Autumn is here! I love this time of year. The leaves are changing, the air is crisp, Sukkot and Thanksgiving are fast approaching. It is most definitely my favorite season… in part, because of pumpkins! I can’t help smiling when I go to the grocery store and see gorgeous orange pumpkins piled high in the produce section. It’s the symbol of the season.
The pumpkin originated in Central America over 7,500 years ago and made its way throughout North America before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Native Americans cultivated pumpkins and prized them as a food source; because of their thick and solid flesh, they could easily be stored throughout the winter. Like other forms of squash, pumpkins are easy to grow. They became a favorite with immigrants to the New World, particularly in New England. Pumpkins were prized for their versatility; they were cooked into pies, stews, tarts, soups, and puddings. The flesh could be boiled or roasted, fried or mashed. Pumpkin seeds were dried and salted as a nutritious snack food. In the early 1800’s, decorative pumpkins called jack-o’-lanterns were carved to celebrate the autumn harvest season. In 1819, Washington Irving featured a jack-o’-lantern in his short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as the “head” of his Headless Horseman character, which likely led to the jack-o’-lantern’s association with the Halloween holiday. In the mid 1800’s, it became stylish to serve pumpkin pies for the Thanksgiving holiday, a trend that continues to this day. As you can see, pumpkins play a large role in American food history.
I love cooking and baking with pumpkin; the flavor is subtly warm and delicious. Pureed pumpkin adds gorgeous color and moisture to baked goods, and a special essence that just feels like fall. When combined with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves, pumpkin takes on a magical quality.
Case in point, my Pumpkin Spice Cake (or quick bread, if you want to call it that). This delicious loaf cake is one of my favorite harvest-style desserts. When you bake it, your house will smell like autumn. It’s soft, moist, sweet, and delicious. Try topping a warm slice of cake with salted butter for a sweet and salty treat. Serve it with a steaming hot cup of your favorite tea or coffee. Heaven!
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- 1/2 cup raisins
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ginger
- Pinch of ground cloves
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let the raisins plump in the hot water while you create the cake batter.
- Use an electric mixer to mix together sugar, brown sugar, vegetable oil and eggs till smooth. Add pumpkin puree and vanilla. Mix again till blended.
- In a separate mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.
- Pour liquid ingredients into dry. Mix together till blended. Do not overmix.
- Drain the raisins and pat dry with a paper towel. Fold the raisins and chopped walnuts into the batter.
- Grease a medium loaf pan. Pour batter into the pan.
- Bake cake at 325 degrees F for about 1 hour, until the edges brown and a toothpick inserted into the thickest section of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes.
- Gently release the cake from the pan and place on a wire cooling rack.
- Allow to cool completely before slicing.