Americans love pumpkin. We can debate all we like about how festive a red coffee cup might be, but there is no debating how much Americans love pumpkin. I never understood our (perhaps slightly overzealous) attachment to all things pumpkin until I lived in London a few years ago, and the fall (aka autumn) was absolutely devoid of pumpkin. There were no loaves of pumpkin bread at the bakeries, definitely no pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks, and when I suggested that my coworkers just buy a sugar pumpkin at the store or the farmers’ market, they all looked at me like I had seven heads. It was a sad, sad season, made even more sad by the fact that I didn’t have the foresight to pack some Libby’s canned pumpkin in my purse before I crossed the pond. A transatlantic chocolate mule I was, but a pumpkin mule I was not.
I’ve been baking pumpkin bread since I was in third grade. My class took a field trip to the Crane House, which is a federal-style home that was built by Israel Crane in 1796 in Cranetown, NJ (now Montclair) and is part of the Montclair Historical Society. It is exactly everything you would imagine an historical colonial house would be like, down to the tiny chairs and little tables where the nice women in period dress showed us how to make pumpkin bread. (Amazing how they had pumpkins in America in 1796 but they still don’t have them in London!) It was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted to date. And so I have been baking THIS pumpkin bread every year since. My mom still has the original “ditto” in her kitchen pantry, which was likely made with a mimeograph machine since the now-faded text is blue.
I’ve modified the recipe slightly because, let’s be honest, we didn’t really think too much about sugar in 1985. Or vegetable oil. So I’ve experimented over the years and have decided that this slightly healthier version is just as awesome as the original, and I don’t feel nearly as bad eating half a loaf in one sitting anymore.
PUMPKIN BREAD RECIPE
Preheat oven to 350F (180C) degrees. Grease 2 long loaf pans or 3 standard loaf pans (this puppy makes a lot of batter).
WET INGREDIENTS — Mix together in the biggest bowl you have:
1/2 c. canola or vegetable oil
4 beaten eggs
1 c. water
2 c. canned or cooked pumpkin*
DRY INGREDIENTS — Mix together in a separate bowl:
3 1/3 c. sifted flour (I use 1 c. whole wheat and 2 1/3 c. all-purpose flour)
2 c. organic cane sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking soda
Add the dry mixture to wet mixture and fold together with a wooden spoon.
1 c. raisins
1 c. chopped nuts
1 c. mini chocolate chips
Grated orange or lemon peel
Fold in any additions, and pour into prepared pans. (Sometimes I sprinkle finely chopped nuts on top of the loaves.)
Bake for 1 hour at 350F (180C).
*For my British friends, you’re in luck! It seems as though Libby’s canned pumpkin is available at Waitrose now. It might be ghastly expensive, but it’s worth it. For everyone, make sure you buy the pumpkin puree and not the pumpkin pie filling. They are very different things! As my friend Julie will attest to….