Joni Woolf: Pumpkins — food long before décor

Published 9:13 am Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tomorrow is the first day of October, and that puts some of us in the mind for pumpkins. The vegetable (yes, vegetable) has been a part of the American landscape since before there was an America, a food staple of the native population and the first English settlers. Though many of us today think of pumpkin in terms of pumpkin pie (a Thanksgiving staple) and perhaps pumpkin bread, pumpkin as a vegetable was part of a healthy diet when our ancestors first settled here. So today, we’re going to feature a pumpkin soup — amended somewhat from what our great-great-great-grandmothers might have cooked, but who knows? They lived, to a large degree, by their wits, and isn’t that how we come up with new recipes? This one, from Louise Dodd, Macon Magazine’s original food writer, is easy and delicious. I hope you try it.
I’m also including a recipe for a pumpkin torte that is delightful to the eye and scrumptious to the taste buds — and loved by thousands (well … many). Several years ago, during one of my careers following the sale of Macon Magazine, I had an office in the Macon Chamber of Commerce building. Though not a Chamber employee, they were all my friends, and I was always included in their celebratory meals. At the Thanksgiving celebration one year, I decided to bring the Pumpkin Torte, covered in whipped cream that was hiding a delectable caramel/pecan filling between the layers. Everyone loved it. It was a hit. Just as someone was coming back for seconds, I decided to save the remaining fourth-of-a-cake to take home. As I lifted it, it slid from my hands and splattered all over the conference room carpet. Whipped cream and caramel filling are hard to get out! I was mortified, of course. But everyone who’s still there remembers the day I had whipped cream all over my face — and hands, and knees. This is a dessert for special occasions: it is moist, rich, complex and lovely to look at. Make it during October when pumpkins appear everywhere (though these recipes call for canned pumpkin, a privilege our ancestors did not enjoy).

Curried Pumpkin Soup
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons curry powder
3 cups chicken broth
1 16-ounce can pumpkin
1 teaspoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup milk
Plain yogurt (for garnish)
Melt butter in 3-quart saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Mix in flour and curry powder and cook until bubbly, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually stir in broth. Add pumpkin, brown sugar, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Blend in the milk and continue cooking until heated through; do not boil. Ladle into individual pumpkins that have been hollowed out and put tops back on before serving (The small pumpkins that are available now at markets are perfect for this). Or ladle into serving bowls. Sprinkle with chives or parsley. Garnish with yogurt. Serve immediately.

Praline Pumpkin Torte
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
3 tablespoons plus 1 ¾ cups whipping cream
1 cup chopped pecans
4 large eggs
1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)
2 cups canned cooked pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or ¾ teaspoons each ground cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two nine-inch round cake pans on bottom and sides. Line bottoms of pans with parchment paper. In a heavy, medium-size pan over low heat, stir brown sugar, butter, and 3 tablespoons whipping cream until melted and blended, about 5 minutes. Pour half the brown sugar mixture into each of the cake pans. Reserve ¼ cup pecans and divide the remaining ¾ cup equally, sprinkled into the cake pans, over the brown sugar mixture.
In a bowl, use a spoon to beat eggs, granulated sugar and oil until well blended. Stir in pumpkin and ½ teaspoon vanilla. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spices, baking soda and salt to blend. Whisk dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture until well blended. Pour half of the batter into each of the pans, over the brown sugar/pecan mixture.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool in pans on racks about 5 minutes. Then invert onto racks and remove pans and paper. Let cool completely, about 1 ½ hours.
Up to six hours before serving, in a bowl, with an electric mixture on high speed, beat remaining 1 ¾ cup whipping cream until soft peaks form. On low speed, beat in powdered sugar and remaining ½ teaspoon vanilla just until blended. Set one cake layer, pecan praline side up, on a serving platter. Spread two-thirds of the whipped cream mixture over the layer. Set second layer, praline side up, on top. Cover with remaining whipped cream mixture. Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup chopped pecans.
You will be asked to make this cake again and again. But pace yourself. It’s tedious and time-consuming and once a year may be enough. Always leave them wanting more!

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at