to most children (and retailers), the pumpkin crop serves as Halloween’s welcome-wagon representative and precursor to candy booty. due to this year’s extraordinarily warm weather, Washington state pumpkins arrived prematurely, triggering unprecedented, mid-September Halloween excitement. my friends who are parents formulated strategies to delay trips to local pumpkin patches, or at minimum, to postpone carving, so that the orange fruits would survive until the end of October.
to be honest, Halloween has always been my least-favorite holiday. at our house, it felt like an extravaganza. no, my parents didn’t create a scary haunted house for all the neighborhood kids to frequent (thank goodness). but my mom decorated our front porch with crepe paper and other Hallmark paraphernalia, including a giant honeycomb skull that enveloped one of our lampshades. and mom would put one of those little disks at the base of the light bulb to make it flash off and on. sporting an enormous witch’s hat, she greeted everyone at the front door, oohing over their costumes and tossing handfuls of candy into their goodie bags. to preserve our pumpkins, she’d artfully paint their faces in oils, then place them on the front stoop.
painfully shy, i loathed going door to door to trick or treat. and, unlike my extroverted little sister, i didn’t like dressing up as someone (or something) other than myself. until one Halloween, when my parents felt moved to throw a party for me and a group of my friends. mom and dad transformed our basement playroom into a hip, happening party scene. mom made me a costume that matched the outfit of my Mattel Scooba-do talking doll—a scat-singing, long-black-haired beatnik. at the party, we all bobbed for apples. danced to groovy music from The Monkees. and chowed down on never-ending party snacks. even with my sister underfoot, the party rocked. and i’ll always cherish the memory.
clearly for me, the best part of the upcoming holiday is the pumpkins. you’ll find my first recipe of the season here.
an endnote: c’mon, sis – did Scooba-do or any of my other Mattel toys, like my red-headed, bubblecut Barbie, really need haircuts?
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
a variation based on a recipe from everyday FOOD
1 baguette (8 ounces), sliced 1/2 thick (i actually cut the slices into more bite-size pieces)
4 large eggs
4 cups half-and-half
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree, extracted from one good-size sugar pie pumpkin (or 1 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 heaping teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried tart dried cherries or dried cranberries
- preheat oven to 350F.
- remove stem from pumpkin, and cut in half.
- scoop out seeds. (here are a few neat ideas for toasting the seeds as snacks.)
- brush surface of each half with sunflower oil.
- cover cookie sheet with non-stick foil, and place pumpkin on the cookie sheet pulp side down.
- bake for about 1 hour, 10 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft.
- after the pumpkin has cooled, remove pulp and transfer into a food processor.
- puree the pumpkin, and set aside.
- butter a 2-quaret shallow or 8-inch square baking dish; set aside.
- toast bread on baking sheet at 300F, turning occasionally, until lightly browned (20 – 25 minutes). note: instead of this approach, i just use a stale baguette.
- in a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, pumpkin puree, vanilla, brown sugar, spices and salt.
- add the bread to the bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the mixture.
- place a plate small enough to fit inside bowl on top of plastic wrap, then weight down with a can. this ensures the bread will soak up the custard and results in a velvety consistency.
- place in fridge, and let the mixture soak until saturated, about 25 minutes.
- if you haven’t used the oven yet, preheat to 300F.
- transfer mixture to prepared baking dish, spreading evenly.
- sprinkle the dried fruit over the mixture, allowing some to sink in.
- bake on a rimmed baking sheet until firm, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 60 – 70 minutes.
serve this comforting, sweetly spiced autumn pudding warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioners’ sugar and/or top with whipped cream. or a splash of half-and-half. of course, appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner.