I tend to view the stretch from Halloween to Thanksgiving as one segment of the culinary calendar. In part, that's because the weather in October and November is so distinct from summer and winter, which precede and follow. Those two months are their own season.
But it's also because Halloween and Thanksgiving are the pumpkin holidays. We associate them with jack-o'-lanterns and pumpkin pie. And from the pumpkin's perspective, October and November are it. Once Thanksgiving passes, most of us won't eat pumpkin for another year.
It really is a shame that pumpkin is so confined to such a short season, because pumpkin is flavorful and nutritious and it makes such a good foundation for spices. There really is no baking ingredient like it.
While we're in pumpkin season, I like to bake with pumpkin as often as I can. Because I'm usually pressed for time, that means using prepared filling. Even so, the aroma from the oven is always divine and instantly transports me to other kitchens and other times when the pumpkin was cut from the squash by hand rather than scooped out of a can.
In this vein, I like a charming little recipe for a pumpkin tea bread that I found in Sheila Lukins' "USA Cookbook." Tea breads used to be a regular product of the American kitchen. As they contain no yeast, their recipes have more in common with cakes than breads. But they are easy to make from scratch.
This one contains all the pie spices, and the sour cream and cream cheese make the bread rich and moist.
Pumpkin Pecan Tea Bread
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cups (packed) light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin pie filling
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans. Line the bottom of each pan with waxed paper, and grease the paper. Lightly dust the pans with flour and shake out the excess.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and salt together into a bowl and set aside.
In another bowl, cream the butter, cream cheese and both sugars with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the pumpkin pie filling, sour cream and vanilla, and mix well.
Stir in the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the pecans.
Spread the batter in the prepared pans and bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
Cool the loaves in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges of the pans to loosen the loaves, and turn them out onto the rack. Peel off the paper and allow the loaves to cool completely.
Makes 2 loaves.