Remembering the Generational Masterpiece of Pumpkin Bread
Pots and pans are scattered around the kitchen. Flour, spices, sugar scattered everywhere meant CC, my grandmother, was spreading love in the air. My most cherished holiday memories include me as a kid, taking the tedious 7+ hour airplane flight from New York back to where I was born, California. We moved to New York when I was five, but my extended family still lives on the West Coast.
After the flight, we arrived at our California house well past midnight. All of us are barely able to keep our eyes open. My older brother and I (we’re fourteen months apart) would go straight downstairs, into my grandmother’s room, and immediately collapse onto our beds–both of which were in CC’s bedroom. There, we would snuggle into our “softies”–blankets sewn from the softest fabric CC could find. She made them herself. As soon as we wrapped them around us, we felt her love.
CC would always make sure we were comfortable before reading bedtime stories. CC’s stories are famous in our family. Her catalog of tales rivals the Library of Alexandria. What makes CC’s stories so unique is that they are entirely her own–just like her pumpkin bread.
CC is known for her pumpkin bread. It’s renowned within the family. The taste is unbelievably good, despite its simplicity. The texture is unmatched: moist, soft, dense, yet fluffy. The taste?
Equally unmatched: her bread delivers an almost burnt, creme-brulee-style pumpkin taste filled with cinnamon and sweetness. Even my picky brother loves the pumpkin bread:
“I remember walking into the room, and you can just smell the cinnamon, nutmeg… pumpkin, of course… and warmth.”
For one to comprehend how incredible CC’s pumpkin bread is, one must experience it.
This does happen to be a multi-generational recipe, initially originating (to our knowledge) from my great-great-grandmother in Southern Illinois. This isn’t CC’s grandmother’s exact recipe, but she assured me it was very comparable.
“I have a lot of recipes that I’ve collected over time, and the whole batch of the ones that are similar to [the pumpkin bread] come from when my grandmother taught me to cook–it was of the kinds of recipes.”
CC lived with her grandmother for a while because of WWII. Her parents lived on the West Coast as her father was in the Marine Corps, stationed at San Diego. At the time, concerns about a bomb on the West Coast were rampant, so her parents sent her to live with her grandmother in Illinois. After CC turned 11 or 12 and anxiousness lessened, her parents moved back to Illinois. Still, CC continued living with her grandmother, which is when CC learned to cook.
The recipe was popularized within our generation due to its utility. “It’s always been around, and it’s always been a question of ‘Where’s the pumpkin bread?’” my brother, Rustin, said.
When one deals with a cluster of energetic grandchildren, food that everyone, including the picky eaters, likes to eat is essential!
“That was something that seemed to be– more people liked it than didn’t… It was an easy thing so it wasn’t making one thing for one person,” CC noted.
While this is an easy recipe, CC clarified some keynotes.
“One [note] is to measure properly so that you don’t have a big ol’ thing heaping. That’s a technique that needs to be done.” She continued dispensing advice, “Read your recipe first, and make sure you have all the ingredients there.” She also notes it’s essential to separate the dry and wet ingredients and add them slowly.
Over-mixing is another common mistake my grandma emphasized. It is crucial to mix the pumpkin bread batter briefly. In Harold McGee’s On Food And Cooking, McGee states, “Quickbreads are appropriately named in two ways: they are quick to prepare, being leavened with rapid-acting chemicals and mixed briefly to minimize gluten development; and they should be quickly eaten, because they stale rapidly.” This fits with my experience creating pumpkin bread with my grandmother. Our family certainly has no issue eating it quickly!
More than anything, CC’s pumpkin bread ties us together. Food is part of family celebrations, ceremonies, and rituals. Food brings us together to stay connected. It offers us a way to learn about a relative when cooking together or celebrating. And perhaps most importantly, it provides us comfort. A now-common phrase, “food is fuel,” underlines food’s role in our lives. Every day of our lives, food and cooking preoccupies, delights, and refreshes us. Food is not just some fuel we need to get us going. Cooking is not a chore we put up. Instead, it sits us down evening after evening and creates our reality in the people that form around our dinner tables.
Making Time: 20 minutes
Baking Time: 1 hour
Preheat the oven to 350℉. Spray two loaf pans (9X5 in.) with Pam’s regular baking spray.
In a medium mixing bowl, gently combine and stir dry ingredients:
3 ⅓ cups pre sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 ½ tsp. salt
In a separate container, put ⅔ cup water, room temperature.
Open 15 oz. can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix). Discard the lid.
In a regular mixing bowl, mix:
3 cups sugar (white, granulated)
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, room temperature
Can mix by hand, but a hand mixer at med-low is easier.
Add, alternately, approximately ⅓ of the dry mixture, and then approximately ⅓ of water.
Repeat two more times until all ingredients, including spices, are added. Add pumpkin puree.
Divide into the two loaf pans. Bake for about 55 minutes, testing with a toothpick in the middle (to see if it comes out clean) and a light touch of a finger on top of the center to see if it springs back. Continue until done. Set pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then invert on the rack. Wait about 10 minutes or until removing the pan is easy (inverted still). Let cool completely. Wrap snugly in plastic wrap. Let it set overnight (if possible!) on the counter, then slice and yum! (Note: Can be wrapped with foil later if needed.)