Pumpkin growers have been lamenting their small harvests and, in some cases, the haggard-looking jack-o-lanterns they are taking to market this fall. This summer's drought was particularly unkind to fleshy, long-season crops, such as pumpkins, winter squash and melons, which require a steady supply of water over many weeks and even months.
The pumpkin business always has struck me as a bit ironic. Much of the crop is carved up for Halloween and then thrown away uneaten. In other words, it's wasted agriculture.
The seed for jack-o-lantern pumpkins is engineered to produce fruit that is large, thin-walled, light on innards and either oblong or plump in shape, the better to accommodate a child's vision of a ghoulish creature. Compare and contrast such pumpkins with pie pumpkins, also known as sugar pumpkins. You may have to ask someone in the supermarket where those pumpkins have been hidden, but they are small and compact, with dense flesh.
Pumpkins that are not destined for front porches do wind up in the food supply, generally as canned mush. Cooked pumpkin and ready-to-use pie filling will be flying off grocery store shelves this month and next as people make dishes reserved for autumn.
As bakers have begun to gear up for Halloween and Thanksgiving, pumpkin has been turning up in muffins and other treats. I ate a mighty fine pumpkin-walnut scone recently. If someone will send me a good pumpkin scone recipe, I will publish it.
In the meantime, here is a tasty little recipe from Judith Fertig's "Prairie Home Breads." Pumpkin lends itself nicely to quick breads, which are yeast-less and generally have a moister texture. Banana bread and orange bread are more common quick breads, but pumpkin should be in the running.
Be sure when making a scratch recipe calling for canned pumpkin that you don't accidentally use pie filling, which is pre-seasoned.
Judith suggests serving this bread with a cream cheese spread or apple butter. It can be frozen up to three months.
Prairie Honey Pumpkin Bread
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup wildflower or other pale amber honey
1/2 cup water
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup canned or freshly cooked pureed pumpkin
4 large eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped pecans, optional
1/2 cup golden raisins, optional
1/2 cup dried sour cherries, optional
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9-by-5-by-3-inch or three 7-by-4-by-2-inch loaf pans and set aside.
Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar together into a large bowl. With a wooden spoon, stir in the honey, water, oil, pumpkin and eggs until you have a smooth batter. Fold in the pecans, raisins and/or dried cherries, if desired.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of a loaf. Cool in the pans on a wire rack.