Head out any glorious autumn afternoon in search for a pick your own apple farm, you would think you’d find one, especially in rural Ontario. What we thought was going to be a pleasant Sunday drive in the country, enjoying the fresh air, changing leaves and early harvest ended up so much better. Many of the long driveways were Mennonite background were blocked for a well deserved day off, giving way to one and only entry. Welcoming and dressed for the season with flags waving, we couldn’t help but signal and turn. Pumpkins were offered in lieu of the apples, but deep down we really only wanted the fresh air and the farm life, so we happily ventured on. Along the long and dusty road to the farm house exposed us to our first true breath of fall. Quaint and orange, the way in was dotted with pumpkins, which were soon to be baptized “Jack”, fallen apples, the warm streaming sun, a little pond and a sea of pumpkins.
Nauman’s Farm is located just outside of Waterloo, Ontario. Only minutes away from the infamous St. Jacob’s farmers’ market there. My knowledgeable hosts Anne and Hugh had been busy throughout the summer, preparing to make my day. Beyond the brightness of the orange hillside, the Nauman family had an impressive display of close to twenty varieties of heirloom pumpkins. My lack of emotion about pumpkins was about to change. At the top of the hill, up by the barn, was one of the most incredible and elaborate arrangements of gourds I’ve seen. There was an amazing array of color, giving me the feeling of being on a shoot for a Martha Stewart spread.
The first to catch my eye, of course, was the Rouge Vif D’Etamps. Directly translated, this “vivid red” heirloom was first introduced in America in 1883 and tremendously popular in Paris’ Grande Market. Touted for it’s sweet, smooth interior, the Rouge Vif is perfect for pies… and princess coaches. Research into my lovely treasures, found that it was the Rouge Vif which was used as the illustrator’s model for Cinderella’s 12am ride; now that’s one snazzy pumpkin.
Along the rows of market styled, wooden bins were my next few finds. I found various shades and contours of blue varieties; Grey Ghost, Hubbard and the Jarrahdale. Blue grey in colour, the Jarrahdale is picturesque with it’s deep ribs and warty texture. This Aussie native stores well and with it’s nice texture, mild flavour and slight sweetness, it will cook or bake up into just about anything spectacular.
The frog prince of them all is another French heirloom. The Galeux d’Eysines is a brilliant specimen for any vegetable, let alone the humble and often overlooked pumpkin. Aptly named “The Pebbles of Eysines”, the coral coloured heirloom gains recognition by it’s warty like pebbled skin, which is a sign of it’s ripeness. Warts and all, this pumpkin is certainly made into a conversation piece on it’s own even before preparing it into just about the best soup this side of the Atlantic.
The one heirloom which had me throwing my hands together like a little school girl was the Marina Di Chioggia. Not typically being on the rah rah side of the pumpkin fence, The Marina Di Chioggia is the pumpkin which looks least like one. Appearing more like a squash with it’s hard green exterior and off – spherical shape this treasure hails from Venice. Read up about it anywhere and you will see that it’s the queen of pumpkins. Aptly nicknamed “Deliziosa”, it’s velvet interior with a perfect moisture content makes for perfect pies, cakes, soup and of course, gnocchi.
GALEUX D’ EYSINES PUMPKIN + FENNEL SOUP
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Shallot, minced
1 Leek, white + light green parts only
2 Cloves Garlic
1/2 Fennel Bulb
1 Macintosh Apple
1/3 Cup White Wine
8 Cups Vegetable Stock or water
1 Tablespoon Fleur de Sel
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon Fresh Rosemary, 1 sprig finely minced
1/2 teaspoon Thyme
1 Dry, Red Chili
1 Galeux D’Eysines Pumpkin, about 5 – 6 Pounds whole
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Section and seed the pumpkin. Reserve seeds for roasting or trying to grow your own.
Peel half of the pumpkin, cute into cubes and reserve. Cut the other half into 2″ wedges.
Line a baking dish with parchment and lay the pumpkin wedges in an even layer. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until tender.
In a large stockpot, heat the oil and add the shallots and diced leeks.
Once they have softened add the garlic.
Half the fennel and reserve the fronds for garnish, if desired. Dice and add to the garlic, shallots and leeks.
Add the wine and allow it to cook down and soften the fennel, 2 – 3 minutes.
While the fennel begins to soften, peel and slice the apple.
Add the apple, rosemary, salt, thyme, chili and reserved, cubed pumpkin.
Cover with stock and bring to a simmer.
Cook until the pumpkin is very soft.
Remove the skins from the roasted pumkin and add to the soup along with freshly cracked pepper to taste.
Purée with a food processor or immersion blender.
Strain soup through a mesh sieve.
Adjust seasoning to taste.