Like many young people who swallowed their fairy tales whole, it took me a long time to come to terms with the pumpkin as something to eat. It was a place for Jack Sprat to keep his wife. It was, if you believed Cinderella, an effective substitute for a cab so long as you didn’t stay out too late (a bit like the Brooklyn-bound F train). And its hollow grin lit our steps, like everybody elses’s, once a year, inviting the Headless Horseman to reclaim his cranial property.
The pumpkin is a storybook creature, a thing of tall-tale size and magical properties. But in the stories, does anyone eat the pumpkin? Never! People eat rampion from the witch’s garden. They eat pomegranate seeds and get stuck in the underworld for half the year. They make soup out of stones. But who eats a pumpkin?
Our family didn’t. Every year we bought the one pumpkin, for Halloween, but it was every bit as likely to turn into a coach-and-four as materialize on the dinner table.
Very often, kids find the idea of eating pumpkin grotesque. The problem isn’t the taste so much as the texture. It’s pretty much the same problem they have with zucchini and eggplant and okra—the squishiness, the stringiness, the lingering film in the mouth. And no amount of magical thinking will convince them otherwise.
If you want to make children eat pumpkin, you have to wave your wand and conjure away all its texture failings. If you can make the pumpkin more like a bread and less like a vegetable, you’ll be in business. Even friendlier to kids is the pumpkin muffin, especially with a scattering of pumpkin seeds on top. Either is a cakewalk to throw together, especially if you happen to have some pumpkin purée around.
How do I know pumpkin bread is that good? During the fall when I was pregnant with my daughter, Zoe, I happened to walk through a food court where pumpkin bread was being sold. I gorged myself shamelessly, eventually transforming the bread (and various other snacks) into nine plump pounds of baby girl. “Hello there, Pumpkin Seed,” my husband whispered on the day she was born, cradling her chubby swaddled self in his arms. When she looked up at us, her face was perfectly round, and that’s the way it stayed until she was about three. Pumpkin bread has staying power.
Today Zoe is a sturdy preschooler, with cute-as-a-button pigtails and a smile more mischievous than a jack-o-lantern’s. She adores pumpkins to look at, to decorate, and, yes, to eat. Her favorite story is Cinderella. Her favorite movie, Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s musical version. Her favorite CD, its soundtrack, which she sings to herself in a heart-piercing jumble (“Impossible! For a plain yellow pumpkin a prince to join in marriage…Impossible! For a plain country bumpkin to become a golden carriage…”)
I doubt the pumpkin bread was to blame. But who knows? After all, truth is stranger than fiction.–T. Susan Chang
LC Hey, About That Leftover Canned Pumpkin Purée... Note
We like this subtly flavored, not overly sweet, pumpkin quick bread. A lot. So much so that we’re not even annoyed that it calls for precisely nine ounces of canned pumpkin rather than the entire 14 ounces typically contained in a can. What else are you going to do with that extra canned pumpkin left from last Thanksgiving?
Actually, lots of things. Before you toss those extra five ounces in the trash in frustration, consider stirring them into risotto, as our recipe tester Sandy “I Can’t Stand to Waste Food” Hill thought to do. Or mash them with some baked sweet potato and butter. Blitz ‘em with a banana, milk, honey, and ice for a slurpy breakfast. Swirl ‘em into slightly thawed ice cream. Or moms, sneak the pumpkin into some mac-n-cheese or meatballs. All of you, we know you have more inspired solutions, so let us know how you put that pumpkin to use…
Pumpkin Quick Bread Recipe
Hands-On Time: 20 minutes | Total Time: 2 hours | Makes 1 loaf
- 1 1/2 cups walnut pieces
- 1/2 cup mild vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup buttermilk
- 9 ounces pumpkin puree, either canned or homemade (see note that follows the recipe for how to make your own)
- 1/2 teaspoon orange extract (optional)
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1. To make the pumpkin quick bread, preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C).
- 2. Toast the walnuts in the oven on a rimmed baking sheet until fragrant and very lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board to cool. Chop and set aside.
- 3. Meanwhile, measure out the oil, dip a basting brush or your fingertips into the measuring cup, and oil a standard size loaf pan (8 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2 3/4).
- 4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the brown sugar and oil on low speed. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the buttermilk, pumpkin, and extract, if using. Continue to mix on low speed while you sift together the remaining dry ingredients in a large bowl. Slowly and carefully add the dry ingredients to the bowl and continue to mix, still on low speed, scraping down the sides just once. Mix just until combined.
- 5. Stop the mixer and gently fold in the chopped walnuts. Scrape the batter into the oiled pan and bake until you can resist the aroma no longer and a tester inserted in the center of the quick bread comes out clean, 65 to 70 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the quick bread onto a wire rack and cool for another 20 minutes before serving.
Homemade Pumpkin Purée Note
- There’s nothing wrong with canned pumpkin purée, other than that it lacks a bit of poetry. But it’s easy to make pumpkin purée yourself. You just cut a little sugar pumpkin in half and bake it in a 300°F (149°C) oven until it submits. Spoon it right out of its softened shell, or, if you’re a stickler for smoothness, throw it in the food processor. The whole thing takes maybe an hour, and it makes your house smell totally mythic.
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:
Pumpkin Quick Bread Recipe © 2011 T. Susan Chang. Photo © 2011 David Leite. All rights reserved.