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A Baking Saga

Every year as Christmas approaches, my daughter and I bake Pumpkin Bread. Lots and lots of Pumpkin Bread.

The whole thing began sometime in the early ‘80’s because I was sick of baking my usual 100-120 DOZEN Christmas cookies. They were labor intensive, didn’t store well and had to be made last-minute. Sooo, I needed an easier recipe which would lend itself to mass production and store well, even if it took longer to bake. Enter The Junior League of Philadephia’s Bicentennial Cookbook. I have no idea where I got it, since I’d never been to Philadelphia at the time and knew no one there. But never mind. It had this intriguing recipe for baking a moist Pumpkin Loaf in one-pound coffee cans.

I made one batch, using three cans, and a dynasty was born. The process was easy, the result was very tasty, and they were easy to wrap in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, with a nice Christmas ribbon, for gifting.

I see the progression of my obsession in the cookbook's pages. First there’s the notation for making a double batch—6 loaves. Next is the shopping list to make 7 ½ dozen loaves. Then I joined the big leagues, buying enough ingredients to make a gross (12 dozen). The last entry, in my daughter’s handwriting, tells how much sugar (90 pounds) and flour (75 pounds) to make 15 dozen loaves.

Although we save our cans from year to year, our biggest challenge has been finding metal ones for replacements, even as they shrink in size. When I began this project, over 40 years ago, coffee really DID come in a one pound can. Then the can shrunk to 13 ounces and now it’s 11 ½ ounces in many cases.

We’re often asked what we do with all the loaves. My grandkids give them to their teachers, bus drivers and school janitors. While working, my husband gave them to each of his 50+ coworkers. Meanwhile my daughter and I give to our neighbors, friends and anyone else who will take one.

This year’s harvest, 15 ½ dozen, took two days and plenty of stamina. When I came home after the first day, I scraped dried batter off my arms, took off my pants and found the stuff everywhere, even on my seat. “Surely, I didn’t SIT in the batter,” I thought. But then I remembered the old hand-wiping routine. “If you think this is bad,” I said to my pants, “you should see your cousin, the apron.”

At last the loaves are done for another year, all beribboned and sparkly in their tin foil wraps, nestled in the freezer to be given out closer to Christmas. Home baked gifts are an Old School holiday tradition we will continue until our feet or our aprons give out.


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