October is the official start of pumpkin bread season in our house. While other families wait for the December holidays to kick into gear before making this quick bread, our patience is limited. As soon as the pumpkins start appearing on porches for Halloween, everyone in my house knows pumpkin bread isn't far behind. The smell of baking bread with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg wafting through the house is our clarion call for Fall.
Pumpkin bread is one of those recipes that is distinctly American (as is the pumpkin itself). I recently came upon a recipe that was originally published in 1846 and then reprinted in The New York Times in 1914. The recipe, and the article itself, were fascinating. I was surprised that the ingredients list was far different than what is traditionally used today. Instead of making a batter with eggs, sugar and flour, the recipe produces a risen bread and uses corn meal -- or Indian meal -- along with yeast, salt and, of course, pumpkin.
When I found the recipe online, I couldn't stop looking at the little slip of scanned in paper. I was captivated by the idea of women making this bread in their kitchens (and I'm sure they were mostly women) and started pondering how the concept of pumpkin bread could have changed so drastically in the last hundred years.
Recipes are like little time capsules. The ingredients say so much about the era and place in which they were used and published. We use white flour and refined sugar today simply because our current economy makes these "staples" cheap and accessible. But when Alice B. Tregaskis -- the author of the recipe in the Times -- made her pumpkin bread, her staples were different. There was no driving to a local mega mart or Whole Foods to purchase processed white flour and canned pumpkin, even in New York City. Home cooks would create their own pumpkin purees and use corn meal ground locally or at home. These were items that were available on a seasonal and local level only.
I couldn’t help but wonder who Alice B. Tregaskis was and what cookbook she was using for the recipe. The one thing that seemed clear was that if she was writing in recipes to the NY Times in 1914, she was sort of a food blogger in her own time.