Monday, August 1, 2011

Prize-Winning Whole Wheat Pumpkin Crumb Bread

The guy who runs my NCAA basketball 'pool' is an alumni of the University of Kentucky, and he likes to point out that his school only hangs the titles of its winning banners from the tournament. By his logic, if you're not number one, you are second best. And I can understand that sentiment.  Because nothing feels worse than 'winning' a crummy little ribbon that honors your participation in a sporting event. Those little ribbons just scream: "you're such a loser we don't even think you can take losing like a champion, so we're giving you this bookmark ribbon to assuage your fragile little ego." As the recipient of many such ribbons, I know what I'm talking about.

I've won a few small academic scholarships in my life, first prize in a magazine poetry contest when I was thirteen, some Broadway tickets in an Internet competition, but I wouldn't describe myself as particularly skilled or lucky.  I've had some good luck at local fairs--as a kid I won some of those medium-sized stuffed animals by putting my coin (back then it was a quarter or a dime) on the right number, name, or letter.  But the best thing I ever won wasn't for myself.

I was seventeen and it was the last time I would attend my local fair before leaving for college. It was also the last day of the fair, so many of the booths had pretty poor pickings when it came to prizes--I put a coin, without thinking, on the table of a booth that was showcasing t-shirts for sports teams.  The ticker of the wheel spun wildly, then slowed and slowed...

"I won," I said, not even caring that I didn't see the names of any of my favorite teams on the shirts. I picked a Duke basketball t-shirt, because a friend of mine loved the team, and that was better, I thought, than selecting the shirt of a rival of one of the teams I did root for (even then, when I cared much less about sports, I wasn't going to pick a Red Sox or Mets shirt).

Like most New Jersey teens of that era, my friend and I naturally gravitated to the Inkwell after the fair.  The Inkwell is a coffee shop located by the Jersey shore that used to sell mugs of oddly sweet and spicy yet weak coffee festooned with piles of real whipped cream.

Its main attractions were that it was so dingy and unsanitary no adult would ever set foot in it, and it was open all night.  I saw my friend, the Duke fan, on her way out, as I was walking in.  She told me that her father had died, after a long struggle with lung cancer.

I knew of course, immediately why I had won the shirt and gave it to her.  It obviously isn't a traditional thing to give to someone who has experienced a loss, but it felt right--especially since her father was a teacher and a coach, a limber and athletic man, the kind of dedicated and generous coach who could actually do the things he asked his team to do on the field himself. (Today, incidentally, is the anniversary of his passing).

So you understand why I love fairs, and when the Monmouth County Fair had a baking competition this year, I just had to enter.  I won third place in the 'quick bread' category for this entry.  I guess that makes me the 'second best loser' according to University of Kentucky logic.

But if that cute little bunny is second-best of the bunnies, I don't want to be first!

I feel that to call this 'prize-winning' pumpkin bread, it should have some secret ingredients, like ketchup or ginger ale.  But it doesn't.  It's just good bread, and sometimes that is enough.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Crumb Bread


2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
4 large beaten eggs
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
15 ounce canned pumpkin (1 small-sized standard can)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease two 8 or 9-inch loaf pans
2. Mix the ingredients together for the topping until crumbly, set aside
3. For the bread, sift the whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, and sugars together
4. Mix the eggs, melted butter, pumpkin, water, and vanilla extract together
5. Slowly spoon the dry ingredients into the wet, until fully incorporated
6. Lightly flour the walnuts and cranberries to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the bread
7. Fold in the dried fruit and nuts
8. Pour the batter into the two loaf pans, top with the crumble mixture (there may be some left over)
9. Bake for 55-65 minutes, until a toothpick can be extracted, clean. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before removing from loaf pan and transferring to a cooling rack.


  1. I was just watching an old Top Chef, and you know on reality TV that if anyone is filed saying "second place is first loser" then you know they are going to come in...second place! I always feel very sorry for those people because you know that slogan was drilled into them by a stern Father or perhaps Coach. Makes me glad I never did sports. Though the county fair theme made me want to watch "Babe" for the millionth time:)

  2. @MD--that is SO true! The most militant contestants always lose, but they keep them around just to annoy people and shake things up. I haven't watched reality TV in ages, but that principle is universal, regardless of the show. I love "Babe" of course--although I haven't seen "Babe: Pig in the City" (the sequel) which I recently heard was even better.

  3. The list of things I have won is pretty short, although I did take first prize for an competition in sixth grade in which we had to create something using food that was disgusting for a Halloween party. I made standard oatmeal cookies but included the recipe on the platter; the recipe included things like bile and dead skin. If I won the Pulitzer I don't know that I'd be as proud as I was of that nasty recipe.

  4. @Catboy--yes, the 'subversive in a really obvious way' stuff I penned as a kid, like comparing graduating from 8th grade to a prison escape a la The Defiant Ones made me prouder than anything I have ever written since! Although for sheer disgust-o-rama, for some reason nothing grosses me out more than Jell-O--looking at it or eating it. I suppose my dislike of Jell-O is one of the most subversive aspects about my character...

  5. Funny you should say that, the guy who won second prize filled a huge canning jar with orange Jell-O, but he layered it with things like plastic spiders and bugs, his baby teeth, and something that looked like spiderwebs (still don't know what he used for that). It had the same effect as car wreck does on some people; I couldn't stop looking at it even though it was really sick looking.

  6. Oh no! I've seen a 'cup of dirt' for Halloween made with chocolate pudding and gummi creatures, but seeing that with Jell-O probably would give me nightmares, just even thinking about the texture...