Pumpkin Patch

When we first moved to Britain, big round orange Halloween pumpkins were a rarity in the markets. It was quite a shock not seeing those carved grinning, be-fanged, snarling jack o’lanterns everywhere in October. After consulting my Scottish mother-in-law, I was told that in the old days, they used to carve turnips with frightening faces for All Hallow’s Eve. But, let’s face it, a turnip is not the same thing as a pumpkin.

Taking matters into my own hands, I acquired an allotment garden, a community garden on common land north of Oxford. I intended to grow my own pumpkins for the following year. However, I did not foresee the consequences of not owning a wheelbarrow. I suppose, looking back on it, it must have been quite comical seeing a woman with a huge pumpkin in her arms struggle from her little patch of garden across the field inhabited by cows and horses (and all the hazards that entails), juggle the pumpkin in order to unlatch the gate leading out of the field and stagger down the street to her home. At the time I didn’t care how it looked. I had a pumpkin!

Since then, pumpkins – almost by magic – started appearing in the British supermarkets. American Halloween customs, it seems, had crossed the waters and recipes stated appearing featuring the pumpkin. And as if by magic again, those pumpkins virtually disappear from the produce section after October 31st every year. I stock up, making my own purée to freeze for future use in breads and pies.

pumpkin_bread

Pumpkin Bread
I come back to this recipe time and time again, given to me by a friend in graduate school in Pennsylvania. It makes a cake or sweet quick bread that is lightly spiced while allowing the pumpkin flavor to come through. I have also seen similar recipes that call this Pennsylvania Dutch Pumpkin Bread or Cake. Though the recipe makes two loaves, they are so good that they never last long in our house.

Makes 2 loaves

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups pumpkin purée (should not be watery)
  • 2/3 cup light-flavored vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare two loaf pans by cutting out rectangles of baking parchment for the bottom of the pans, lightly oiling them and dusting over with flour.

Place all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl then add the pumpkin and oil. Mix and add the eggs one at a time, making sure you incorporate them into the batter. Mix well.

Divide the batter between the two loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from tins, wrap in foil directly while still warm and store in refrigerator. I know this sounds counterintuitive (instincts say let it cool on a rack), but wrapping the warm pumpkin bread in foil will produce a soft, moist cake.

Making Pumpkin Purée

It is easy, although a little time consuming, to make your own pumpkin purée. I have never used tins of pre-puréed, solid-packed pumpkin which is a good thing because it is not something you generally see on the supermarket shelf here in Britain.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Cut your pumpkin lengthwise in half, scoop out the seeds and the stringy center. Place cut side down in a roasting pan and pour in water to fill the pan 1/2 to the top. Bake until the skin on top begins to brown and the pumpkin is soft. This can take at least an hour or more depending on the size of your pumpkin.

roast_pumpkin

Remove pumpkins from the hot water with a large spatula and drain, cut side down, on a rack. When cooled, scoop out the soft cooked flesh and purée in a food processor. Discard skins. If the mixture is very wet, place in a colander lined with cheesecloth or a clean tea towel to drain over a bowl. Use the purée at this point or freeze. If you’re really being frugal, the orangey liquid drained from the pumpkin purée can be used as a stock or to augment a stock in soups. It’s particularly good with black beans.

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8 comments

  1. It’s fun to read about your similar culture shock experiences to mine. In Canada the main holiday shift for me is that Thanksgiving comes a month early, and isn’t much of a big deal. Have any American Thanksgiving traditions crossed the big pond?

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