Updated: Nov 27, 2021
As a service to my readers, food & feast posts will always feature the recipe first, with history, folklore, and cooking tips toward the bottom of the page. For background on this recipe and helpful hints for navigating technique, scroll down! Otherwise, dive right in with the recipe below.
photo by Frances F. Denny
stuffed harvest pumpkin, with sausage, fennel, & wild rice
from "The Feast of the Autumn Equinox", The Witch's Feast
Serves 6-8 guests
Contains meat, may be substituted
Prep time : 1 hour
Cook time : 1 hour
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 celery stalks, sliced
½ yellow onion, sliced
1 fennel bulb, cored and diced
1lb smoked sausage, sliced into ¼in rounds (you may use veggie sausage if preferred) 1 cup wild rice 450ml (16fl oz/2 cups) chicken stock, or vegetarian alternative
½ cup dried cherries
1 medium pumpkin, top cut off, seeds and pulp removed
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4. In a frying pan (skillet) over a medium–high flame, melt your butter and add your celery and onion to the pan. Sauté until the vegetables are translucent and soft, then add your fennel and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add your sausage to the pan and cook until browning – about 5–8 minutes.
Next, add your wild rice to the pan and cook for 1 minute. Stir in your stock and dried cherries and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring as you do. Transfer this mixture to the pumpkin and set the pumpkin in a casserole dish or pie tin. Bake the pumpkin for 50-60 minutes, or until the rice has fully cooked and the pumpkin itself is tender when pricked with a fork. Keep warm until serving time.
The first time I prepared this dish, it was late April, and we were rushing to photograph as much as we could for The Witch's Feast. Hunting for a whole pumpkin in springtime is no easy feat, and finding one in time for our photoshoot proved a taller order than we were prepared for. At the last second, a single pumpkin materialized to save the day- a godsend so beautiful that she appeared on the cover for the book- but the experience left me meditating on our out-of-season modern diets, and how divorced we have become from the natural cycles of growing and harvest seasons here on Earth.
It's no secret that the seasonal rhythms which dominated the lives and diets of our ancestors have little, if any, hold on us here in the modern world. Fresh strawberries can be sourced in December, ripe citrus in June, while tropical delicacies like pineapple and passionfruit are available year round. The globalization of food trade has made such wonders possible, and even affordable for the average person, such that miracles like these become mundane. Certainly, with access to air conditioning, central heat, and conventional groceries, most Americans have no need to directly experience the change of seasons whatsoever. In fall, we even flock like tourists to go find the season, traveling to the countryside to pick apples and pumpkins, going far out of our everyday routine in an annual ritual of experiencing the autumn. But experienced or not, she comes every year, with her own bounty and certainly her own limitations as well- as each season does. The extreme commodification of nature, and food in particular, over the last 100 years or so has made it easy for humans to reap the bounty of the planet, and lose touch with the beautiful specialization of Earth's cycles and seasons.
There is great beauty and magical potency to be found in following these crucial cycles, but there is also deep wisdom. The living earth is an intelligent being and it provides what is necessary when we need it most. In spring, the return of fresh produce and herbs supplies much-needed vitamins, enzymes and fibre after a season of salt, fat and starch. In summer, fresh fruits and vegetables are cooling and hydrating to the body, helping us to withstand the scorching heat and providing energy for summer’s kinetic pace. At the return of fall, richer foods appear – fatty nuts, starchy vegetables, meats and cheeses, all of which prepare the body for the slow pace and frigid temperatures of the coming season. Here, we also see living ferments return to our diets – pickles, kraut, vinegars and wines, which provide crucial enzymes and probiotics during a season with little fresh food available. Even in deep winter, the earth continues to provide, giving us nutrient-dense vegetables and foods that store easily at low temperatures, like beets, pumpkins, and carrots, ensuring that fall’s harvest will sustain us all winter long. Consuming these foods when they are in season will not only ensure that they are at their most delicious and nutrient-rich, but is also proven to strengthen the immune system and help our bodies navigate the flux of seasons. While seasonal eating has become a trend in recent years, this wisdom is ancient and indigenous, deriving from our ancestors’ deep interrelationship with the land that gave them life.
While the benefits, joys, and challenges of eating seasonally deserve an essay all their own, one of the unexpected effects of choosing to orient my diet within seasonal cycles has been a renewed excitement about food & cooking. When ingredients are experienced as liminal and fleeting, they arrive as little treasures- moments that must be seized if we are to experience them at all. If you know me personally, you've seen me in childlike excitement during fig and cherry seasons, feasting on pounds of the fruit while they are abundant and at their richest, and never reaching for them when their annual moment passes.
As culinary expressions of these liminal seasons, this dish captures autumn quite neatly. This stuffed pumpkin features a fully in-season palette of roast veg, preserved spring cherries, and a healthy serving of protein. With the abundance of summer produce on the wane in autumn, meat will traditionally feature more prominently as the temperature drops, though this recipe has been edited to accommodate vegetarian and vegan adjustments. Worth noting- I used the Lundberg Wild Rice Blend for this recipe, and found that other wild rice blends took more or less time to cook, depending upon how they're blended. If you find that yours is still underdone after 50 minutes in the oven, add more hot stock and return for an addition 15-20 minutes. Otherwise, this recipe should be an effortless centerpiece for all of your fall feasts, a perfect emblem of the reason, worthy of treasuring deeply.