My Sister’s Pumpkin Bread

 In The Village of Bedford Walk

Author: Dr. Michael J. Porter

Every family has its favorite foods; those dishes that reappear on the family’s dining table, year after year. They are family heirlooms.  These culinary traditions allow us to pass on from one generation to the next the family stories that deserve repetition and memorialization.  It may be Millie’s pink salad, or Mom’s Iowa Chocolate cake, or Grandpa’s white beans, or Aunt Shirley’s peanut brittle.  When you marry, you are then allowed to share these recipes with the newly added spouse; but not until then.  Really.  Our family was like that.

I want to share with you Mary’s pumpkin bread recipe.  This recipe is named after my only sister, the oldest of the five siblings, Mary.  We have an 18-year age span, with Mary at one end, and my eight-year younger brother pulling up the caboose.  Mary was literally off to college just after Jimmie was born.  Despite the age spread, we were a close family.  Our mother made sure of that.

Nearly forty years ago, at this time of year, Mary showed up at a family gathering with two loaves of her pumpkin bread.  Each was neatly wrapped in tinfoil, probably with a red ribbon wrapped around it. The bread was moist, with an inviting cinnamon and nutmeg flavor that I associate with the fall holidays. We made sure she knew of our appreciation for her baked goods, and she brought a supply with her every year thereafter.  Not only was this now a family staple, but we all copied the recipe and made it ourselves.

Where she got it, we’ll never know.  But most people assume it’s an heirloom family recipe that was passed down from a great grandparent decades ago.  Mary’s daughter thought it was a recipe that came from the family bakery. In fact, neither is true.  When I asked my niece to see what she could discover about the recipe, what she found in her mother’s recipe box was a printed recipe called simply Pumpkin Bread that looks like it was ripped out from a weekly cooking column in a long-lost newspaper.

Now, it doesn’t really matter where it came from; what matters is that every time I make this delicious bread, I think of my sister Mary, the love she put into everything she did, and the joy our family had sitting around the dining room table, sipping percolated coffee and noshing on a moist piece of her homemade pumpkin bread.  We were happy to be together.

Here’s the recipe:

You need two large mixing bowls (one for the dry ingredients, and then a larger one for the “wet” ingredients.  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray the bottom and sides of your baking pans (either 2 9×5 inch loaf pans, or 6-7 small (3 ½ x 5) mini-loaf pans.  Spray the bottom and sides of the pans with Pam.

Put the following “dry” ingredients together in a bowl.  Mix.  Set aside:

3 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons soda

1 ½ teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons nutmeg.

In a separate bowl add the following in this order and blend together after each addition with a large spoon:

4 eggs (beaten)

1 can of 15-ounce pumpkin (without added spices)

2/3-cup water

1-cup canola oil

2-½ cups sugar

Now add the dry to the wet mixture. Start with half of the dry, and then add the rest.

A large spoon works best.  Once that is blended —

  • Add a handful of walnut pieces
  • Add a handful of raisins (I like to soak my raisins in hot water for 15 minutes first, then squeeze out the excess water before I add them)

Place in a preheated oven at 350 degrees.  The trick to making a good loaf of this bread is this:  Do not over bake. Test for doneness 10-15 minutes before you think it will be done. Insert a knife (not a toothpick) in the center of the bread.  If it’s dry, take it out; if it’s extra goopy, it will take 10-15 more minutes; if just a little wet, test again in 4-5 minutes.   For larger pans, bake 60 minutes, for smaller pans, bake shorter amount of time (40-45 minutes)

When you make this, think of someone you have loved in your family who is no longer able to share with you in the joys of the holiday season.  Perhaps you can turn this into a family heirloom as well.  You do not have to call this “Mary’s Pumpkin Bread.”  You can if you wish, but you can also call it your own pumpkin bread  That’s how it works.  Every recipe deserves to have someone’s name attached to it. That’s how family histories stay alive and grow.

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