it out a few years ago. Since then, my season has been brought back to me. I welcome fall with open arms. I see those green pumpkins and I don’t feel sad. I feel invigorated because I know I will be able to use them! I sometimes even dedicate a whole weekend to “pumpkin puree making” and I make as much as I can so that I always have it on hand during fall. Istanbul itself has started to evolve and these days smaller “soup” and “sweet” pumpkins are available at the market. It’s only taken them ten years to catch up… and still it’s not canned, they have to be cooked and pureed yourself.
PUMPKIN MUFFINS RECIPE
(ORIGINALLY FROM JULIE MONTGOMERY)
1 cup oil (225 g)
3 and ½ cups flour (450 g) *can mix half white and half whole wheat flour, optional
1 and ½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. nutmeg
2 and ¼ cup sugar (450 g)
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin (1 and 3/4 cups or 425 g)**
2 tsp. baking soda
2 heaping tsp. cinnamon
½ bag chocolate chips (about 2 cups or about 340 g)
⅓ cup water 80 g
½ cup chopped walnuts 60 g **nuts are optional
**NOTES ON HOW TO MAKE PUMPKIN PUREE
If you are using a small whole pumpkin (sometimes called a “soup” or “sugar” pumpkin), cut the stem off and then cut the pumpkin in half. Spoon out the seeds (save them, you can roast them like nuts). Lay the pumpkin halves down, flesh side up, on a lined baking tray. Drizzle some olive oil onto the pumpkin flesh. Roast at 350 F (180 C) for about 1 hour. Then take it out and let it cool, scrape the flesh away from the skin, and puree it in a food processor.
If you are using pumpkin slices (the way it’s sold in Istanbul), do the same as above. You will just place the slices on the baking tray flash side up.
DIRECTIONS, STEP BY STEP
1) Preheat the oven to 325 F (160 C).
2) Grease or line a muffin tin.
3) In one bowl, beat together all the wet ingredients.
4) In a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients.
5) Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet and mix just until incorporated.
6) Bake for 15-20 minutes. They should be puffy but still shiny (slightly wet looking) on top.
7) Let them cool for 5 minutes in the pan before turning them out.