Here in America, November marks the time when canned pumpkin appears in profusion in every store. I myself am extremely fond of pumpkin pie, and especially like a slice the morning after Thanksgiving, chilly from the refrigerator. But what about times other than Thanksgiving, and what about sources other than the can?
Apparently there is a shortage of the canned stuff this season, brought on by bad weather a year ago. Fortunately producing your own is a snap, provided you don't use the pumpkins sold for jack-o-lanterns, which are weak and watery. Sugar or pie pumpkins are dandy, but my favorite is the good old reliable butternut, so smooth and easy to cut in half. In fact, the "pumpkins" that fill all those Libby's cans are a varietal that's more closely related to butternut squash than it is to the usual Halloween specimen.
Just remove the seeds and roast until soft. Then scoop out the flesh, and send it through a food mill, ricer, or a trip in the food processor. The results freeze just fine. I often turn the bulb end of a butternut into puree this way while I'm using the neck for something else, and build up a nice little stock with hardly any trouble.
Then whenever you feel the need for a slice of reliable, unpretentious, autumnal cake, you can use a cup from your reserves to make pumpkin bread. I like good old Fannie Farmer for this sort of thing (especially with a couple of adjustments penciled in the margin) and I am always impressed at just how mindless it is to put a batch together. Before you have fully registered that you're engaged in an act of baking, you have put something delicious in the oven that will go admirably with a cup of tea or coffee, or that your child might hold in her tiny fist as she runs off to jump in the neighbor's pile of leaves.
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. pumpkin puree
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp. each of ground nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice (or 1 tsp. of "pumpkin pie spice")
1/2 c chopped pecans, optional
1. Preheat oven to 350° and butter an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" (aka "standard") loaf pan.*
2. Whisk or sift together the flour, salt, sugar and baking soda.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, oil, eggs, water and spices.
4. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until barely combined. Stir in the nuts, if using, then pour into the loaf pan.
5. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Turn out of the pan and cool on a rack.
* If you aren't sure your pan is this size, measure it. The numbers should correspond to the internal measurements, from one inner wall to the other -- in other words, it's a measurement of the space inside the pan, not of the pan itself. If your pan is smaller than 8 1/2" x 4 1/2", don't use it for this recipe. It will overflow. If it's a little too big, up to 9" x 5", that's fine, though it won't rise quite as tall or have such a pretty dome.