It was September and fall was starting to show itself in the tiniest of ways. Leaves were just starting to turn and drift to the ground, the air was fresher and the nights cooler, the crickets were out in force, and the oppression of the summer heat was lifting. And my mom was dying. When the news was delivered, it slipped in with little warning or fanfare … just like the beginning of fall. But this is not a story about her death, this is a recipe that helps me remember her life.
Fall meant pumpkin bars. Sweet, spicy pumpkin cake topped with a fluffy cream cheese frosting and a pecan. Seems like such a small thing and yet she brought them to the fall party my husband and I threw every year. For ten years, they held center stage on our dessert table. It is funny how much love and care can come disguised as small burnt orange colored pieces of cake. She made them, not because she loved them (she did not love them), but because we loved them and our guests loved them and each year she brought them and people devoured them before the end of each party.
There was no fall party the year after my Mom died. The pain was too raw and the loss too new. But the next year we held our party, not because we had gotten over our loss but because she would have wanted us to hold that party…she loved that party. And much to our surprise, my Dad broke out her pumpkin bar recipe and he tried out his cooking skills on that beloved dessert. He brought two trays to the party that year, one with pecans and one without to be sure he did it right. And he was nervous and unsure about his success. He asked before the party if we had tasted them. We had not. But I watched as people approached the table and found those pieces of cake in the center and I saw them smile. Those small pieces of cake were bringing back memories of my Mom. Because my dad stepped in, my mom was at that fall party and every fall party since. Believe me when I say that these pumpkin bars are often requested, always devoured, and much loved.
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 (15 oz.) can of pumpkin
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 cup cooking oil
3/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)
pecan halves for decoration (if desired)
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl beat together eggs, pumpkin, sugar, and oil. Add flour mixture and blend well. Stir in pecans if desired. Spread batter in an ungreased 15 x10 baking pan (if using a 13 x 9, add 5–10 minutes to cooking time) and bake at 350 degrees for 25–30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack.
Cream Cheese Frosting
3 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
Combine softened cream cheese with butter and vanilla until fluffy. Add powdered sugar slowly and mix until smooth. Spread on cake when completely cool and top with pecan halves for decoration, if desired.
Diana Simmons lives, cooks, and bakes in Delaware.