Monday, 2 July 2012

Dear Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862),

I have a fascination with witty epitaphs. Personal favourites include Winston Churchill’s (“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter”) and Rodney Dangerfield’s (“There goes the neighbourhood”).*

An offshoot of this fascination is an interest in famous last (or nearly last) words. Writers are fantastic for this. Your own nearly-last words, Mr. Thoreau, were brilliant. When asked, on your deathbed, if you had made your peace with God, you replied: “I did not know we had ever quarrelled.” 

And why would any god want to quarrel with you? You were an abstemious, earth-loving, preservationist thinker far before any of that was fashionable. Your basic philosophy was to live off the land without exploiting the land. Your book “Walden” is a how-to guide for lone wolves who want to give up the luxuries that act as “hindrances to the elevation of mankind”. In other words: you paved the way for the kind of anti-wealth and environmentalist thinking that has reached an apex in the Occupy movements and climate change discourse. 

Those readers who are thinking hurry up, get to the food! are probably worried, at this point, that a recipe inspired by simple living is going to consist of boiled tree bark and fire-roasted grubs. Relax. The last time I boiled tree bark, it was cinnamon, and I was making ice-cream. There will be no Survivor-esque recipes on this blog, ever. 

Thank goodness, Mr. Thoreau, that you wrote of food metaphorically as well as literally (since literally, you talked an awful lot about growing beans). 

I’m quite enamoured, for instance, of this little gem:
“I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

Indeed. I’m sure this means something quite deep about the merits of the natural world over the hollow pleasures afforded by participation in the rat race. However I take it much more simply. My literary scholars’ interpretation of this quote is more or less: oooooo, pumpkin! And since we’re in the heart of a deep and frosty winter, my next thought is: oooooo, soup! And then, for the sake of circularity, my brain goes: oooooo, pumpkin soup in a pumpkin!

A pumpkin lid, ready to lift off the pumpkin 'bowl.'
And so Mr. Thoreau, somewhat indirectly, your treatise on simple living has inspired simple food, trounced up for the blogosphere with pretty presentation. I might have more appropriately served my soup out of a hollowed-out badger’s skull, but allow me my rat racey perks.

*When I kick the bucket, I want my entire doctoral thesis engraved on my tombstone; partly to validate the effort of having written one, and partly to mess with the engraver.

 Purple Carrot & Pumpkin Soup-in-a-Pumpkin

Serves 2

2 mini pumpkins*
3 purple carrots*
1 tbsp olive oil
Water or stock, to blend
Salt & pepper, to taste
Sour cream and sage leaves, to decorate


Preheat the oven to 200C.

Cut the tops off the pumpkins. The easiest way to do this is to angle your knife so that it’s pointing in towards the centre of the pumpkin, rather than straight down. Thoreau says: don’t lose any fingers, otherwise you won’t be able to harvest next season’s beans. Remove the seeds from the pumpkin, and set aside to roast later if you feel like it. Extract the pumpkin flesh with a melon baller, taking care not to puncture the skin. Leave a 1cm layer of pumpkin in the skin to ensure structural integrity.

Wash and peel the purple carrots and chop into smallish pieces. There is absolutely no reason for the carrots to be purple, other than it makes the soup look cool, so use ordinary orange ones, if you like, or neon blue ones, if you know a good gene splicer. Layer the carrots in a roasting dish with the pumpkin innards and pumpkin shells, and drizzle with olive oil. Roast until tender, about 20 mins. 

When they’re done, load the carrots and pumpkin innards into a blender, and blend to a paste. Add some water or stock, and blend again – repeat this process until the soup reaches your preferred consistency. I used about a cup and a half of liquid. Season with salt & pepper.

Pour soup into the roasted pumpkin shells, garnish with sour cream and sage leaves, and gobble down with plenty of fresh bread.

*For Auckland readers, I found mine at the fruit & vegetable shop in Milford mall.

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