The ancient Celtic harvest feast called Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) is celebrated October 31-November 1, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the “darker half” of the year. It was suggested in the late 19th century that it was the “Celtic New Year,” and over time, Samhain and All Saints’/All Souls’ Days merged to create our modern celebration of Halloween. Several foods are traditionally eaten in Ireland at this time, barmbrack in particular, but here we’re more likely to find the pumpkin taking center stage in breads, cakes, puddings and, of course, on doorsteps everywhere. (Most cooks find it more efficient to purchase canned pumpkin, however, rather than to cut and scrape the flesh from a fresh one, so the recipes here use pumpkin purée). With Thanksgiving coming hot on the heels of Halloween, the recipe for this delicious pumpkin-cranberry bread is one to keep at-the-ready. To make-ahead and freeze, let the breads cool completely, wrap in plastic, and then foil. You’ll find recipes like this in my newest cookbook, “Favorite Flavors of Ireland.” Order signed copies, with free shipping until October 31, from www.irishcook.com.

(Photo: Manyakotic | Dreamstime.com)

PUMPKIN-CRANBERRY BREAD

Makes 2 loaves

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

4 large eggs

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 (15 ounce) can pure pumpkin

1 cup sweetened dried cranberries

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease two 9-inch loaf pans and dust with flour; tap out excess.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in sugar.

3. In another bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Stir into flour mixture, and then stir in pumpkin, cranberries, and nuts.

4. Transfer to prepared pans and bake for 65 to 70 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Invert breads onto rack and let cool completely.

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Tags: breads, cookbooks, cuisine, holiday recipes, recipes

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