For some reason, pumpkins aren't satisfactory until they have toothy smiles, triangle eyes and a burnt patch on the lid.
Pumpkins in America come one of two ways: as jack-o-lanterns or as pies. Their vitamin-rich flesh rarely meets the lips unless it has been spiced and sweetened, virtually beyond recognition.
What lies behind that glowing face, and beneath the ginger, nutmeg and brown sugar, is a low-calorie, vitamin-rich meat. Mild-flavored pumpkin, a winter squash that stores well from one growing season nearly to the next, is underestimated far too often. It's true potential as a vegetable -- as opposed to dessert -- can be realized now that small, sweet, cooking pumpkins are available at roadside markets, grocery stores and gas stations.
It doesn't take miniature marshmallows to make pumpkin a successful side dish. The Russians, whose long, cold winters made winter squashes a staple, provide us with many recipes that rely on pumpkin. From Russian cuisine we learn the possibilities, then change the recipes to fit American tastes for a suitable autumn meal, replete with fried apples and pork chops.
The meal doesn't require running all over town to find the ingredients; a trip through the express lane of the supermarket will suffice, as long as certain staples -- flour, sugar, salt, pepper and butter or oil -- are on the kitchen shelf. EXPRESS LANE LIST: pork chops, apples, cinnamon, pumpkin, onion, bulgur, apricots. MAUREEN'S PUMPKIN (4 to 6 servings) 2 1/4 pounds pumpkin, approximately 3 tablespoons butter 1 medium onion, chopped 1/2 cup bulgur 3/4 cup chopped apricots Salt to taste
Peel the pumpkin. The rind is easily distinguished from the meat -- it's the thin, dark outer layer. Slice it off with a sharp paring knife. Cut the pumpkin into 1-inch chunks and set aside. Melt the butter in a large skillet and add onion. Brown over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add pumpkin, bulgur, apricots and 1 cup of water. Cover and simmer over low heat for 25 minutes. Salt to taste and serve with baked pork chops and fried apples. FRIED APPLES (4 to 6 servings) 3 tablespoons butter 4 to 6 firm, tart cooking apples 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 cup sugar, preferably brown, or to taste Lemon juice to taste, optional
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Peel the apples if desired (this is optional) and slice them into sixths or eighths, scooping out the core. Add them to the skillet with cinnamon, sugar and optional lemon juice. Stir over high heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover the skillet and cook 10 minutes or until the apples are tender. (If you peel the apples, watch them carefully, as they can overcook and turn to applesauce). The skins will turn a neutral color. BAKED PORK CHOPS (4 to 6 servings) 4 to 6 pork chops, each about 3/4-inch thick 3 tablespoons oil, optional Freshly ground pepper Salt to taste
Brown on both sides in oil (browning is an optional step done for the sake of color and a little flavor). Place chops in baking dish and grind a generous amount of pepper over them. It's unnecessary to add liquid. Cover tightly and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove cover, salt to taste and bake another 5 minutes or so, making sure they don't get too dry