Chuck’s Pumpkin Pie Cake

A few years ago, one of Jerri’s grand nieces graduated as salutatorian of her high school class. She was one of over four hundred seniors and is currently completing her doctorate in cultural anthropology. At a family get-together a year or so after she had begun her college work at Carnegie Mellon University, she was visiting her grandparents in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, when her high school honor was brought up by one of her aunts.

“You were only salutatorian? I was valedictorian!”

Another aunt spoke up. “But there were only fifty-six seniors in your class.”

Her great aunt joined the conversation. “I was valedictorian, but there were only eight in my class. And your grandfather was valedictorian, and there were three in his class.”

We still enjoy thinking of how we treasure those honors from many years ago.

Recently Jerri, her brother and I attended her high school reunion in Rosalia, Kansas. As you might guess, it is an all class reunion in a small community. Since it was 2017, graduates present from classes in 2007, 1997, etc. were recognized.

It was a friendly group of fifty or sixty people who enjoyed sharing memories of their school. Everybody knew everybody else, or at least appeared to know the parents of the the younger attendees. We won the door prize as having come the farthest distance to the reunion and Jerri’s brother, the valedictorian of three, got a prize as the oldest attendee.

My only disappointment was with the food or rather with the caterer. The food was tasty and well seasoned. The coleslaw was the best I have ever eaten and the dessert was excellent, but Cindy, of Cindy’s Copper Kettle in Eureka, Kansas, refused to share her recipe for either.

She flat out refused when I explained that I would like to publish the recipe for her cole slaw. “I’m sorry, but we have been making that coleslaw for forty-nine years, and we can’t share it. You can buy it by the pint or quart at the restaurant if you want some.”

“But you don’t understand….” I tried to explain.

“I understand all too well, but I make fifty pounds at a time, so the slaw probably wouldn’t turn out right for you anyway,” she replied.

I tried another tactic. “That pumpkin dessert was wonderful too. Would you share that recipe.”

“Nope, sorry,” but then a pause. “It’s just my version of pumpkin pie cake. You can find recipes on line to get you started.”

Polite but firm. It’s hard to fool a Kansas woman.

I don’t think that I can come close to the the coleslaw recipe unless I disguise myself and sneak into the kitchen when Cindy is making it. However, her tip about the pumpkin pie cake encouraged me, and here is my version. It’s not quite as good as hers, but it is a great dessert.

INGREDIENTS:

For the cake:
1 package yellow cake mix
8 T unsalted butter
1 cup chopped nuts
1 can pumpkin (or two cups fresh purée)
1 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. allspice
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
2 cups evaporated milk

For the topping:
1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream
2 to 4 tsp. sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp. vanilla

PROCEDURE:

Start by making the crust. Melt the butter in your microwave or a small pan on the range over low heat. Chop the nuts. Dump the cake mix into a mixing bowl and stir in the nuts. Use a fork to blend the butter with the cake mix and nuts.

Grease a nine by thirteen-inch baking pan, and use a spatula to press the prepared cake mix evenly on the bottom of the pan.

Preheat the oven to 350º while you make the pumpkin pie batter.

Combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt, eggs and evaporated milk in a mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat the pumpkin mixture until you have a smooth batter.

Pour the batter over the crust in the pan and bake for sixty to seventy minutes until a knife inserted near the center of the pan comes out clean.

Cool thoroughly on a rack.

To make the whipped cream topping, chill the cream and beaters in the freezer for about fifteen minutes. With an electric mixer, beat the cream until it begins to thicken, add the sugar and continue beating. Beat in the vanilla.

NOTES: Use sugar and vanilla proportional to the amount of cream you need to whip. A half cup of heavy cream will produce enough whipped cream for six generous servings of cake.

Jerri’s Pumpkin Nut Cookies

Halloween trick or treating can be a lot of fun. Mothers and fathers know it, even though they may not be the ones greeting folks at their doors with shouts of “Trick or treat!!” Even a shy three-year old Tinkerbell or Dracula soon starts running up sidewalks and holding out a plastic pumpkin or paper bag to collect the loot and hurry back giggling to mom or dad ready to move on to the next house.

Jerri and I look forward to Halloween every year. We enjoy the little kids, though sometimes we have to lean down close to hear the whispered “Trick or treat” and we certainly get a kick out of seeing older children participating, especially when they are shepherding a litter of little ones. When Jerri was giving piano lessons, one of the special treats was seeing some of her students in costumes and smiles.

