A sexy French cookbook with a good pumpkin recipe

The first Rouge Vif D'Etampes pumpkin we harvested.

G. and I are growing Rouge Vif D’ Etampes pumpkins that, according to the seed catalog, were “the most common pumpkin in the Central Market in Paris back in the 1880’s.” The pumpkins are red and disc-shaped. Most are relatively small, but one is at least twice the weight of 16-pound Biggie B.

I decided we needed to grow pumpkins after G. gave me The Silver Spoon for Christmas. A review in The Week had assured us it was the bible of Italian cooking. Several recipes called for chunks of raw pumpkin, which I thought would be nearly impossible to find in a supermarket. I also wasn’t sure how well the ones grown for ornamental use would taste.

So, over a few mild objections from G., who was worried about how much space they would take up, I planted the red French pumpkins. As it turns out, they took up a huge amount of space and overran nearly everything around them. Next year, we’ll give them more room.

In the meantime, we’ve been trying pumpkin recipes. The first one, from The Silver Spoon, was penne con la zucca, or penne with pumpkin. It involves sautéing the pumpkin with bacon until it forms a kind of mash. G. loved it. I and my friend S., who was unlucky enough to come to dinner that night, did not.

The next one up was gomiti con zucca e radicchio, or elbow macaroni with pumpkin and radicchio. My mom and I made it while I was visiting her in North Carolina. It was decent, but the radicchio overpowered the pumpkin.

Then I got a hold of Simone Beck’s Food & Friends. Beck is the Frenchwoman who co-wrote Mastering The Art of French Cooking with Julia Child. It contains a recipe for beef stew with pumpkin, or aiguillette de boeuf au potiron. Mom and I made that, and it was delicious. The stew contains cabbage, but that didn’t overpower the dish the way the radicchio had. The pumpkin tasted light, like a nice squash with a hint of melon. There was nothing in it to remind you of pumpkin bread, which a co-worker told me today was the only thing he could imagine making with pumpkin.

“Food & Friends” also contains Beck’s memoirs, which gave my mom a thrill. There’s a passage in which she talks about the death of sex with her first husband:

“Looking back, I realize those ten years I spent with Jacques were dreary and fruitless but not desperately unhappy. After a couple of years, medical tests indicated that Jacques was sterile, and he finally gave up on bedroom advances. We arrived at a totally platonic relationship, a great relief to me.”

“Look at that!” my mom exclaimed, pointing out the passage. “Leave it to the French!”

I found this ironic since I learned about sex from my mom’s books. She was a reading teacher, and instead of having the chat with me, she gave me an age-appropriate book and told me to read it and let her know if I had any questions.

I didn’t because the book wasn’t difficult to read. However, there was a gap in the story. In it, a couple who love each other get married and go to bed and kiss each other good night. The narrative then jumps to sperm swimming up the woman’s Fallopian tube. I thought if you had a marriage certificate and kissed, that created the sperm, which swam up the tube and produced a baby nine months later.

Luckily, my mother had other books, which she allowed to me read as long as I skipped the pages she had paper-clipped together. I read those when she was out of the house. They included some fairly graphic descriptions of the act that corrected my misconceptions. Thank you, Lord, for giving me reading comprehension skills greater than my elementary grade level.

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