By Peggy Hanson
There are a lot of ways to teach children the joy of giving. In these increasingly frugal times, making a homemade gift from the kitchen is a wise choice. With a gift of food, you never have to worry about picking out the wrong size or color or duplicating someone else’s gift. You will need to spend time of course—but it is time well spent if you are teaching children where food comes from and how to prepare it.
A quick bread is a great choice for holiday giving—some of the familiar favorites are banana nut, cranberry orange, pumpkin raisin, lemon blueberry, or applesauce-carrot spice. Most general purpose cookbooks have several recipes for quick bread, which can be easily doubled. That way you have some to eat at home and some to give away. Look for recipes that are not too heavy on sugars or fats. I like recipes that use grated or pureed fruits or vegetables to add moisture. Buttermilk or yogurt add both tang and richness without adding much fat. A variety of fresh, frozen, or dried fruits or nuts can be added to quick breads to make them extra special.
I chose pumpkin corn bread to make with my young friends Rachel and Nathan Eversole, because we grew both pumpkin and corn in our garden this year and we have honey from a local producer. I made sure that the children each got a taste of the plain honey and that they knew we were using honey from “our own backyard.”
Before we got started with the bread, we had to crack some nuts. Normally we would use our own black walnuts, but those are pretty challenging for beginning nut crackers, so we chose pecans, which we had brought home from our last visit to see family in Georgia. My husband Frank helped the kids crack the nuts and they did the picking, being careful to separate out bits of shell. It took less than fifteen minutes to get the cup of nuts we needed for our project. The kids sampled a few along the way—one of the perks that comes with cracking your own nuts.
After we cleaned up the mess from the nuts (saving all the shells for the compost, of course), Nathan and Rachel washed their hands and helped me set out all the ingredients on the kitchen table. We divided the ingredients into two groups—wet and dry.
One important dry ingredient was cornmeal. We used Nothstine Dent yellow corn, a “sweet and delicious” heirloom corn from Northern Michigan. Frank planted it this year because he could not resist the pitch from our Johnny’s Selected Seeds Catalogue: “Nothstine’s flavor is enough reason to grow it.” Johnny’s was right—we are enjoying the cornmeal for both baking and hot cereal. We ground the cornmeal in our new KitchenAid grain mill, which we attach to our workhorse KitchenAid mixer, going on 30 years old.
The key wet ingredient was pumpkin. For this, we used a Musque de Provence pumpkin—a mainstay from southern France. We found these seeds also from the Johnny’s catalogue. Sometimes it is called a Fairytale pumpkin, probably because the shape looks just like Cinderella’s storybook “pumpkin carriage.” Frank used the big knife to whack it open and the kids scooped the seeds and cleaned it thoroughly. They were obviously veterans of many jack-o-lantern projects. They brought the seeds home to toast in the oven with a little oil and salt for a crunchy snack.
I had baked a chunk of pumpkin in advance, so we used that for the bread while the new chunks were baking. Nathan and Rachel took turns cranking the food mill to purée the pumpkin. It was fun to turn chunky pumpkin into smooth pumpkin.
Once the nuts were cracked, the pumpkin was puréed, and the wet and dry ingredients set out, mixing the bread was a snap. Nathan and Rachel nailed the egg cracking—you could tell they were fifth graders with some experience to boot. (I have learned the hard way that a five-year-old needs pretty close supervision when it is time to crack eggs.)
We used two medium-sized loaf pans, each filled about two-thirds full. You can use just about any size or shape container for baking quick bread, just make sure it is well-greased and not more than two-thirds full of batter before baking.
After we were all done—dishes washed and bread out of the oven—we put the bread in a basket for carrying home. I explained that one loaf was for eating and the other for giving away. I knew Rachel and Nathan would enjoy deciding who to share the bread with as much as they would enjoy eating it.
Mix together wet ingredients:
2 cups mashed cooked pumpkin (canned or fresh)
½ cup butter, melted
½ cup honey
½ cup buttermilk
Mix together dry ingredients:
1 ½ cups finely ground corn meal
2 cups white or whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
1 cup raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
Mix together wet and dry ingredients just until well combined. Spoon into buttered pans, filling not more than two-thirds full. Bake in 350-degree oven until cake tester (I just use a sharp knife) inserted in the center comes out clean. (This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour, depending on pan size and actual oven temperature.) Cool in pan about 15 minutes then turn on to a rack to cook completely. Wrap well. Freeze if the bread will not be eaten within one week.