Other than my grandmother, my friend Kiley is the only person I know who 1) feels as strongly as I do about not wasting ANYTHING and 2) does not believe in expiration dates on canned food.
While my parents shed the contents of their pantry once every six months, I can hardly find room to put the groceries away. Our shelves sag with ginseng-echinacea tea, quinoa flour, and asofoetida, plus my parents’ cast-offs, like ‘lite’ soy sauce, which I will probably never use, and sesame oil, which I can’t use as fast as they shed it. I accept these bags of cans and bottles like baskets of kittens deposited on my doorstep, keeping every one for which I can’t find a good home.
When the pantry is bursting at the seams, I toy with the idea of sneaking sorghum flour into the collection bins of the local food drive, but reject the idea, knowing that such an item would more likely end up in the food bank dumpster than in somebody’s gluten-free pie crust.
A couple of years ago, Kiley took a year off from work to travel. She cleaned out her house for a renter, giving away things that she could not store. Out of that transition I inherited a dozen types of tea, a large bottle of rancid almond oil, and a dozen cans of organic pumpkin. Rancid oils are the one category of thing that I can easily dispose of, but the tea stuck around. Thanksgiving got me through two cans of pumpkin.
By the time Kiley was coming back from her travels, Kath & I were emptying our house for our own year of travel. I divided the contents of the cabinets into three piles: for the food bank (canned soup, ‘lite’ soy sauce), for the garage (long-lived things like unopened bottles of vinegar) and for Kiley. She would receive the lion’s share, including a five-year accumulation of condiments from the fridge, a pharmacy of medicinal tea, an obscurity of flours and grains, and a general miscellany, from arrowroot to xanthan gum.
In seven Frida Kahlo shopping bags, I dragged all this to Kiley’s empty kitchen, filling her refrigerator with cornichons, an octet of mustards, curry paste, sriracha, pickled ginger. I lined her empty cupboards with bags of sorghum flour, towers of canned black beans, and various shapes of tinkyada pasta-joy. And eight cans of solid pack pumpkin, from the same stock she’d given me a year earlier.
By the time Kiley arrived home to see her fridge converted into an asian mini-mart, I would be deep in Mexico.
The next time we saw each other, she was ready for me. With nettle leaf tea and teff flour, Breathe Deep and quinoa pasta. NO, I protested, pressing a box of Peach Detox back into her arms. I don’t want them back! YOU throw them away!
I noticed she didn’t try to return any of the pumpkin. Good thing I set aside a couple of cans in the garage. Vintage 2006 was a really good year.
Spiced Pumpkin Cake with Caramel Icing
I’m not sure whether this a bread or a cake. Take away the icing and add walnuts or raisins and it leans toward bread. With the caramel icing, it is most definitely a cake. Pre-ground spices will do, but fresh will make it sing. I used canned pumpkin, but if you choose to make your own puree, be certain that it is well-drained. Watery pumpkin will make too wet a batter.
I used leftover caramel icing from Shuna Fish Lydon’s Caramel Cake, thinned down with heavy cream to a pourable consistency. The icing isn’t necessary, but will elevate the cake from simple tea cake to luxurious thing, its deep caramel notes harmonizing with the bright heat of fresh spices.
2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 15-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely grated
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves, freshly ground
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Caramel Icing, thinned to a pourable consistency with several tablespoons of heavy cream (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a bundt pan.
2. Beat the brown sugar and oil in large bowl until blended, then mix in eggs, grated ginger and pumpkin.
3. Sift flour with the dry spices, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another bowl.
4. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture in two additions until blended. Do not overmix.
5. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven until a tester comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes.
6. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 15 minutes. Before turning the cake out, shake the pan from side to side a few times. This should loosen the cake from the pan without using a knife. Turn cake out onto a rack and allow to cool completely before drizzling with icing. Grate a little nutmeg over top, if you like.
Makes 1 cake.