By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Mush ado about breakfast

At 20 minutes to 5, it’s darkening outside already. Our yard is six inches deep in golden leaves beginning to fade to brown. Spiced quince jam on a slice of whole-wheat bread is making a lovely afternoon snack, but I really want to be in the kitchen, chopping potatoes and kale for soup and debating the merits of rosemary flatbread vs. cornbread.

Instead, the evening will be spent on ordinances and votes and various matters of public policy, and I will pay attention dutifully to these important issues and dream of baking pumpkins.

Because — it is time to eat pumpkins! This is happy news. I love pumpkins. In pie, especially, but they’re good in other things, as well: risotto, soup and cornmeal mush, for examples. I like to dice them and put them in home fries, too, with or without chopped cabbage, but preferably with. And definitely with some spicy sausage (Tofurky brand makes some nice vegetarian ones).

Cornmeal is one of this continent’s gifts to the kitchen. Having been out for some months before finally stocking up recently with a locally grown variety in Corvallis, I’m harboring happy dreams of pumpkin cornmeal mush for breakfast, and hot cornbread with honey alongside a simmering pot of chili for supper. And leftover cornbread with butter, for breakfast later.

As delicious as fresh, hot cornbread is, in fact, I make it as much for the leftovers as anything. For a day or two afterward, it’s tempting to live on cold cornbread with butter.

For all of that, however, I am not in the camp of people who make cornbread dressing; having grown up on the yeast bread with onions and sage variety, that will always seem right.

On the other hand, a batch of cornmeal muffins with either dried cranberries or a bit of raspberry jam is a very fine thing.

Getting back to the mush, however: It is, as mentioned, a hot cereal dish, in which pumpkin puree is cooked with cornmeal, in water or milk, with some spice, for breakfast. I like to add raisins and ginger. If you like Thanksgiving themes, like, say, eating cornmeal because it’s native to this continent, it would make a fine Thanksgiving breakfast.

Actually, it would make a fine Thanksgiving breakfast whether you care about themes or not. Pumpkins are nutritious, as is whole grain cornmeal, so it’s also a healthy breakfast if you don’t load it up with sugar. A trickle of molasses or honey, however, or a sliced banana, might be just the thing.

With the pumpkin puree you have left — assuming it didn’t all go into a pumpkin pie — there are all kinds of wonderful things to make. Pumpkin pancakes, to serve with apple butter, for example, or cream of pumpkin soup.

Simple autumn foods, nourishing and delicious, make the most of the harvest season.

Nicole Montesano can be reached at

RECIPE: Pumpkin corn mush

Adapted from Marion Cunningham’s version in “The Breakfast Book.” You can add a little sweetener — honey or molasses — but I love it as is, richly flavored and slightly sour, with the occasional sweet surprise of the raisins. Serve hot, with creamy soy milk. Serves 2.

1/2 cup pureed pumpkin

1/3 cup of medium-grind cornmeal

1 1/3 cups water

1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

Dash of cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup raisins

Put the water, salt, pumpkin and raisins in a pot and bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornmeal, ginger and cinnamon, turn the heat very low, cover pot and simmer 20-30 minutes, if possible, stirring well occasionally.

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