My first few years as a trick or treater involved visiting the neighbors when we lived in Hayward, but we moved into the country when I was seven, and neighbors were far apart. There were only three houses besides ours in the first mile of the town road in front of our house, but they were all in the first quarter mile, so we made them our first stop of the evening. Then Mom and Dad would drive us into town. They would visit with friends for an hour or so while my sisters and I walked the streets on the north side of Hayward.

By the time I entered high school, however, I was feeling a little odd about trick or treating. Teen anxiety, perhaps, but a more sophisticated friend than I suggested that we might have some fun collecting money for UNICEF. To be honest, I don’t think that I knew what UNICEF was when she mentioned it. Once I understood that we would be collecting money for the United Nations Children’s Fund, however, I was all for the project and helped recruit a team.

There were six of us, and we worked in pairs, a guy and a girl, each of us carrying a can with orange construction paper taped around it. My partner (whose name I have forgotten) and I were doing pretty well collecting nickels and dimes from homeowners happy to help children in need.

When we came to the Twin Gables bar at the end of Beal Avenue we saw quite a few cars in front, which prompted me to suggest that we try our luck for UNICEF inside. Since my parents were good friends of Fritz and Irma who owned the place, I knew them both and was confident that they would give us a chance to explain our reason for coming in.

Collecting for UNICEF in a bar was a brilliant idea. Irma started it off with a dollar bill and explained to the patrons what we were doing. My partner and I set up a squeeze play: She began at the south end of the bar and I took the north. We may have been lucky, but the first two people wiped their change from the bar and dropped it into our little orange cans, then proceeded to bully everyone else into doing the same.

As we walked behind the row of stools, the person who had just contributed encouraged his or her neighbor. The advice was blunt but good-natured. “Jake, Lois is wondering where you are. Just give ‘em the money and go home. You’ve had enough.” and “You missed a quarter, Phil, dump it in.” I think that we collected ten dollars from that one stop. That’s about $75 in today’s money.

When we rendezvoused with the other two teams, we told them what we had done. They had skipped the bars, which were downtown and away from the houses they had called on, so we split up and covered the Karibalis’, Anglers and Moccasin bars in just a few minutes with similar success. It was a fun night that we repeated for the next three years until I headed for the university at Madison. UNICEF did well.

Though we no longer walk the streets on Halloween, Jerri and I still look forward to greeting the trick or treaters who come to our door. We usually have a pretty good turnout. Perhaps they are attracted by the Jack O’ Lantern that I carve each year. While not as artistic as many in our neighborhood, I do think that trick or treaters appreciate the sight of a truly primitive carving. At least, they are often laughing when I open the door.

One extra benefit of carving a Jack O’ Lantern for Halloween is that you can turn it into pumpkin pies, breads and cookies. We used to do that. Today I just break our Jack O’ Lantern into pieces in front of my deer stand, but years ago I cleaned and peeled my work of art so Jerri could make mashed pumpkin.

She found this recipe when we were living in Kentucky and modified it to make cookies that were healthful as well as tasty. Hence the whole wheat flour, mashed pumpkin, raisins AND nuts. It’s a cookie that is almost a balanced diet by itself with dairy products (eggs), whole grains (whole wheat flour) fruits (raisins and pumpkin) and nuts. If, like many of us, you think pumpkins are really vegetables, you will feel even better about eating these cookies.

Since you simply stir stuff together to make a soft dough and drop globs of it on cookie sheets, these cookies are very easy to make. We use canned pumpkin today, but if you are cooking a couple of pumpkins for pies, save a cup of mashed pumpkin for a batch of pumpkin cookies to share with your family and friends this fall.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed pumpkin
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped nuts

PROCEDURE:

Cream the shortening and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs and pumpkin and mix thoroughly until you have a smooth batter. Put the flours, salt and spices into a sifter and sift the dry ingredients into the batter by thirds, stirring well after each addition. Fold in the raisins and nuts.

Preheat the oven to 350º and grease the cookie sheets.

Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of batter onto the cookie sheets and bake the cookies for about fifteen to eighteen minutes until the edges begin to brown. You should end up with about four dozen cookies.

NOTE: Depending on the moisture content of the pumpkin and flour, you may need to add a small amount of water or flour to the batter. It should be stiff but not dry.