Archive for the ‘Halloween’ Category

November in the Hills: Embracing the Darkness (Part I)

9 November 2008
Heather's Pumpkin Bread

Heather's Pumpkin Bread

          A note to readers: This blog has moved! Please visit the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS for new posts as well as copies of older ones (yes, even this post!).  See you around the stove……..

          Tinky

         The blaze is gone.

          The burst of color in our hills has muted. The sun is making itself scarce. The grays of November have arrived.

          I’m not sure why November always takes me by surprise. It comes along every year. Nevertheless, during the glory of early autumn optimism fills my heart just as leaves fill the streams, and I nurture a tiny hope that the color and warmth will decide, just this once, not to retreat.

          When instead of an eternal October we get a very real November, my dog, my cat, and I grow a little grumpy. Truffle and Lorelei Lee gather by the woodstove earlier and earlier each day, training their glare on me until I relent and light a fire.

          I appreciate their viewpoint and enjoy the fire myself. Nevertheless, I find that the best cure for the November blahs is to leave my hearth and seek out people who look forward to this time of year—who instead of huddling inside embrace the darkness out of doors.

          One such person is my neighbor in Hawley, Massachusetts, Cyndie Stetson. Cyndie is famous (one might almost say notorious) locally for the lavish Halloween display outside her home. The high point of her year comes in late October and November. An avid watercolorist, Cyndie uses her artist’s eyes to perceive much more variety in our hills than I.

          “I love the colors in November—the browns, the purples, the grays,” she told me recently. “I love seeing and hearing the geese going overhead. I love growing pumpkins and gourds. When I was a kid, we grew gourds and sold them at my grandmother’s on a stone wall. So I grow gourds every year.”

          The darkness and the cold give Cyndie permission to act creatively, unleashing her imagination in a way that the light of summer and early autumn cannot. “I feel more energetic at this time of year,” she said with a smile.

Here’s a terrific pumpkin bread recipe to help you celebrate gourd season along with Cyndie. Thanks to Heather Welch of M&M Green Valley Produce in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, for sharing it. The boozy raisins are my own addition, and they’re terrific. This makes 2 big loaves so you may want to make 3 smaller loaves and reduce your cooking time. On the other hand, the big loaves have a lovely contrasting texture—crispy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside.

 

Part of Cyndie's Display (Courtesy of Lark Thwing)

Part of Cyndie's Display (Courtesy of Lark Thwing)

Heather’s Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients:

1 cup raisins (optional)

1/4 cup Cointreau or Grand Marnier (optional)

1-3/4 cups pumpkin puree

1 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)

2/3 cup water

3 cups sugar

4 eggs

3-1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon ginger

Instructions:

If you want to use the raisins, put them in a bowl about half an hour before you start cooking, and pour the liqueur over them to let them plump.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 loaf pans.

          In a large bowl, beat together the pumpkin, oil, water, and sugar. Beat in the eggs.

          In a separate bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. Stir them into the pumpkin mixture JUST until blended.  Stir in the raisins with their juice. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

        Bake the bread until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check the bread at the hour mark. If it is brown on the outside but still very soggy on the inside, reduce the heat to 325 degrees, and continue to check every 5 minutes until the toothpick test works. Remove the bread from the pans, and turn it onto racks to cool. Makes 2 loaves.

Truffle was allowed a SMALL piece of pumpkin bread.

Truffle was allowed a SMALL piece of pumpkin bread.

 

 

 

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Halloween Pumpkin Fudge

31 October 2008

          A note to readers: This blog has moved! Please visit the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS for new posts as well as copies of older ones (yes, even this post!).  See you around the stove……..

          Tinky

           Halloween has a special place in my heart. I love its colors, its stimulation of the imagination, its sheer fun. I’m one of those appalling people who dress their dogs in costume at this time of year. Luckily, Truffle is a good sport. It probably helps that she knows she looks adorable!

Truffle with her Favorite Boy

Halloween 2007: Truffle with her Favorite Boy

          I also adorn the house with lights, spooky ceramic houses, gourds (real and faux), a plethora of orange plates, assorted stuffed cats and vampires, and a clock that shrieks eerily on the hour. And naturally I cook.

This year my mother and I have prepared pumpkin fudge to give out on Halloween. I know that the parents of trick-or-treaters are concerned about homemade treats. Our solution is to put a return address label on each wrapped piece of fudge identifying the maker. If the parents have a question, they can call us. The children seem to enjoy receiving something a little different from the usual candy corn and chocolate bars. And we have the fun of making fudge without the caloric risk of eating it all!

I adapted this recipe from one on Nestlé’s baking site. Feel free to adjust the spices according to your taste; you’ll want to replicate the flavor of your own favorite pumpkin pie. Next year I’m going to eschew the fluff and make my fudge more pumpkin-y, but this is pretty darn good if rather sweet. Unless you are allergic to the nuts, don’t omit them; they add both flavor and texture to the final product. (We tried it both ways. My photographer and friend Judy Christian, my mother Jan, and I are willing to suffer for our art!)

I know I may have overdone the photos in this particular post, but Judy and I had so much fun arranging them (Judy is a food stylist manqué!) that I felt I had to share several. As you can see, they embody Halloween colors and Halloween spirit.

Happy hauntings……..

MORE SPRINKLES!!!
Finishing Touches: MORE SPRINKLES!!!

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin Fudge

Ingredients:

2 cups sugar

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) sweet butter

1 5-ounce can evaporated milk

3/4 cup pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1 cup white chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli) or 6 ounces finely chopped white chocolate

1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow fluff

1 cup chopped toasted pecans

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

autumnal sprinkles (optional)

 

 

 

 

Instructions:

          Line a 9-by-9-inch pan with aluminum foil.

          In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the sugar, brown sugar, butter, evaporated milk, pumpkin, and spices. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, and continue to boil it, still stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage (234 degrees on a candy thermometer, although I always like to test for the actual soft ball in a dish of cold water since candy thermometers can be temperamental). This should take about 10 to 12 minutes.

          Remove the fudge from the heat. Stir in the chips, and let them melt; then stir in the remaining ingredients. Quickly pour the fudge into the prepared pan. Toss on decorative sprinkles if you like. Let the fudge cool completely (outside if the weather is cool or in the refrigerator), covered, before slicing it into squares. Makes 16 to 36 squares, depending on how big you want to make them. Store this soft confection in the refrigerator.