I can always tell when the seasons are changing in our Sofia neighborhood.
In summer it’s all about watermelons. From the moment the weather turns hot, a vendor sets out huge, green pyramids fresh from Bulgaria’s fields. To seal the deal he cuts a few in half, displaying their cool red innards, as if to remind the tough or forgetful customer what’s inside.
Then, one magical day in autumn when the breeze runs cool, all is transformed. Gone are green melons, replaced by – can it be? – white pumpkins.
To a Yankee eye, this is strange indeed. In America there is just one kind of pumpkin: orange. As Halloween approaches we carve them up into Jack O’Lanterns silly or scary, depending on the disposition of the kids. We scoop out the guts; roast the seeds with salt and pepper for a crunchy snack that never seems to reach its full potential; and display what remains on the front porch with a candle inside. If we’re really feeling festive, we buy a few cans of pre-sweetened Libby’s Easy Pumpkin Pie Mix and bake a Halloween treat. (It’s possible that a few Americans make their pies with fresh pumpkin, but I can’t say that I’ve ever met one.)
In Bulgaria, I think you’d be in for some trouble if you carved a pumpkin just for decoration. What a waste! With so many great recipes for cooking pumpkins here, and food getting so expensive for the average resident of cash-starved Eastern Europe, you can hardly blame folks for being practical.
Still – white pumpkins? To me it feels a bit creepy. And the fact that they sprout on the street corners every year just as the days are growing darker, in a land with such a long history of troubled conquest – Romans, Ottomans, Russians, choose your flavor — fires up my imagination in ways that a Bulgarian would probably consider odd.
Perhaps it’s the season; autumn is a spooky time for Americans. But I have decided there’s only one way to refer to these particular gourds.
Mind you, I haven’t seen any of these ghosts float through the air or make scary sounds. Nor have I heard them speaking in the voices of long-dead conquerors. But I’m patient. I don’t mind waiting.
And in the meantime, I’ll be cooking pumpkin. Got any favorite Bulgarian recipes?