downeast pumpkin nut bread

Downeast Pumpkin Nut Bread

During our time in New England, a short portion of the early years afforded my late husband James a (sort of) “nine-to-five” job. It was not until the company he originally worked for changed hands that his career demand the extensive travel he endured in the later years.

Getting caught mid-move from The Coal Region to New Hampshire by a storm that was forecast to be snow flurries but turned into a major winter nor’easter made me take an immediate dislike to New England winters. Suffice to say, once mud season signaled winter’s last grasp for awhile, I was eager to explore New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, especially the Maine coast.

My late husband, James, grew up in a small town outside of Boston, but like many Massachusetts residents, he spent a lot of time, both summer and winter, in both New Hampshire and Maine. As a boy, James’ family had a small summer house on York Beach in the town of York, Maine. His Mom loved to visit Cape Neddick Lighthouse (also known as “Nubble Lighthouse” because it stands on Nubble Island). She spent many hours sitting at the lookout on the mainland during the family’s days at the beach house; she found peace and relaxation there and held the lighthouse close to her heart. Before passing away in the mid 90’s, one of her last wishes was to get to see Nubble one last time. She got her wish.

Cape Neddick (Nubble) Lighthouse, York, Maine

The perfect day trip, we decided to head to York, Maine and Nubble Lighthouse. We climbed into our compact SUV and headed out. The drive took us down Route 4 in New Hampshire, famously known as “Antique Alley”:. The roadside boasts shop after shop in town after town — large and hole-in-the-wall-sized — ready to entice buyers. Many had their wares outside on display and I struggled with the urge to stop at every one.

As we arrived in York, throngs of pedestrians flowed across the two-lane roadway like the waves on the beach at high tide. Some were heading for shops and restaurants, others hustled across in the opposite direction dressed in beach wear and carrying coolers, blankets, and brightly colored umbrellas. James was unable to remember the exact location of his family’s summer shack, but shook his head and just said, “Boy, things have really changed…”

As we wound through the quaint residential streets, things got quieter and a lot less crowded — until we pulled into the parking area for the observation area for Nubble. There were tourists everywhere. As we circled the parking area, we finally got lucky and got a spot. Shouldering our way through the crowd at the lookout area, I finally got my first glimpse of Nubble Lighthouse — and, like James’ Mom, I fell in love.

James made his way down to some rocks close to shore and pointed out the tide pools and reminisced about digging clams every morning with his Dad so many years before. Because the crowds were so large, the way-too-long wait to get close to the lobster shack located by the lighthouse for some fresh clams and lobster led us to scrap dinner plans. A quick trip to the gift shop netted me a small sun-catcher of the lighthouse — something I still have and lovingly display yet today.

A few years later, in early December, James said to me, “You know, they light Nubble for Christmas every year. I think you should get to see it”. Blessed with a rare stretch of dry weather in New England in December, I packed a picnic for us to enjoy at the lighthouse lookout knowing the seasonal lobster shack would be closed. I barely remember what I packed in the cooler, but vividly remember slicing some pumpkin nut bread I had made the day before and making “tea cakes” out of it by sandwiching cream cheese between two slices. “For dessert.” I thought.

Darkness had fallen by the time we reached Portsmouth, NH. As we entered York, Maine, the beaches were empty, the houses, bars, and shops dark, closed for the season. From the streets leading up to the lighthouse, I could see a glow in the sky that grew stronger as we turned each corner. Before we reached the lighthouse, James said to me, “Close your eyes.” As we came to a stop and he put the truck in park, I opened them. The sight before me took my breath away.

I think we tend to become jaded through the years to the impact simple beauty can have on us. Before me was a small lighthouse that I had seen before but the impact it had now bowled me over. Outlined in simple white lights that reflected in the mirror that was the icy ocean sat one of the most breathtaking holiday displays my eyes ever witnessed.

Cape Neddick at Christmas

As I finally broke my gaze from the lighthouse and looked around, I quickly realized we were the only ones there this time. I felt as if I received a gift from a greater power. James and I talked, we laughed, we reminisced, and we connected in a way that the curve balls of daily life often interfere with. We ate our picnic supper and James — non-pumpkin person that he was — gobbled down the pumpkin-cream cheese tea cakes.

As we sat together, heater on, cuddling under a blanket, the Ford Escape smelling like the warm spices of the holidays in my beloved Coal Region home kitchen of my childhood, I was overcome with emotion. I realized tears were running down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the the lighthouse outlined in simple white lights, and the closeness I felt to the one and only love of my life. I believe the spirit of James’ Mom who I never got to meet was with us. In that instant, I understood what drew her to that place over the years and I think she had her arms around us.

Sadly, plans for additional trips to Cape Neddick Lighthouse fell by the wayside over the subsequent years, due in part to James’ exhausting work travel and then, later, health challenges for us both. A trip back to Nubble was on my “bucket list” the final Christmas we were in NH, but the demands of moving left that un-checked. It’s okay. The wonderful memories of our last trip there are enough to bring me peace for my lifetime.

I don’t know what heaven might be like, but if it is curling up under a warm, fuzzy blanket with James, gazing across the gently lapping waves of The Atlantic at a peaceful lighthouse on the Maine coast, I can’t think of a better way to spend eternity — and that’s alright with me.


“Downeast”

Downeast” (or Down East) is a term for parts of eastern coastal New England and Canada, particularly the U.S. state of Maine and Canada’s Maritime Provinces, an area that closely corresponds to the historical French territory of Acadia. The phrase apparently derives from sailing terminology: sailors from western ports sailed downwind toward the east to reach the area. A person from this area may be called a “downeaster”. Within Maine, the phrase “Down East” may refer specifically to the state’s easternmost regions, also called Down East Maine.

The origin of the phrase “Down East” is typically traced to nautical terminology referring to direction, rather than location. In the warm months most suitable for sailing, the prevailing winds along the coast of New England and Canada blow from the southwest, meaning ships sail downwind to go east. As such, the northeastern stretches were said to be “Down East” in relation to major western cities such as Boston.

Downeast Pumpkin Nut Bread

Recipe by Lori Fogg, A Coalcracker In The KitchenCourse: Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree (solid pack, NOT pumpkin pie mix)

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1 cup vegetable oil

  • 2/3 cup water

  • 3 cups granulated sugar

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, stir, scoop, and sweep to measure

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

  • 1 cup pecans

Directions

  • Toast nuts in a small, dry frying pan, stirring often, over medium heat until they smell toasted. Be careful not to burn. Remove from pan into dish. Set aside to cool completely.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three 7- x 3-inch loaf pans.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger; stir in the cooled, toasted pecans. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture with a wooden spoon or spatula until just blended. Divide the batter evenly into the three prepared pans.
  • Bake for about 50 minutes in pre-heated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove to rack and allow to cool 15 minutes in pans. Carefully turn out and place each loaf on its side on cooling rack. Cool completely before cutting; best made a day in advance of serving. Freezes well; wrap tightly in plastic wrap then foil. Thaw before serving.

Notes

  • Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com
  • You can use walnuts in place of the pecans or use 1 cup of either golden raisins, finely diced apples, or chocolate chips as a substitute for the nuts, if desired.

Makes three 7 x 3-inch loaf pans.