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What do you serve at a pumpkin party? Pumpkin, pumpkin and more pumpkin

October 8, 2009 |  6:37 am
Lynn Jay and her daughter Sarah Johnson really like pumpkin. They really, really like pumpkin.

The mother-daughter duo hosted the First Annual Pumpkin Dinner on Saturday night at Sarah's home in Saugus. The entire menu revolved around pumpkin. This night was a few years in the making. It started with a book called -- oddly enough -- "Pumpkin" by author Joanna Farrow. Sarah and her mother rifled through the book together one day and came up with the idea for a pumpkin party. And for the last several months they've enjoyed toying with menu ideas, decor, beverage ideas, and guest lists.

If this sounds excessive, know that Lynn and Sarah are dedicated foodies. I met Lynn earlier this year when Sarah wrote to the L.A. Times to tell us about her parents' monthly dinner club. When I interviewed Lynn and her husband, David, as well as their dinner club friends, I had trouble staying on point. Every conversation, it seemed, would tumble into all sorts of food talk with memories of past great meals, food magazine articles to read, gread food books, restaurant suggestions....It was all great fun.

I'd almost forgotten about Lynn's pumpkin plan -- we discussed it back in March and she told me to set Oct. 3 aside, which goes to show you how long this has been in the works -- when the invite arrived.

It was written on a pumpkin card, of course.

In all, 31 people showed up Saturday night for pumpkin-alooza, and there was no missing the house. The bale of hay, adorned with a trio of pumpkins, gave it away. The menu was, as expected, all about pumpkin.

The starters were roasted prosciutto-wrapped pumpkin slices drizzled with a soy marinade, pumpkin-and-kidney bean cakes topped with a spicy guacamole and drizzled with a sweet-and-spicy chili-spiked sauce, and a spinach, ricotta and pumpkin tart. The main course was a lamb-and-pumpkin stew served over cous cous with pumpkin-bacon muffins.

It was at this point in the meal that some folks at my table began marveling that pumpkin, well, pumpkin doesn't really taste like much. It's all the stuff that goes around, over and through pumpkin that gives it its flavor (it's like tofu, in that respect) but that makes pumpking a perfect palette for playing.

After dinner, Lynn and Sarah served a palate cleanser. It was a lightly spiced pumpkin sorbet, and people noted that this was the most pumpkin-y dish yet. While all the other dishes placed pumpkin in an accent role -- or at least gave it co-billing, pumpkin was the star of this dish. It was the perfect segue to dessert.

You might have expected pumpkin pie.

Only that would be too obvious.

Dessert was a pumpkin cake drizzled with a syrup -- it was kind of like a super-moist corn cake dessert -- and aborio rice pudding with caramelized pumpkin slices. (I could have eaten a bowl of those caramelized pumpkin slices.)

Lynn and Sarah had great fun planning and executing the menu together. But cooking for 31 was a bit much.

"At one point, we just looked at each other and said 'What are we doing??? Are we crazy??'" Sarah recalled.

So, at the end of the night, Lynn called everyone to gather around to discuss plans for future pumpkin dinners. Put it on your calendars, Lynn said: Pumpkin parties will forever more be held on the first Saturday of October. And instead of a regular sit-down meal, future pumpkin parties would be all-finger-food affairs.

But there was more. In Lynn's hand was a pumpkin-colored bowl. Inside the bowl were little slips of paper. Each one said "starter/appetizer" or "dessert" or "beer and wine." The bowl was passed about as Lynn explained to puzzled guests:

Next year, Lynn announced, dinner will again be held at Sarah's house. But "you all will be doing the cooking."

--Rene Lynch




 Photo credit: Rene Lynch