In Praise of Pumpkin
- Tuesday, November 20, 2012
The heating system in my house is currently out of commission, something I discovered during a recent cold snap. The repairman will be out eventually; until then the cats and I are huddling together for warmth. Granted, I live in Texas so our version of cold is hardly life-threatening, but as I was pondering ways to stay warm, it occurred to me that turning on my oven would help heat up the main part of the house. And as long as the oven was going to be on, I might as well bake something, right?
Besides, it’s pumpkin bread season. Everyone knows that.
Set out a plate of this homemade goodness at the office and you’ll score points with your coworkers. Take a wrapped loaf to a party or dinner as a host/hostess gift and you’ll likely be invited back. Make a batch of mini loaves, wrap them in holiday plastic wrap, and boom: Christmas gifts accomplished. It’s really easy to make, doesn’t cost much, and pumpkin goodies are almost universally popular, at least in these United States. And so it has ever been on these shores, long before there were states, united or otherwise.
Pumpkins were an established part of Native Americans’ diet before the Pilgrims showed up, but once the Europeans got a taste of this yummy squash they fell for it. Hard. They went so far as to write what might be considered love poems to pumpkin:
“For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon."
Pilgrim verse, circa 1633
That’s hard core. I’m mighty fond of Tex-mex myself, but I’ve never written an ode to tortillas. Those early Americans, though, they were serious about their squash. One Thanksgiving, the story goes, the ship containing some vital ingredient was delayed, so they put the feast on hold rather than go without their beloved pumpkin pie. Their pie, by the way, was not at all like the pies we see today, but more of a custard baked in the pumpkin shell; no crust was involved. (If you’d like to try it, you’ll find a recipe at the end of this article.)
At least the pumpkin obsession was for something healthy: Pumpkin is a source of antioxidants, protein, iron, the B vitamins, and vitamin A (that orange color comes from beta-carotene, same as carrots). It’s low-calorie, low-fat, low-sodium, and high in fiber. Impressive, isn’t it? The pilgrims apparently dined on pumpkin for almost every meal, and look how much they accomplished. Maybe we should all eat more pumpkin.
Now that we’ve established the health benefits of pumpkin, are you ready to do a little baking? Pumpkin comes in cans or in, well, pumpkins, but don’t think you can use your jack-o-lantern pumpkin for eating. They’re bred for size and strength, not flavor. If baking isn’t your style, you could just munch on the new-for-the-holiday Pumpkin Pie Spice Pringles®. I’d offer a review of this, um, treat but my curiosity just wasn’t strong enough to overcome the idea of a pumpkin-flavored potato chip. If you’re brave enough to try them, please share your experience with the rest of us.
Meanwhile, I’ll be in the kitchen keeping warm by an oven full of pumpkin bread. My recipe follows, but a quick search for “pumpkin bread” came up with roughly 47 million hits so if it doesn’t tickle your taste buds, there are plenty more to try. While your goodies are in the oven, I recommend the vastly entertaining web site All About Pumpkins for more facts and amusing tidbits about all things pumpkin. (Many thanks to them for the pilgrim poem.) Happy baking!
This recipe conveniently makes two loaves so you can give one away and still have one all to yourself.
3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1 1-lb can pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling, just pumpkin)
2/3 cup water
3 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves
1 cup chopped nuts (optional; I rarely include them but when I do I prefer pecans)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream sugar and oil together. Add eggs and pumpkin; mix well. Sift together dry ingredients (if you don’t own a sifter, just stir dry ingredients with a whisk, it works just as well). Alternate adding dry ingredients and water to pumpkin. The result will be pretty mushy; don’t panic, this is normal.
Pour into two well-greased 9” x 5” loaf pans. Bake for 1 ½ hours or until toothpick inserted into middle of loaf comes out clean. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes then remove from pan and cool completely.
Pumpkin bread is good plain, better with butter, to die for with spreadable cream cheese slathered over it. I’ve heard some people throw in a couple of handfuls of chocolate chips to the batter before baking…that certainly couldn’t hurt.
Pie in a Pumpkin
Not only was this a staple of early Thanksgiving dinners, rumor has it this was also one of George Washington’s favorite dishes.
1 5-7 pound pumpkin ½ teaspoon nutmeg
6 eggs 1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups whipping cream ¼ teaspoon ginger
½ cup brown sugar 1 Tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons butter
Cut the lid of the pumpkin (as if making a jack-o-lantern.) Save lid. Clean out fibers and seeds. Mix together all ingredients except butter; pour into pumpkin. Do not fill to the top—the custard will expand while baking. Top mixture with butter. Cover with pumpkin lid, using wooden toothpicks to keep it from falling into custard as it bakes. Bake at 3500 for 1-1 ½ hours, or until mixture inside pumpkin has set like custard. If mixture has not set after 1 hour, try removing the lid for the last 30 minutes of baking.
Serve from the pumpkin, scraping some meat from the pumpkin sides with each serving. Serves 8.
Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends. She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life. Read Susan's blog at TastingGod.wordpress.com.
Publication date: November 20, 2012
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