Plunge into Fall

(Originally published in The News Review on October 4, 2016) Recipes in this post: Whole Wheat Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake, Maple Syrup-Sweetened Whipped Cream, Candied Pumpkin Seeds, and Roasted Squash

I adore autumn. The earthy colors of the changing leaves warm my heart and I am eager for the “firsts” of the season. The first fire in the fireplace. The first pot of stew. The first cranberry-apple crisp.

The astonishing abundance of the Umpqua Valley is evident everywhere I turn. Bins of sweet, crisp apples are stacked on my counters, ready to be grabbed for a school lunch, sliced for the dehydrator, or cooked down into sauce. Buttery Bosc pears lazily ripen in a bowl on the kitchen table. Baskets of freshly gathered and dried hazelnuts wait to be cracked and roasted. I inhale the intense perfume of Concord grapes each time I reach into the fridge for a deep, purple cluster.

October ushers in the fall season with all things pumpkin. From lattes to lasagne, pumpkin is the common denominator in dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as dessert. My contribution is Whole Wheat Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake. Thick wedges can be served any time of day, simple and unadorned. If you want to fancy it up, top each slice with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of candied pumpkin seeds.

About the Ingredients

Canned pumpkin is fine for this recipe, but it’s satisfying to make your own purée. For the best flavor and texture, look for sugar pie pumpkins rather than those grown for carving Jack-o-Lanterns. Sugar pie pumpkins have darker, sweeter skin and flesh. When cooked and puréed, the flesh will be less watery and more like canned pumpkin. They still look lovely on your doorstep or table and will keep for months (uncut) in a cool basement, garage, or root cellar.

Pumpkin seeds
When I call for pumpkin seeds, I’m referring to the raw, green seeds. These are harvested from a special variety of pumpkin (Styrian) that produces hull-less seeds. You’ll find them in the bulk foods or natural foods section of the grocery store. The packages of white, roasted pumpkin seeds in their shell that you see at the check stand or in the snack aisle would not work well in most recipes.


I buy most of my spices from the bulk bins at the supermarket. When I buy just the quantity I’ll need for the next few months, they’re always fresh and their flavor is robust. Not sure you’re spices are up to snuff? Try the sniff test -- open the jars or bags, close your eyes, and take a gentle whiff. If you can’t tell the ginger from the allspice or cloves, it’s time to toss them and restock your supply.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake

This cake fills the kitchen with a lovely, spicy aroma. Be sure to use fresh spices for the best flavor. Inspired by the recipe for Gingerbread Cake in Sharon Van Loan and Patricia Lee’s cookbook, Thyme and the River.

Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan (angel food cake pan), a bundt pan or two 9 x 5 loaf pans. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, stir together:
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (I grind my own from soft white wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon cloves
¾ teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, cream together:
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed

Add in and mix well:
½ cup molasses
1/3 cup honey

One at a time, beat in:
3 large eggs

Then mix in:
½ cup pumpkin purée (either canned or from one you have baked)
½ cup buttermilk

Gradually add in the flour mixture, on low speed or by hand, just until there are no dry spots. Do not overmix. Pour into prepared pan(s) and bake for 40 – 50 minutes until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then remove from pan(s) and finish cooling on a wire rack. Makes 16 to 20 servings, depending on how thickly you slice it.

Serve each slice with a dollop of maple syrup-sweetened whipped cream and a sprinkling of candied pumpkin seeds, if desired.

Do ahead tip: You can freeze this cake whole, but if you slice it first and slip squares of waxed paper or parchment between the slices, you can take out just the number you need when a craving strikes or company shows up. Excellent with a cup of herb tea on a rainy afternoon!

Maple Syrup-Sweetened Whipped Cream

With an electric mixer on the lowest speed, beat 1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream (preferably not ultra-pasteurized) in a deep bowl until the cream begins to thicken. Add 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup and a splash of real vanilla extract. Continue beating on low speed just until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat or the cream will quickly become stiff and greasy or turn to butter.

Candied Pumpkin Seeds

1/4 cup real maple syrup
½ tablespoon butter
Pinch of salt
½  teaspoon cinnamon
¾  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup raw, green pumpkin seeds

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Set aside. Combine the syrup, butter, salt and cinnamon in a 6 to 8-inch skillet. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir until mixture begins to thicken, 2 ½ to 4 minutes. It should be the consistency of raw egg whites and you should be able to draw a heat-resistant spatula or wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan, leaving a bare trail that does not fill in quickly.

Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Immediately add the pumpkin seeds and stir until they are evenly coated with the glaze. Turn out onto the lined cookie sheet, spread into a thin layer and let cool completely. When cool, break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Note: If you find you did not cook the glaze long enough and the nuts are still sticky even after they have cooled completely (give them at least an hour or so, depending on the weather and humidity in your kitchen), put them in a low oven for a few minutes to help them dry out.

YIELD: 1 cup

Roasting winter squash or pumpkins for purée (to use in pies, bread, muffins, pancakes, etc.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half. (To make this easier, first cut a 3-inch lengthwise slit in one side of the squash and microwave it for 5 minutes, carefully remove using pot holders, then cut in half or into quarters.) Scoop out the seeds and place squash cut side down on an oiled or parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until tender and easily pierced with a fork. Let cool, then remove the peel. Purée in a blender or food processor or mash with a potato masher until smooth. Use within a few days or freeze in heavy-duty freezer bags.

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