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Let’s Cook: Life lessons from pumpkins

As a child I very much disliked pumpkin — anything pumpkin — but especially pumpkin pie. I was not a fussy eater, but when pumpkin pie came to the table, I turned and went the other direction. However, there were numerous things I adored about pumpkins as kid. I enjoyed seeing them growing in our garden. My folks planted them at the south end of the garden next to the gourds where they received heaps of McLean County sun, and they were obviously significantly happy because they produced glowing orange chums. What fun to lift their wide, flat leaves to see the small globe and wonder — will it become a round or short squatty pumpkin?

What do you do with a bounteous crop of pumpkins whose carroty color matches the changing tapestry of fall and whose size is greater than a basketball? They are perfect for carving Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns to rest on the front step at night with flickering light. There is something appealing, about seeing deep orange pumpkins on porches, in front of corn stocks and piled high in a pickup box with a sign that reads “pumpkins for sale.” Their harvest beauty reminds us to give thanks for the abundance in our lives.

Both Jan and I read to Lydia before she was born. We would often read to our unborn child in the evening; it was a great time for both of us to relax and read some of our favorite books from childhood. It was while I was browsing through a book store that I came across the book “Too Many Pumpkins” by Linda White. It is beautifully illustrated and saturated with vivid tones of autumn. Perhaps you have read this fine book, too. Wanting to be an inspiring father, I decided to buy the book and read it several nights to our yet unborn child with the hopes that he or she would like pumpkin pie.

Recently when I looked at the inside cover, it is inscribed with these words: “To the little one — your first book which was read to you by Mommy and Daddy often in the fall of 2004.” Lydia arrived in the spring of 2005, and before she was a year old, she was enjoying pumpkin pie! I can recall attending several church suppers and Lydia’s delight in noticing the pumpkin pie. Did the reading of “Too Many Pumpkins” inspire her to like pumpkins?

We knew that she had become a pumpkin pie enthusiast when at three years of age began observing which churches served the best pumpkin pie. This was only the beginning of what has been and continues to be a passion with her. She tells me this frequently — “Dad, more people in this world need to learn how to cook because when it is homemade, it is the best.”

I will admit that I have come to enjoy pumpkin and nowadays you can find me relishing pumpkin pie, pumpkin smoothies and pumpkin bread. I recently came across a quote written by national keynote speaker and protector of trees, IIan Shamir, “Advice from a Pumpkin.” Ilan tell us to be well rounded, get plenty of sunshine, give thanks for life’s bounty, have a thick skin, keep growing, be outstanding in your field and think big. After reading this I say, “Bring on the inspiring pumpkins!”

Pumpkin-Apple Bundt Bread

Here is a delicious bread baked in a Bundt pan which allows you to dress it up on a cake plate or simply plate it on a platter. This bread freezes well. It is important to test this bread for doneness before removing it from the oven. This bread serves between 8 to 10.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ground

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup butter plus 2 tablespoons at room temp

1 cup of canned pumpkin puree

2 cups loosely packed, unpeeled, shredded tart apples

2 tablespoons powdered sugar for garnish

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Generously butter 12-cup Bundt pan; set aside.

Combine the first eight ingredients and blend well with whisk; set aside. Cream butter and sugar in large mixing bowl. Add eggs and pumpkin and mix until fluffy. Add apples and blend well. Mix in dry ingredients until blended.

Turn batter into prepared pan and bake until bread is high and begins to pull away from sides of pan. This will take between 55 and 60 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand on wire rack for 5 minutes away from breeze. Invert onto rack and cool completely. Press powdered sugar through sieve onto bread before serving. It may also be frosted lightly by mixing a thin frosting of powdered sugar and orange juice.

The large red apples I used in this recipe were grown by Kent Christenson, of Rugby and they baked nicely into this bread. Another great way to use the surplus of homegrown apples.

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