Yesterday, after dropping the big kids at school, my youngest child and I were walking home beneath a churning gray sky through sidewalks and lawns thick with leaves. Over and over again, he pulled lovely little leaf bodies from beneath our feet and said, “Can I save dis one to take to school on Monday?”
Me: If you want to take a school to leaf on Monday, you should choose it on Monday morning because the one you’re holding will have shriveled up and turned to dust by then.
Him: What about dis one?
Me: That one, too.
Him: What about dis one?
Me: That one, too.
And then, fat red lip thrust forward, he said: But that makes me sad!
So, being the wise, worldly woman I am, I began a rambling discourse about how we need the leaves to disintegrate quickly because otherwise we’d be overwhelmed by them and furthermore, their deteriorating selves feed the earth with the lifestuff it needs to regenerate in the spring and, well, you can imagine the rest. He may or may not have had any clue what I was talking about, but I went on, just to be sure I had sagely laid to rest the annual crisis of autumn.
Later, I reported to my husband that we’d had a Gerald-Manley-Hopkins moment. (Quite possibly, I am the first person ever to compose that exact sentence.) Do you know the poem “Spring and Fall“? It’s sweetly sad in that 19th-century way, a meditation on the seasons and on death and on grief. I once doubted that its subtitle “To a Young Child” was realistic: After all, what young child mourns the loss of the leaves in the fall? Our young child, of course.
I ought to have known that we would produce a child inclined to such contemplation and melancholy. We are autumn people. Married eleven years (as of yesterday), we have wallowed in the falls of every one. That is one reason we love pumpkin so much: Cinnamon and clove proffer nostalgia, coating the tongue with the tenderest kind of sadness, the kind that looks always backward and forward all at once.
Before I drift any further into a self-indulgent exploration of time’s passage, I’ll cut to the chase. I have another pumpkin recipe to share here. My last post was a twofer, the heart of it dedicated to Powerfully Pumpkin Bread and a post-it note addendum for Pumpkin Creme Brulee at the bottom. This one will (eventually) be about individual pumpkin cheesecakes, ideal for feeding your own hunky husband, if you happen to have an autumnal anniversary… or a little bit of canned pumpkin left over from your batch of pumpkin bread…or just a craving for something yummy on a Saturday night. But, before I show you how to do that, let me show you all the pumpkin shenanigans from our house this morning. If these photos don’t demonstrate why the passage of each autumn is something worth grieving, then I don’t know what would. (Yes, we somehow managed not to carve our pumpkins until the day of Halloween!)
I heard a rumor that not everyone carves pumpkins shirtless, but my crew all goes into the guts up to their elbows. Plus, there’s a certain amount of shrapnel that’s inevitable in the carving process. Thus, they shed their shirts:
But it turned out alright. Here they all are, trying to look like the jack-o-lanterns they designed:
And, pumpkins successfully carved and lit up, here they are preparing to trick-or-treat. (In fact, as I write this, they are still prowling the neighborhood!) They are dressed as the characters from How To Train Your Dragon.
The fact that by next year they will be not quite the same selves–that’s the stuff of Gerald Manley Hopkins right there.
Now, the recipe. If it sounds familiar, that means you’ve been paying attention. It’s just the latest iteration of my date-night individual cheesecakes. This one is like a crustless, creamier pumpkin pie. You could certainly give it a crust (the one from this post–my original individual cheesecakes–would work great), but I didn’t want the fuss this week.
Individual Pumpkin Cheesecakes
4 ounces of room temperature cream cheese
3 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons canned pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon good-quality pumpkin pie spice
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Beat the holy heck out of your cream cheese and sugar, in a stand mixer if you have one handy. I just let mine rip for a while and scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically. Ideally, your sugar will almost dissolve in the cream cheese and the combo will form a fluffy, smooth paste.
- Add the egg and egg yolk. And let it rip again.
4. When the eggs are all perfectly incorporated, add the pumpkin, sour cream (use the super-thick stuff), and the pumpkin pie spice.
Beat it again until it’s totally smooth.
5. Put a kettle of water on to boil. Then pour your batter into two ramekins. (Because I’m not using a crust for this cheesecake, all of my batter will fit into two 7-oz. ramekins.)
6. When your water boils, pour a couple of inches of it into the bottom of a loaf pan and then, gently, ease your ramekins down into the water.
7. Carefully transfer your pan to the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Then turn off the oven and leave the pan in the hot-but-cooling oven for another 30 minutes or so. When you remove the pan, the cheesecakes should still have some jiggle in them.
8. Cool on the countertop and then cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or even a couple of days (as though you can stand it that long).
We ate ours last night, which means they are now, sadly, just as vanished as all of the autumns that preceded this one and as all of Friday morning’s lost leaves, now crumbled beneath trick-or-treating feet. And all of those little losses are worth a little bit of grief.