Pumpkin bread was the first recipe I distinctly remember watching my mom make. I watched in awe as she combined the ingredients from memory, for Mom made this treat so often she did not need the recipe. Pumpkin bread was the first baked good I learned to make, glued to Mom's hip, standing on a chair to reach the counter top. It was pumpkin bread that first inspired my love of my mother's shared love of baking, and eventually, the joy of sharing that with others.
As her young children, my siblings and I were dismayed when Mom gave away pumpkin bread, as she often did. (Okay, fine, we still feel this way unless we are the recipients of such bread.) But as I grew older, we learned not only her baking tips but also the joy of sharing her talents. Mom always gave away pumpkin bread as a small token of love or expression of concern. To our community, the pumpkin bread was a Christmas present dropped at every neighbor's door step, part of a homemade gourmet dinner because her friend's parent had passed away, random teacher appreciation gifts, or served at every rosary group get-together. Mom always seemed to have a hidden stash of pumpkin bread wrapped up and tied with a bow in the freezer, ready to give to any guest that might walk through the door at a moment's notice. She would wrap up mini loaves, label them with each child's name, and put them in the fridge, to our surprise, and we knew we had lunch and breakfast for the day. To say my mom was famous for not only her generosity and hospitality, but for this recipe, would be an understatement—and disservice to my childhood. But the best part about my mom and her recipe was that she was never afraid to give it away. Despite her seven children feeling quite possessive of it (and maintaining that she still makes it best of anyone), my mom has freely handed out her not-so-secret recipe to the masses that inevitably inquire.
When I was in high school, a peer of mine worked at Zingerman's Bakehouse. One day when I was raving about my mom's pumpkin bread (What? I never do that about my mom's concoctions...) he laughed and told me that Zingerman's pumpkin muffins were better. "Is that a challenge?" I asked. "Sure," he smirked, "you bring in your mom's pumpkin bread and I'll bring in a loaf from work, and we'll trade and see whose is better." Being the competitor that I am, and knowing my mom's bread would win, I couldn't resist the challenge. However, I paused, knowing that I was getting the shorter end of the stick. Now all those local to Ann Arbor—and probably many who aren't—will understand the weight that comes with anything attached to the Zingerman's name. I won't say the Zingerman's pumpkin bread was bad—in fact, it was great. But it did not compare in the least to my mom's pumpkin bread. When the day came for our trade, the boy immediately admitted defeat. So, naturally, I asked for the rest of the loaf back, jealous that he was eating my mom's pumpkin bread. Looking back I should have called this a trick rather than a challenge, as my friend refused to return it, and continued eating the whole mini loaf himself.
Now, many think that pumpkin is only a fall flavor. But anyone familiar with our family knows this to be false—and praises God that my mom's delectable dessert is not limited to such a short season. I was just home in April for a wedding, and what was sitting on the kitchen counter when I got home? A ready-made loaf of pumpkin bread. (I was the first to see it, thank goodness, because public pumpkin bread loaves only last but a few minutes in our house!) Until becoming acquainted with Starbucks' pumpkin spice lattes (#PSL) that are exclusively available in the fall, I was blissfully unaware that pumpkin was limited to the fall season. And so, I have gladly reverted to my prior ignorance, and am perfectly content in doing so.
However, I do know some folks who have not grown up around the Thompson household, and are confused by the idea of making pumpkin bread in June (cue eye roll). I would like to say it is for their sake that I adapted my mother's pumpkin bread recipe into banana bread. To be completely honest, what really drove me to adapt my mom's recipe was the budget of a college kid who loved to bake (bananas are cheaper than canned pumpkin puree), and some old bananas lying around the field hockey house during preseason. After trying multiple banana bread recipes, I was disappointed by the dryness and lack of flavor that accompanied such recipes claiming to be the "best banana bread ever" (Pinterest fail). I figured there had to be a way to re-create the moistness of my mom's pumpkin bread in banana bread. After studying the recipe, I decided to substitute the pumpkin puree for a few ripe, mashed bananas and give it a whirl. I can't remember if it was by accident or inspired by nostalgia that I left in the spices—cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg—which contribute to pumpkin bread's telltale flavor. Regardless, the magic that came out of the oven was reminiscent enough of childhood for me, yet still satisfied my teammates' summer tastebuds. It was my mom's pumpkin bread, in so-called "appropriate" seasonal form. Add chocolate chips, swirls of nutella—whatever you like—but do not take out the spices.
So without further ado, my mom's pumpkin bread recipe, adapted for banana bread:
Mama T's Famous Pumpkin (or banana) Bread
1-2/3 cup flour
1-1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1tsp each: nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup orange juice
1-1/4 cup (1 can) canned pumpkin puree OR 3-4 medium ripe bananas*
*Ripe bananas should have at least some brown spots on them and smell sweet. They should be fairly mushy when peeled.
- Whisk dry ingredients in a small bowl.
- Whisk wet ingredients together vigorously in a large separate bowl.
- Gently fold in dry ingredients and stir only until blended. My mom cautions: Do NOT over-mix or the bread will be tough and full of holes!
- Pour into lightly greased mini loaf pans (Mom uses four of them). If adding chocolate chips, mix them into the batter-filled pans now.
- Sprinkle sugar in each loaf pan, atop the batter (key step! this gives the bread the sugary, crispy top that we kids fought over).
- Bake in preheated 350° oven for 30 minutes.
- Check center for “bounce back” prior to removing from oven. This means when you gently tap the center of the bread, your finger shouldn't sink into the bread, but the bread should ever-so-slightly spring back up.
(Recently, I decided to cut 1/4 cup of sugar from my mom's original pumpkin bread recipe for the banana bread, simply because ripened bananas already have so much natural sugar, much more than unsweetened pumpkin puree. However, I don't think it is too sweet if you keep the extra 1/4 cup sugar.)
Happy birthday to my beautiful mother, Mama T! The world is a better place with you and your sweet treats in it. I love you!
With a little grace,