This fall-themed cake featuring pumpkin puree and a cream cheese frosting is a great way to usher in winter. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

Some parts of Maine have had the proverbial frost on the pumpkin, and an awful lot of the rest of us saw a few light frosts early in October but nothing serious since. I harvested my pumpkins a month ago anyway, including a favorite deep orange-fleshed, fine-grained heirloom called long pie, a wonderful keeper that starts out looking like an overgrown zucchini but turns orange either in the garden or later in storage.

As the weeks sneak up on Thanksgiving, I think about my pumpkins more than I do earlier in the fall. As it happens, quite a while ago Ruth Thurston in Machias sent along a couple of good pumpkin recipes one was for a steamed pudding called harvest pudding, which when cooked, turned out, frosted and sliced looks for all the world like cake. Not many of us make steamed puddings anymore, and actually a recipe like this one is just as good baked as steamed.

You don’t need much pumpkin, a little under half a pie pumpkin or about half of a fifteen-ounce can. You could think about making two cakes or puddings and freezing one, or using the rest of the pumpkin puree in pumpkin bread. This is one of those times when freezing pre-measured amounts of pumpkin to thaw as needed is a good idea.

The amount of spice in this recipe is just right for my taste. Add more or use less to suit your preference. The recipe calls for chopped walnuts, but I am not fond of them in this kind of dish; consider pecans instead, or half a cup of raisins. Again, suit your own taste.

If you go the pudding route, reduce the milk to one-quarter cup. A covered mold is handy but you can also use a greased bowl covered with aluminum foil. Double boilers work, too. You can steam them in the oven set at about 325 but in that case, why not bake it?  The pudding is done when a tester inserted comes out clean, just exactly as for cake. A tubed mold produces a pretty pudding, dressy enough for the Thanksgiving table.

Slather cream cheese frosting over the top. If you go the steamed pudding route, you can use hard sauce or lemon sauce, whatever you like. Ruth’s directions say, “serve warm” but I am here to tell you that anyone with a sweet tooth will happily shave slices off a cold cake or pudding until it disappears.

Harvest Cake

2 cups flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon nutmeg

¾ cup pumpkin puree

½ cup buttermilk, or sour milk (or ¼ cup if you make a steamed pudding)

½ cup butter or shortening

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans, or 1/2 cup of raisins, optional

Heat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease and flour a tube cake pan.

Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and all spices. Set aside.

Mix together the pumpkin and buttermilk and set aside.

Cream together the butter and granulated and brown sugars, add and beat in the eggs, then beat in the pumpkin and milk mixture.

Add the flour mixture and mix only until the flour is incorporated. The batter is a little firm.

Stir in the optional nuts or raisins.

Turn the batter into the cake pan.

Bake for one hour. The cake is done when it pulls away from the sides of the pan and a tester inserted comes out clean.

Frost it or sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

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Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...