No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.
Laurie Colwin, presented with the James Beard Award for Cookbook Hall of Fame
Transitions can be tough, especially if that transition involves moving to an unfamiliar place. The ordinary markers in the day, like the fragrance of supper simmering on the stove or the pleasant background music from the radio, are absent. Quite often, the surest way to settle in seems to come through a particular scent of familiar food.
One of the things I missed most when I started my college life away from home was the smell of home cooking, especially in the autumn. Not only the rich smells of cinnamon, ginger, and baked treats, but stew meats with vegetables and home-canned tomatoes. My roommate and I did the best we could to figure out a balm for our homesick farmland hearts. We set Saturdays aside for a walk to the grocer for supplies, then settled back in the dorm room to cook soup in little hot pots. Tomato broth with a can of mixed vegetables stirred in wasn’t high-culinary art, but it smelled like home. We would spread a cloth over a wooden crate, set it with a cola bottle filled with flowers from our walk, and prepare a table as pretty as a café. Soon our dorm neighbors would drift in and share in sweet hospitality. This simple meal restored us, body and soul, and inspired us to think of other ways to bring comfort through food. Now we just needed recipes.
One of my dorm friends attended the Catholic church in our college town, and the members were selling cookbooks as a fundraiser for the parish. I thumbed through the thick, spiral-bound book filled with simple recipes — many that could be made at college. On the reverse side of “Father Blecha’s Favorites” with recipes by Lucille Taylor, I noticed the Dedication page. Featured at the top was a black and white photo of a thin, elderly woman in a plain wash dress and posing by a lilac bush. It was Miss Taylor, looking as if she had been hastily taken away from rolling a pie crust and told to “stand over there.” The story of her devotion to the church and priest, ministering to them with good food, warmed my heart, and her recipes tempted me with thoughts of tasty treats. Many of the recipes, including the pumpkin bread that is featured below, came from her collection of parish favorites.
The St. Joseph’s Parish Cookbook became my first in a long line of church cookbooks that now fill a shelf in my kitchen. Some of the pages are stuck together from years of sitting on floured and buttery counters, but I believe that the mark of a good recipe is measured by the number of stains on its page. Studies are conducted that suggest the smell of cinnamon enhances memory and the ability to process ideas. Sure, there are probably several health benefits to cinnamon — but to me, it nourishes the soul too. Each time I bake this recipe, I think of Miss Lucy, who blessed and fed her small Wisconsin parish and its priest for twenty-three years. By way of her recipes, she brought a touch of home to my college days. Now forty years later, my own collegiate daughter has Miss Lucy’s pumpkin bread in her dorm. Warming a slice exudes that wonderful cinnamon aroma that takes her memories back to autumns at home, just as it did for me.
Miss Lucille Taylor’s Pumpkin Bread
1 15 oz. can of 100% pumpkin
1 c. salad oil (light tasting vegetable oil)
2/3 c. water
3 c. sugar
pinch ground black pepper (this enhances the spice)
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
3 ½ c. flour
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two large loaf pans.
Beat eggs and then add water, salad oil, and pumpkin. Mix in the sugar, then spices. Finally, mix in the flour one cup at a time until blended. Pour into pans and bake for at least 60 minutes. Check by inserting a toothpick into the center of the loaf. If it comes out clean, the bread is done.
The featured image is courtesy of Annie Nardone and used with her kind permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Annie Nardone is a flannel-clad, cowboy boot-shod adventurer who seldom travels with a map because joy and surprise are discovered in the journey! Her sincere passion is the reintegration of the arts and humanities with theology and the Christian imagination. She holds a Masters Degree in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University and writes for Literary Life and the quarterly magazine, An Unexpected Journal. Annie resides in Virginia with her Middle Earth/Narnia/Hogwarts-loving family, and an assemblage of sphynx cats and feline foundlings who read with her daily. In a poll taken among friends, six things that characterize her include: books, C.S. Lewis, spontaneous adventure, Shakespeare, caffeine, and cats.