Fall has always been my favorite season. I think it has to do in part with growing up on a family farm in the town of Decorah, tucked away in a beautiful little corner of northeastern Iowa. Decorah is surrounded by bluffs and rolling hills instead of miles of flat corn and soybean fields like much of the state. It is situated in what is known as the “driftless region,” so named because when glaciers moved through the Midwest and made everything flat, they missed a tiny spot. Decorah is known for its hiking and bike trails. The Upper Iowa River cuts right through the middle of the town, providing tubing and kayaking during the summer and picturesque scenery all year round. Nature and trees are plentiful, and nothing is as lovely as when the air becomes crisp and the leaves begin to turn with the onset of autumn.
Add the fact that I grew up on a Christmas tree farm and you pretty much get the setting for a Hallmark small-town, Thanksgiving-themed, corny romance movie. Fall, to me, means my dad making chili, my mom baking pies and me personally running around from cross country to musical practice with periodic stops at the local coffee shop, Java Johns, for a fall-themed beverage. I grew up helping out with the garden, making fresh apple cider from the apples in our orchard and selling Christmas trees to customers beginning in late November.
Fall is the season that makes me the most nostalgic when I’m away from home. I don’t know if it’s the weather getting colder, the sense that the world is shutting down in preparation for winter or the cozy, autumnal vibes that just make you want to be curled up next to the fire at home (this isn’t a metaphorical fire—we actually heat our house with a wood stove). Maybe the reason fall makes me miss home so much is the fact that nowhere else in the world can quite match a Johnson family Christmas tree farm fall in Decorah, IA. The trees are beautiful at Vassar and the air has that same crisp feeling, but there’s nothing quite like a tiny Midwestern town and an 1853 farmhouse.
Maybe that’s why I’m so elated that my mom sent me some of our homemade apple cider and pumpkin bread, which I am sipping and nibbling as I write this. This little taste of home makes me feel instantly better, no matter what is going on in my life. The pumpkin bread is a family recipe from my grandma, and it’s truly my favorite fall treat. It’s also made with simple and straightforward ingredients: As long as you have a bread pan, an oven and grocery delivery for the ingredients, it should be easy to replicate on a quarantined campus. Or save it until winter break; everything pumpkin and spice is scrumptious all winter long. It would even be a perfect Thanksgiving dessert! I hope it makes you feel as cozy and autumnal as I do when I’m devouring a warm slice of pumpkin bread.
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup canned or cooked pumpkin
- 3/4 cups chocolate chips
- 3/4 cups chopped walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 by 5 by 3 loaf pan.
- Combine the flour with the dry ingredients (except the sugar) and mix well. Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl, gradually add sugar and cream at high speed until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs.
- Add the dry ingredients alternately with the pumpkin at low speed—i.e., add a bit of the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar mixture, then add a bit of the pumpkin, then a bit more of the dry ingredients, and alternate until you have combined everything. Blend well after each addition. Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts if desired. Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 350°F degrees for 65-75 minutes.
Enjoy the delicious taste of fall! I highly recommend enjoying alongside hot apple cider or coffee.