Samhain: Pumpkin Stew

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There are only five more days until my favorite holiday of the year, Halloween, and I’ve been giddy with anticipation over the one holiday where adults can still play dress-up. I don’t really know why I love Halloween as much as I do, especially since as a kid I was forbidden from trick-or-treating with friends, and I hardly ever dressed in costume or did anything remarkable. I think my love for Halloween started when I went through a teen goth stage and realized that Halloween truly was MY time to shine. It was the one time of year where my clothes and hairstyle choices made sense, and it was also the best time to take advantage of post-Halloween discounts on fishnet stockings and fake eyelashes. This year, my Halloween will consist of me, my dog, and a big pile of candy – but I’m looking forward to it nevertheless.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about Halloween’s roots. As most of you already know, Halloween began as a Catholic holiday on November 1st called All Saint’s Day, which was a day to commemorate the deceased. However, it’s believed that the date for All Saint’s Day  was chosen to replace the ancient Gaelic holiday Samhain (not the deathrock band). Samhain was a festival that marked the beginning of winter, when cattle were brought down from summer pasture and preparations were made for the darker half of the year. Because life was hard in ancient Ireland, they took precautions to make sure that everyone, including their livestock, would make it through the harsh winter. They made bonfires, left offerings, and disguised themselves from the Aos Si, who were supernatural beings from the spirit world. According to Irish mythology, the gates to the Otherworld were wide open during Samhain, and both supernatural beings and the souls of the dead would visit the living. Supposedly, the tradition of dressing up in costumes and going trick-or-treating began with the ancient traditions of Samhain.

There has been a recent revival of the observance of Samhain as the holiday has become popular among Pagans and Wiccans. In the Neo-Pagan tradition, Samhain is a day to honor our ancestors, think about the cycle of life and death, reflect on the past year and things we would like to change, and celebrate the spiritual new year. I personally am neither Pagan nor Wiccan, but I like the idea of a special day to remember deceased loved ones and prepare oneself for a better year ahead.

In celebration of Samhain, Halloween, and the changing of the seasons, I made a savory pumpkin stew with spicy sausage, sweet potatoes, and chard. Whether you’re taking the kids trick-or-treating, hitting the clubs with your friends, or staying in with your cat, this stew will fill your belly and warm your bones.

Pumpkin Stew (Yield: 7 servings)

Ingredients:

1 small sugar pumpkin
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1.5 pounds pork sausage, casing removed
2 medium carrots, cut into rounds
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 bunches Swiss chard, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons butter
7 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Cut open the pumpkin and clean the insides as you would before making a jack o’ lantern. Remove all seeds and fibrous parts, then cut into quarters. Brush with oil and bake face down on a baking sheet for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. When pumpkin is browned, remove skin and puree the pumpkin.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a large soup pot on medium heat and brown the sausage, breaking it up as you go. Remove the cooked sausage from pot and set aside.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and add the garlic, onion, and celery. Cook until onions are translucent, then add the nutmeg, sage, salt, and pepper (I usually add 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of pepper). Sauté for 1 minute.
  4.  Add the sausage, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, chicken broth, and pumpkin puree. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and let simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are soft. Add chard and cook until wilted, around 5 minutes.
  5. Serve with rice or a side of bread and enjoy.

    * If you’d like to serve the stew in a pumpkin for dramatic effect, cut and clean a large jack o’ lantern pumpkin, removing as much of the seeds and fibrous bits as you can. Cook the pumpkin on the lower rack of the oven for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the inside is dry. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Scoop stew into the pumpkin and enjoy.

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