I’m not much of a baker, likely because I’m not much for sweets.
I don’t recall my family having dessert very often. As a boy, the sight of a cake on the kitchen counter likely meant it was someone’s birthday. A pie or a fruit crisp was a sign that we were likely having guests over for dinner.
It could also be that my mum wasn’t much of a baker either, with a few notable exceptions, one of which is her pumpkin bread (the blueberry crumble she made on Christmas mornings is as essential in our family on December 25th as presents and Christmas crackers. I’ll post that recipe too as December approaches).
In the fall, my mum would make a batch of this pumpkin bread—enough for two loaves—and it would very quickly disappear. The combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pumpkin in a wonderfully moist, sweet, soft bread was (and is) too good to resist.
As the leaves began to change this fall, I got a craving for my mum’s pumpkin bread. I went through many cookbooks and made two or three batches in an attempt to replicate that perfect bread from my childhood—with very little success. I finally called my mum for the recipe. (Yes, I know; I have no idea why I didn’t start by simply phoning her, the important thing here is that I got there eventually.)
Two things stood out in the recipe she sent me, the first is that she mixed all of this by hand. No stand mixer, no electric egg beater. I’m shocked she didn’t develop forearms like a post-spinach Popeye. The second was that the recipe called for margarine, a reference I haven’t seen in a long time. I substituted salted butter and it all turned out fine.
This recipe makes enough for two loafs or about 20 muffins. I often split the difference and cook a single loaf and 10 or so muffins. Muffins will cook in approximately 20 mins; the loaf will take about an hour.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
3 cups sugar
2 cups canned pumpkin (make sure it’s not pumpkin pie filling)
1. Heat oven to 350°F and grease loaf and or/muffin tins.
2. In a large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt.
3. With a stand mixer or egg beater, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
4. Add one-quarter of the dry ingredients to the egg and butter mix, then add one egg and mix to combine.
5. Continue adding dry ingredients and single eggs to mixture beating well after each addition.
6. Stir the tinned pumpkin into the batter, one cup at a time, and mix until well incorporated.
7. Pour the batter into bread or muffin tins. Bread will need 1 hour or until the tester comes out clean. Muffins should be cooked in 20.
In my memory the loaf is a much darker, a richer almost mahogany brown. The ones I’ve made over the past few weeks are a lighter orange. It might be the amount of margarine my mum used, but the taste is almost the same.
I’m not sure that one can ever really capture the tastes of our childhood, but it’s worth a try. As A.J. Liebling so brilliantly noted, “In the light of what Proust wrote with so mild a stimulus, it is the world’s loss that he did not have a heartier appetite.”