Autumn has well and truly arrived and with it the orange globes that seem to pop up everywhere, on porches, sidewalks and of course in kitchens. Pumpkins are not just for decorations people! Though the large carving pumpkins are no good for eating, the smaller (but not teeny) ones are wonderful for cooking and baking. Don’t be seduced by the canned stuff either, it is ‘squash’ and, as I’ve discovered, lacks the sweetness and body of real pumpkin.
One of the great blessings of the change of seasons has been our return to the kitchen. Though I baked bread all through the summer, delighting in its ability to rise in my 80+ degree kitchen (perfect for bread rising, horrid for people) I avoid baking and cooking in the hot weather. As the days have cooled, and the rain has come, we’ve returned to our rhythm of family baking sessions at least once a week. Now we are homeschooling I suppose I can class that as Home Economics!
Now, though, it is not just Huwyl helping me in the kitchen – Neirin wants in on the action too! I’m finding the best way to keep him happy is to include him in the same way I do Huwyl in all activities. Plus I can’t resist him when he goes and gets his step and brings it over to the counter all ready to join in. Who could?
I’ve been cooking with little ones ever since Huwyl could stand on a chair and I think it is an incredibly important part of their learning. One of the buzz terms in education now is ‘life skills’, which basically means knowing things that are actually useful. Cooking is, in my opinion, at the core of self care and self determination. If you can cook you can make crucial decisions about your health, your life philosophy and nurture yourself and those you love. Plus you’ll always have loads of friends if you can knock up a good choccy cake in a hurry. Nuff said.
Cooking with children is not without it’s hazards or frustrations but here are my top tips for anyone embarking on the fun journey of cooking with small people.
– Plan ahead. Know your recipe, make sure you have all the ingredients and tools needed. You can’t swap and change with children in the kitchen, make a plan and stick to it.
– Prep ahead. I usually select a couple of age appropriate jobs for each child to do and assign them prior to beginning. I then do everything else myself to get it ready for their help. If possible make one of their jobs a bit where tasting is possible because that’s what kids love most about cooking! Things that I’ve found work well are greasing the tin with old butter wrappers, beating eggs, pouring in blueberries or choc chips, turning on/off mixers but with close supervision, weighing ingredients, chopping softened butter with a blunt tool. Basically something that is straight forward and not really crucial to the outcome is best until they and you get your confidence up.
– Allow extra time and don’t be in a rush. I usually expect baking with the children to take 2-3 times as long as if I did it myself. If you are needing to get the baking done then this isn’t the time to involve the children. If you have a lovely hour or two to spend or you are planning to prep it all ahead and just get them involved at the end then dive in! The pre-prep thing is a fave of mine as I’ve discovered that Huwyl has a specific bit he enjoys the most such as stirring in the blueberries for the muffins and using the ice cream scoop to put them in their cups. The rest he is happy to leave to me!
– Let go of perfection. It may not be the way you want it, your kitchen may be 10 times as messy and ingredients might not be chopped in semetrical cubes, but it is worth it. The end product will be all the sweeter for the patience invested in it.
By involving our children in the process of cooking and making food I think we do them a great service. Not only do they learn the skills of baking and food preparation but they gain confidence and a sense of independence. They are achieving something of significant value within the family and creating something that can be enjoyed by all. They are participating in the nourishment of those they love the best. What better feeling is there?
So for anyone looking to cook a pumpkin recipe alone or with little helpers peeking over the bowl here is our yummy pumpkin loaf.
450g/1lb pumpkin flesh – This was about half a ‘pie’ pumpkin (they are the ones a bit smaller than a child’s ball)
125g/4 1/2 oz/ half a cup of butter – softened
175g/6oz/ 3/4 cup caster (superfine) sugar ( I use normal granulated sugar then whizz it in my vitamix)
2 eggs, beaten (good job for a small person!)
225g/8oz/2 cups of all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1. Grease your pan(or let a little person do it), you can use a 2lb loaf tin but I like a regular square tin 8″ by 8″.
2. Chop the pumpkin into large pieces then wrap in buttered foil and bake for 40 mins on 200C/400F until tender.
3. When pumpkin is cool mash or puree. If it has too much liquid cook again in a pan for a few minutes until nice and thick but not dry.
4. Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy then add eggs a little at a time. This is something my 5 year old can now do comfortably (as seen above).
5. Gently stir in the pumpkin and then add the flour, baking powder and salt.
6. Spoon into your greased tin, again small people really enjoy helping to smooth out the cake mix and of course licking the spoon after!
7. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160C/325F for about 1 1/2 hours (check regularly after the first hour) or until a knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
8. Leave until just shy of mouth burning temperature then eat a whacking great slice while you still have the chance. Then have another for good measure. Oh and you should probably give the children some too, they did help ; )
This is a great cake for afternoon tea, it is moist, warming and fills the tummy well.
But honestly the cake wasn’t the best bit of our family baking session, though I admit it was a close run thing. The most delicious thing to come out of that afternoon was this,