Friday, November 11, 2016

Aunt Viola's Pumpkin Bread


     Val says her aunt Viola used to spread cream cheese between two slices of this pumpkin bread.  The tangy cool layer provides the perfect contrast to the sweet dates and the blend of spices.  I must have somehow recalled this from the cobwebs in my brain when I thought of the brilliant plan to bake Viola’s pumpkin bread in the form of a cake and adorn it with a thick dollop of cream cheese frosting.

     There was an occasion when we were invited to Aunt Viola’s well-kept and finely decorated home in Milton, MA (over the bridge, just outside of Boston).  I know it was some family gathering/ holiday but I'm not sure of the exact reason but it was important enough that Aunt Viola had created an elaborate buffet of food that filled a dining room table.  It was exactly the sort of holiday meal that as a child, I feared.  These were not dishes filled with plain corn topped with a pat of butter, unadorned baked potatoes and sliced chicken breast (white meat only, please).  Aunt Viola’s T.V. reception was much better that ours (living near a city) and she was able to watch Julia Child’s then cutting edge show on PBS, “The French Chef”.  Not only that, she had the ability and panache to pull off such innovative cooking.  There were casseroles with creamy sauces, plates garnished with chopped herbs, and aromas, although not unpleasant, the fact that I had never smelt them before was enough to send me running back to the car.
     Val took a plate from the edge of the table and led me through the choices, suggesting a spoonful of this and perhaps a small bit of that.  My stomach was already bulging from gorging on the gourmet Chex mix Viola provided as I watched numerous episodes of Hanna Barbera’s  “Jabber Jaw” on her color T.V.  I’m sure the soda procured illegally by my sister Karyn, did not help the situation.  I must have protested too loud, “I don’t like that!” when my mother pointed to the scalloped potatoes.  My words seemed to ring through the air as the perfect timing of a lull in conversation took place.  I knew I was in trouble when Val gave me the squinty eye and hissed the dreaded words, “try a bite of it, please!”  Then she did the unthinkable.  She made me apologize to Aunt Viola. 
     Beat red, belly bulging out of my pants, I slumped over to where Viola was overseeing the room of guests murmuring delight over her incredible offering.  I managed somehow to stammer out a mangled, “I’m sorry I said that I don’t like the potatoes.”  While Val watched with an eagle eye to make sure I did exactly as I was told. 
     Well, I don’t remember much else from that day.  Not even if I actually tried a bite of those scandalous potatoes or if I decided I liked them or not. (Probably not, I don’t like scalloped potatoes much, at all.)  But what I do remember is that there must have been pumpkin bread displayed artfully on a special plate or maybe I have two memories confused.  Either way, I’m glad to have Viola’s recipe for one of the things she made that I did always truly enjoy.  But I what I really wish is that I knew how to recreate that delectable Chex mix.

Aunt Viola's Pumpkin Bread
(makes 2 large loaves)
2 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup softened butter
4 eggs, beaten
1 can pumpkin
2/3 cup water
3 1/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup chopped (pitted) dates

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 2 large loaf pans and set aside.
Cream together sugar and butter.  Add eggs, pumpkin and water.  Mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a separate bowl.  Gradually, add dry ingredients to the wet.  Mix in nuts and dates.  Pour batter into pans and bake for approximately 60 minutes until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool for 5 minutes on a rack then inverted pans to release loaves.  Cool completely before serving.
* If using smaller loaf pans, bake for about 40-45 minutes.
**This recipe freezes well.  Wrap loaves tightly in plastic wrap, then freezer Ziploc bags.  

Cream Cheese Frosting
4 tablespoons softened butter
4 ounces softened cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla 

Blend butter and cream cheese together.  Add sugar.  Blend well.  Add milk and vanilla.  If consistency of frosting is too thick, add more milk by the 1/2 teaspoon, if too soft, add more powdered sugar by the tablespoon until desired spreadability is achieved.   


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