Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Keene Pumpkin Festival 2009 and a Recipe for Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Maple and Pecans

I love living in Southern California, except in the autumn. The weather's hot, there's no foliage, and the pumpkin population is pathetically small. That's why Jeff and I go home to New England every October. There's chilly weather, brilliant foliage, apple picking, cornstalks, scarecrows, and thousands of pumpkins to be seen and eaten.

This year there was pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cookies, and, one of my favorites: Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Maple and Pecans. More on the pudding (along with the recipe) in a minute. But first, let's talk pumpkins.

pumpkin pie bread pudding with maple and pecans
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Maple and Pecans; recipe below.

Walk neighborhoods in New England in October, and you'll see scores of jack 'o lanterns smiling (or grimacing) at you. They're often propped atop a big bale of hay, accompanied by some tall cornstalks and a spooky black cat. There is one New England town, in particular, that reigns supreme when it comes to jack o' lanterns: Keene, NH. This was the first year I visited, and just the festival itself was worth the cross country trip.


In 1991 the first Keene Pumpkin Festival featured 600 pumpkins downtown. It was so warmly received that it became an annual event. Now it's a pilgrimage. This year the locals, along with tens of thousands of visitors, lit a record-breaking 29,762 jack 'o lanterns!

The entire festival, which consists of setting up and lighting pumpkins, and eating funnel cakes and doughboys, is more fun than you can imagine. Oh, and there is also a Dunkin' Donuts booth (which had a hundred people lined up this year waiting for a hot cawffee).

The night was magical for kids and adults alike. We plan on going again next year. I hope you do too!

You wouldn't find this jack 'o lantern in San Diego (or New York).

Keene Pumpkin Festival 2009
Anyone want a pumpkin M & M?

How about a squash-eyed pumpkin?

I can haz cheeseburger pumpkin.

When the sun sets, everyone helps light the pumpkins.

Kids (like my 9-year-old niece) LOVE to light pumpkins. She lit 52 of them!

My other niece is deciding which pumpkin to light. These things can't be rushed. After all, this is serious business for a 7-year-old.

Two hours later, and she's still lighting pumpkins.

My niece's favorite pumpkin of the night: a pretty, petite, pale yellow pumpkin with a flower in her hair.

Doesn't he just make you smile?

Yes, this pumpkin caused thousands of kids to loudly, "Oink! Oink!" as they passed by.

This pumpkin captivates viewers on his eerie, black perch.

If you want your children to look like this, then meet us at the Keene Pumpkin Festival next year.

Then go home and enjoy some warm Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Maple and Pecans. Serve it with hot cocoa for the kids and some spiked mulled apple cider for the adults. Trust me, everyone will be smiling, not just the pumpkins.  

pumpkin pie bread pudding with maple and pecans

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Maple and Pecans
Serves 12-14
Print recipe only here.

This dessert celebrates the flavors of autumn: Rich, moist bread pudding is laced with fragrant pumpkin pie spice and pure maple syrup while earthy pecans provide just the right crunch. 

1 (16 ounce) stale French baguette, torn into 1-inch pieces
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice 
1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 cup pure maple syrup, plus extra for garnish
3/4 cup pecan halves
whipped cream, optional garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. You will need one ungreased  9 X 13 rectangular glass or ceramic baking dish.

2. Place bread in a large bowl. Pour melted butter over it, and toss.

3. In a large bowl, whisk cream, milk, eggs, sugar, salt, pumpkin pie spice, pumpkin, and maple syrup.

4. Place bread in the baking dish. Add pecans (saving a few to scatter on top). Pour pumpkin mixture over bread, and toss until well coated. Scatter remaining pecans over the top of the pudding. Bake for 25-30, or until the top is lightly browned and the custard is set.

Toss in 1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries.
Substitute walnuts or cooked chestnuts for pecans.
Add 3 tablespoons rum.
Drizzle with hot caramel.

Here are more pumpkin desserts you might like:
Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Cranberries, Raisins, and Pecans recipe at Food Blogga
Old Fashioned Pumpkin Pie recipe at Simply Recipes
Pumpkin Coconut Muffins recipe at Sarah's Bella Cucina
Pumpkin Spice Cake recipe at Pinch My Salt
Pumpkin Pie Pudding with Candied Pecans and Whipped Cream recipe at Food Blogga

Please don't forget to vote on You Tube for my oatmeal topping in the Quaker Oatmeal challenge and help me win $10,000 for my charity, Action Against Hunger.  Many thanks! More details here.