Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook 

We're just rolling through the fall harvest season and bumping smack dab into Halloween while getting fired up by Homestead Gardens Fall Festival. The pumpkins, squash and sweet potatoes are ripe and sweet from their time sleeping in the warm soil so use them to full advantage for every course. I've seen lots of recipes recently for breakfast from the farm highlighting pumpkin pancakes-more on that later. However, this is a feast for dinner with acorn squash serving as the vessel for rich hearty beef stew, rustic bread and yummy pumpkin cupcakes topped with cream cheese and local butter frosting complete with edible spiders!


Old Fashioned Beef Stew Baked in Squash

Serves 12

A rich beef stew is comforting when the weather takes on a bit of chill and baking it in an acorn squash or small pumpkin makes it extra special for Halloween. It’s a large enough recipe fit for a party. Make sure to serve crusty country bread to sop up juices.

  •  3 pounds boneless chuck roast, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 yellow onions, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut in eighths
  • fresh chopped parsley for garnish
  • 12 small acorn squash, top cut off, seeds and strings removed

Heat a large heavy pot (with a lid) on medium-high heat and add the vegetable oil. When hot, add the beef in batches, and brown very well. Add the salt and pepper as the beef browns. Remove the beef with a slotted spoon; set aside. In the same pot, add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes, until softened.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add the flour; cook for 2 minutes stirring often. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add wine and deglaze the pan, scraping any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. The broth will  thicken as it comes to a simmer.

Simmer wine for 5 minutes, and then add the broth, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and return the beef to the pot. Bring back to a gentle boil, cover and cook on very low for about 45 minutes. Add potatoes, carrots, and celery to the pot, stir and cook another 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Place the acorn squash on a rimmed baking sheet. Ladle the hot stew into each acorn squash. Place in the oven and bake 45 minutes or until the squash is tender but not collapsing.

Remove from the oven; let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with the fresh parsley and serve.

Spooky Spider Pumpkin Cupcakes

Makes 30 regular size cupcakes

This is a great old Maine recipe, moist because of the oil and spicy from the ginger which marries beautifully with the pumpkin. The spiders take a bit of time but are well worth it to get you into Halloween silliness. The kids should love to help! If you can't find the licorice strings use the licorice "Twizzlers" as I did; cut them into thin short pieces which actually look more like a spider's leg.

Note: You may have frosting left over (if it's not gobbled up) which can be frozen for another use.


  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger


  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 3-4 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla


  • Black licorice strings (if you can find)
  • Caramel swirls for the spider body

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour three 7x3 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water, vanilla and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into cupcake tin lined with cupcake papers.

Bake for about 17-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool while making the frosting.

In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, combine the cream cheese and butter. Sift in the confectioners sugar and then add vanilla.

To Assemble

While the frosting is room temperature, you can actually dip and swirl the cupcakes directly in the frosting. Dab on more to make it thick.

Have the licorice strings cut into 8 very thin strips, per cupcake, for the spider legs. Place each set of four legs around the center of the cupcake. Add the caramel in the center and sitting a bit above the frosting so it looks like it’s elevated. Continue with all cupcakes. May be refrigerated at this point or served.


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