Monday, October 18, 2010

NOMS -- Best. Pumpkin. Bread. Ev. Er.

By now, it is probably pretty obvious that cooling temps and the scent of apples, spices, and warm, dry leaves shuffling in the crisp air, excite my culinary senses. Fall and winter are surely my favorite times of year. I like that people gather together to celebrate the many holidays of harvest, equinox, and solstice. Thanksgiving is easily my most favorite holiday, calling us to gather our most precious and beloved around a table heaped with the harvest of our land to give thanks--thanks for the bounty, the love that surrounds our table, our lives, the warmth of our hearth, and the profound generosity of the benevolent abundance.

The practice of gratitude is, perhaps, the single most life-changing endeavor in which you can engage. When you give thanks, you cultivate a sense of satiety, of contentment, compassion, and generosity.  When you give praise for the bowl of food in front of you, you may think that another's is empty. When your heart is warmed by the affection of a small creature who shares your home, you may wish to alleviate another's loneliness. When you reflect upon the many, many hands and hearts who have helped you in ways from the seemingly trivial to the profound, you may find the desire to pay it forward to another, be it a stranger or your best friend. So, in the spirit of generosity, let me share with you the recipe for the bread that is currently tormenting me with its luscious fragrance wafting from my kitchen...

Pumpkin-Pepita Bread

This is another recipe that was given to me by a friend (who first blessed me by giving me some of this bread *swoon*) and which I only  have as a photocopy, so I cannot credit the original source.

The cookbook says: "Serve this slightly sweet quick bread with soup or salad for dinner, or as a breakfast treat. It stays moist for several days and freezes well, so it's a great food gift for the holidays."  I would agree, though I cannot speak (yet) personally regarding its freezing or keeping properties. The cookbook also notes that the bread can be kept wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 3 days [yeah, try to keep it around that long!] or can be frozen up to 1 month.


½ cup raw, unsalted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup solid-pack pumpkin puree
⅓ cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.

In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the pepitas until they pop and are lightly browned. With a chef's knife, coarsely chop them and set aside.

In a bowl, mix together the oil, eggs, pumpkin puree, and water. In another large bowl, mix together the remaining dry ingredients.  Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the toasted, chopped pepitas and spoon the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool and remove from the pan.

After my struggles with Heidi Swanson's completely amazing Zucchini Bread, I was really nervous to make sure that this was cooked through, yet I wanted to be sure not to overcook it and dry it out. I did leave it in for an extra 10-15 minutes though because the part at the base of the crack in the crust below seemed a bit gooey, and I thought I might cry if it turned out to be filled with gook since the unbelievable smells coming from the kitchen were nearly torture as I waited for the timer to ring.  I barely waited for the bread to cool before cutting it, and let me just say that the title of this post is no exaggeration. About half the loaf is gone now (yes, I shared), and it is properly cooked all the way through, and my mom agrees--it's The. Best. Pumpkin. Bread. Ever.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I have, and do try to share--it will be hard, but it will be worth it to see the smiles on others' faces. :)


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Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.