As an October baby, I had mixed feelings about pumpkins growing up.
On the one hand, they signaled the beginnings of fall, always my favorite season. Even as a child, I loved the change of nature’s color palette, from the varied greens of summer to the reds, golds, and oranges of autumn.
I can remember setting out for school one day and being struck with wonder at the beauty of the tunnel of maples and elms that lined the street I grew up on. The bright oranges and reds of the pumpkins I saw fit into that palette naturally.
I also loved the flavor of pumpkin. As a kid, I asked for pumpkin pie rather than cake to end my birthday dinner, which irritated my mother: She disliked making pastry and found it intimidating. But she always accommodated me.
On the other hand, though, the arrival of pumpkins meant it wouldn’t be long before winter’s severe white replaced that lovely autumn tapestry of colors.
I never loved winter, with its slippy-slidey sidewalks and roads, and the heavy snows that made walking to school tiresome and bitter.
I was in eighth grade when the schools finally permitted girls to wear pants to school, so for most of those years I walked the mile to school with bare legs and ruddy knees.
Now that I’ve finally had the good sense to return to Tucson, the second half of all that disappeared.
Nowadays, when I see the pumpkins arrayed outside grocery stores and at farmers markets, I know it’s the beginning of the time of year when it will be lovely to be outside once again.
For a brief season, we’ll need neither air conditioning nor heat, and the windows can be open to admit the sweetly scented air.
Of course, now I also know that pumpkins are native to Central and South America and have traditionally been an important food crop for native Americans.
Archaeologists have found containers of stored pumpkin seeds in Mexico dating back to 7000 B.C., and many of us know about the Native Americans’ Three Sisters gardens, where corn, beans and squash or pumpkins grew synergistically. I’ve read that pumpkins were an important component in the traditional Tohono O’Odham diet, and that they ground pumpkin seeds into a nutritious flour to be mixed with cornmeal in breads.
These days, I’m less likely to make a pie than I am to prepare something simple like these nutty muffins — I can enjoy one or two and put the rest into the freezer for the pleasure of future me. Your future you will thank you, too, if you do the same.
Orange-walnut pumpkin muffins
Makes 12 small muffins, 6 large muffins or one 9-by-5-inch loaf
If you’d prefer to bake this as a loaf, follow the recipe to the point of combining all ingredients, grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and add the batter, smoothing the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center. When the loaf has fully cooled, remove it from the pan and dust it generously with the confectioners’ sugar mixture.
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup pumpkin puree (canned is OK)
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup orange juice
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add muffin liners to a muffin tin.
Place flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, baking powder, salt and ½ cup walnuts in a large bowl.
In a separate mixing bowl, place the eggs, sugar, pumpkin, oil and juice. Beat until blended. Add the flour mixture to pumpkin mixture in three additions. Stir just until moistened after each addition. The batter will be lumpy and will have streaks of flour. This is the way you want it.
Using an ice cream scoop, fill each muffin cup ¾ full. Sprinkle the tops with remaining walnuts. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool in the muffin tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn the muffins out to cool completely.
When the muffins have completely cooled, combine the confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl. Place the mixture in a sieve or a sifter and dust the tops of the cooled muffins generously.