This is the time of year. Right now. THIS is the time you can wake up and breathe in the cool, fall, New England air and smell the leaves burning and the wood stoves heating up. This was the time of year my grandmother would say “the frost is on the pumpkin”. This was the time of year she’d make her legendary pumpkin bread. Her name was Ruth but in our family she was known as Nana, the matriarch, the woman who for years was the nucleus of all family gatherings. She had survived two husbands, was a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, and great cook.
Truthfully, it didn’t need to be fall for Nana to make her famous pumpkin bread. We had it around many of the Jewish holidays growing up, or just when she was coming for a visit. She knew we loved it. It came in one of those tinfoil loaf pans. You’d unwrap the foil and get your first smell of cinnamon, and nutmeg, and pumpkin, and spices. If no one was looking, you’d pinch a corner right out of the pan without ever waiting for someone to get plates or forks. Then you’d pinch the rest of the slice and try to even out the corner so it wouldn’t look like you’d been eating out of the pan. The first pumpkin bread was always the taster, for me anyway. That thing wouldn’t last ten minutes. But there was always a second for the actual meal, or even a third. Nana’s pumpkin bread was the moistest, most delicious cake I ever had in my life. Sometimes the outside would be slightly burnt, but not that inside. The minute the fork hit your lips, you’d be transported back to your childhood, to the holidays, to simpler times when food would be the gathering point for a family.
Many have tried to replicate Nana’s pumpkin bread…few have succeeded. Nana lived a long and admirable life. In the years before her death she confided to me that there was nothing special about this pumpkin bread, that the secret to her legendary pumpkin bread which had for so long quenched the soul of this family, was an old recipe she had gotten off a box. Little did she know, there was EVERYTHING special about the pumpkin bread. And now is the time of year I can taste it on my lips just by walking outside.
This weekend, we went with the kids to a pumpkin festival and there among the treats was a fresh baked pumpkin bread for sale. I bought it. My wife asked me how it tasted. It was good. It was sweet. It was tasty. But I told her, “Not as good as Nana’s”. It’s funny how food can do that to you… Take you right back to a time and place. Yesterday, I was transported right back to Nana’s high rise in Malden, MA where she knew her grandchildren were coming for a visit, and where she had already baked two pumpkin breads, one for now, and one for later.
Pumpkin Bread (Nana)
Makes 2 loaves
3 c. sugar
1½ c. oil
3 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cloves
1 can pumpkin
Nuts, raisins (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour 2 loaf pans.
2. Mix sugar, oil, and eggs.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix.
4. Place in the pans and bake 1 hr to 1 hr and 15 minutes.