Sugar Pumpkin Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Icing – Laguna Farm – Sebastopol

Laguna Farm has just begun the pumpkin harvest for the season. This last week they invited all the CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) members to come and join in on the fun and help with the pumpkin harvest. Jennifer and Nacho refreshed everyone with a pumpkin smoothie. Laguna Farm is comprised of over 30 acres and started more than 20 years ago, by Scott Mathiseon. He was well known for his farming practices and especially for his fresh mixed salad greens. He sold the farm to Jennifer and Nacho a couple of years back and they are working on the farm and making it better all the time.

Last week I was picking up my weekly vegetable share and lo and behold in the farm store were the first of the freshly harvested sugar pumpkins for sale. Jennifer even had a book of recipes handy for ideas on how to use the pumpkins. She happily gave me a few tips on how to cook them. Here is her sage advice…and I might add it worked like a charm…as I had never made pumpkin puree from scratch before I was a little nervous.

Roasting Sugar Pumpkins

Slice the pumpkin in half at the equator, scoop out all the strings and seeds. Place in a oiled baking dish, cut side down. Add a little water and roast at 350 for about an hour or until a knife inserted goes in with no resistance.

Remove from oven and let cool. Scoop out pumpkin place in a food processor and puree until smooth. Voila..pumpkin ready for your recipe. Or serve as a beautifully colored side dish with the addition of a little butter and a sprinkle of salt.

Now I had pumpkin puree but what to make….the lovely lady who runs the farm stand had some delicious sounding dishes, such as pumpkin soup or maybe pumpkin curry…but I had other dessert centered ideas. My mind was wandering back to my childhood and an unlikely intersection between my maternal and paternal grandmothers. Both ending up in a similar spot but from two entirely different routes.

 My maternal grandma was Geraldine Mary from the deep south. Born and raised in Hackberry, Louisiana. She used to make us a delicious moist pumpkin cake which she iced with a simple cream cheese frosting. One day we were talking about all things cooking related and I discovered that grandma was a recipe clipper. As far back as I can remember she has read the newspaper cover to cover every day. Well she was also clipping recipes and had shoe-boxes full of them.  The pumpkin cake recipe actually was found long ago in the paper, it was a signature dessert at a cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles, called Clifton’s.

My paternal grandma, Gladys Adelaide, was a milliner. She was born in 1899, lived in Los Angeles and never drove a car. My grandmother made hats for famous designers and the fashionable elite, back in the day. She bought all of her hat supplies in downtown Los Angeles. She would take the bus downtown and if it was a weekend or summertime it was more than likely that I was staying with her. I loved going  downtown. The millinery supply houses were in old warehouses and we had to ride in ancient creaky elevators. The shop owners loved my grandma and were always very nice to me. The best part about a shopping trip downtown was lunch! Grandma’s favorite haunts were cafeterias. One that we frequented was Clifton’s Cafeteria. The food was not that awe inspiring…but the dessert counter brought true meaning to the saying “Life is short eat dessert first!” All the desserts at Clifton’s were served in little bowls covered in plastic wrap; bowls of rainbow colored jello topped with whipped cream, bowls of pie slices, bowls of cake sliced into squares, carrot, chocolate and grandmas favorite German chocolate.

There is the cross roads my friends…Grandma Gladys took me to Clifton’s Cafeteria where we enjoyed the pumpkin cake on many an occasion. Grandma Geraldine made this cake for every special occasion throughout my childhood. I never made the connection until she then gave me the recipe, the actual newspaper clipping. I have altered the recipe slightly I do not add currants and I use fresh pumpkin puree that I make instead of the canned. Now I know what you are thinking…too much work…and I thought the same thing. I never before have tried to make my own pumpkin puree to use in place where a recipe calls for canned pumpkin.

Clifton’s Pumpkin Cake
adapted by A.M.H.
Yields 3 9-inch layer cakes

3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups oil
3 1/4 cups freshly roasted sugar pumpkin
4 eggs, lightly beaten

Blend sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt at medium speed with a mixer until well mixed.

Add oil and continue to beat until dry ingredients are moistened. Add pumpkin and mix again until well blended. Add lightly beaten eggs and blend one minute longer. Do not over mix.

Turn batter into 3 lightly greased paper-lined 9-inch cake pans. Smooth batter in pans so it will be level when baked. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until done. Cool on racks, then turn out and fill and frost.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 (1-pound) box powdered sugar
8 ounces cream cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped raisins or currants (optional)

Combine powdered sugar, cream cheese, vanilla and butter. Mix until blended. Add raisins (if using) and mix until blended. Refrigerate until needed.

So I have adapted the recipe slightly… don’t really want to mess with a good thing but..I added a few extra spices and the recipe calls out to make three 9-inch layer cakes and then pile them up and frost with the delicious Cream Cheese Icing. Well I decided to make cupcakes instead of a layer cake. I also halved the recipe and made 21 medium size cupcakes.

Happy Autumn!

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