Squashed by Joan Bauer
1996, Orion Children’s Books
A Time to Keep by Tasha Tudor
1977, Rand McNally & Company
Happy Autumn! I’m sorry it’s been such a long time since my last post! I recently got a new job which is keeping me terribly busy and tired. Too tired to really enjoy many of the delights of my favorite time of year. But just because I can’t do everything I want to this Fall, it doesn’t mean I can’t do the most important things.
Undoubtably my most reread book of all time is Squashed by Joan Bauer. I read it every October. This is obviously a book for somewhat older children and teens. It deals with a lot of the issues of young adulthood, but in a very lighthearted and humorous way. The protagonist is Ellie Morgan, a 16-year-old girl in a small town in Iowa, whose dream is to grow a giant pumpkin big enough to win first prize at her local fair. Along the way she has to deal with a father who doesn’t understand her ambition, her struggle with her weight, the death of her mother, pumpkin thieves, and competition with her rival giant pumpkin grower, the “deeply despicable” Cyril Pool. It’s nice to have a well-written female protagonist with such a specific and unusual passion as pumpkin growing.
The novel begins in August, with forty-six days to go until the annual Rock River Pumpkin Weigh-In and Harvest Fair. I’m not sure how accurate the descriptions of giant pumpkin growing are (do people really feed their squash buttermilk?), but the writing is incredibly engaging and funny, particularly when Ellie is talking about her pumpkin, Max:
Noble Max, whose ancestors sustained the Pilgrims through their first winter in America.
That first winter must have been a bust, and you can bet the pumpkins weren’t appreciated right off. Vegetables never are. The Pilgrim children were probably crabbing by December (‘Oh no, pumpkin again!’), never realizing a pumpkin had all those disease-fighting nutrients and was a key dietary staple since it was too big to be lugged off the settlement by wild, rabid bears. It just goes to show you that even ancient people couldn’t appreciate something right under their noses, which is probably why the Pilgrims went extinct. There’s a lesson here for all of us, especially my father.
Ellie is also a great cook, and there are lots of descriptions of food to choose from: Irish soda bread slathered in plum preserves, butter pecan seven-layer cake, baking powder cheese biscuits, split pea soup with sausage, and sautéed cinnamon apples.
However, since this last weekend was our local Apple Day, I’ve got a big thermos full of fresh apple cider to use up: the ultimate October treat. Cider is always a sensitive subject for me, since here in the UK you cannot find cider in the American sense. “Cider” is alcoholic cider. They have imported the Pumpkin Spice Latte, but not the Caramel Apple Spice…and I don’t like coffee! Misery!
The good news is that if you can get yourself to an Apple Day there will no doubt be someone with an apple press squeezing out delicious, unpasteurized, unfiltered apple cider. I usually wait a day for it to ferment just a little, and then it’s time to enjoy it — hot, cold, mulled.
Spices to taste: cloves, nutmeg, allspice, star anise, ginger, cardamom
1/2 cup extra-thick or whipped cream (optional)
2 pints fresh apple cider (or cloudy apple juice if you can’t find it)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup maple syrup
Pour the syrup into a medium hot pan with a dash of water. Add the vanilla. If your spices are whole, crush them slightly with a pestle or something heavy. You can add them to the pan as they are, or put them in a tea ball and then add. Finally, pour in the cider and bring to a simmer. Strain into a jar. If your spices are in a tea ball you can continue to steep them. When cool enough to drink, top with whipped cream if desired.
A Time to Keep‘s October section shows how little the wholesome activity of cider-making has changed: