A new take on an old Pumpkin Cake recipe


During October, we celebrate two holidays in Canada: Thanksgiving and Halloween. For me, the entire month is all about the sights, smells and tastes of autumn—the smell of crisp leaves falling, frost sparkling on the grass in the morning, and the firm end of the harvest season. Pumpkins are king in October. You see them decorating front porches and store displays, and jack-o’lantern images are found in every window. Vibrant orange gourds dot farmers’ fields as you drive past.

And they are delicious.

In the past 10-15 years, we have become obsessed with pumpkin [spice] everything during autumn. Not only are pumpkins drank in lattes, but they are cooked up into everything from layer cakes to cookies to seasonal lasagnas. I don’t recall ever hearing about pumpkin macaroni and cheese when I was kid. But now? Pumpkins feature heavily in October food, both sweet and savoury!

Out of curiosity, I checked into some old cookbooks recently at my grandmother’s house. Fascinatingly, old cookbooks might associate pumpkins with autumn, but they didn’t serve them in very many ways. One cookbook, the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook, published in 1966, included only 4 pumpkin recipes out of hundreds of dishes that reflect “Canadian cooking.” Given that pumpkins are native to North America, and have been consumed for centuries, I found this lack of pumpkin recipes interesting. Other cookbooks from 50 years ago are similar—they might include a recipe for pumpkin pie, perhaps one simple cake or muffin recipe, and occasionally a version of pickles, but rarely anything else.

In the spirit of history, I cooked up the pumpkin cake recipe from the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook, albeit a modified version to suit 21st century pumpkin tastes. (What makes the originally cake specifically from Calgary, I’m not sure.) I changed the spices to more of a blend of warm, autumnal spices, including cloves and ginger, which always go well with pumpkin. In addition, I swapped shortening for butter because—hey, who doesn’t like butter? The original recipe used very little pumpkin, so I increased that to one cup. If you eat pumpkin cake, you want to taste the pumpkin’s flavour!

“Old-Fashioned” Pumpkin Spice Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup sour milk or buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup canned pumpkin (or pureed pumpkin you have prepared yourself)
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 cup raisins

1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease an 8×8″ square baking pan.
2. Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
3. Add vanilla, buttermilk, and pumpkin. Mix until well incorporated.
4. Add dry ingredients and spices. Mix. Fold in raisins.
5. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Because I found the cake a bit dry, I served it with a Grand Marnier cream cheese icing. I think the cake could also be served with butter, similar to a loaf or muffin.


Cooking with Bushra

In my current line of work, I encounter a number of newly-arrived residents of Canada, including many Syrian refugees. Recently, a co-worker of mine assisted a Syrian lady, Bushra, who she brought in an array of snacks as thanks for the help. Her Syrian generosity meant that there were a lot of snacks to share. I tried several delicious foods, including little pizza flatbreads, a sweet semolina cake, and kibbeh. The kibbeh were amazing—little balls of bulgur wheat stuffed with slightly spiced meat. They were so tasty, in fact, that I wanted to find out the recipe.

With the help of a woman who works for a local immigration agency, we set up a cooking demo at Bushra’s home. “Cooking demo” for Syrians apparently means “large feast with friends” because, when my co-worker and I arrived at Bushra’s place, there was a veritable banquet of dishes awaiting us. Bushra and her husband, Abdulwahab, are from Aleppo in Syria, which is a city known for its food culture. Aleppo was a major stop along the Silk Road, so the cuisine there was a sort of melting pot of influences and the diverse communities—Arabs, Armenians, Kurds and also Christians—who lived there. Abdulwahab ran a restaurant in Kuwait for many years, thus both husband and wife are accomplished cooks and prepared different aspects of the meal for us.


The spread included some familiar foods and some new dishes. There was hummus (almost Israeli-style, with lots of tahini) and a lusciously smooth baba ganoush, decorated with shreds of carrot, olives, and pomegranate seeds. The tabbouleh (pictured above) was dressed simply, with just lemon juice, olive oil, and salt, and finely-diced tomatoes and onions made it one of the nicest tabboulehs I’ve yet had. Abdulwahab told us that the proper way to eat tabbouleh was with lettuce, which actually made it very easy to eat!

(Clockwise from left: Green beans, hummus, Abdulwahab’s Famous Salad, chicken curry, rice)

Vegetables played a major role in the meal. Abdulwahab made his “famous salad,” that he used to serve in his restaurant days—it was mainly cucumber, lettuce, tomato, and onion dressed in lemon juice, olive oil, and mint. Another dish consisted of tomatoes, red peppers, eggplants, and onions simmered in olive oil (Bushra noted that you have to make sure to salt the eggplant before cooking so it absorbs less oil). My favourite vegetable dish was probably the simplest: onions simmered in about a half cup of oil on low (so they don’t brown). Add to that green beans, put on the lid, and let cook gently for an hour. Bushra served the beans cold. They were unexpectedly simple yet very tasty.

(Clockwise from left: hummus, salad, curry, simmered vegetables, baba ganoush, kibbeh, rice)

There was also a big platter of yellow rice, served with a turmeric-heavy chicken curry. Spinach and onion handpies and the ubiquitous kibbeh finished off the meal. Bushra and Abdulwahab told us that they have a saying in Aleppo that “you eat as much as you love them.” The host wants to be generous with their guests, and Bushra and Abdulwahab were immensely warm and inviting. My co-worker and I tried our best to finish everything, but we failed in that challenge!


Bushra gave a brief demonstration to me of how to make kibbeh. Years of practice have made her adept at forming the egg-shaped balls of kibbeh deliciousness. She uses an electric meat grinder to combine the bulgur wheat and meat, forms them into elongated little cups, stuffs in the spiced ground meat and onion mixture, then she moulds it into a tapered egg to be fried in a fairly shallow pan of oil (about ½ an inch deep). Bushra said that the thinner the kibbeh are, the better.

The meal ended with a round of tea and a platter of baklava and Syrian desserts. The whole evening was lovely—not only was there delicious food, but we learned a lot about Syrian culture. There was no political agenda, just a gathering of people with an appreciation of good food. We were there to share and learn, just one-on-one, as people. Bushra and Abdulwahab seemed surprised at how much I knew about architecture in Syria, and I was surprised at how they could be so generous in light of everything that they lost back home. I hope that there is a future for Syria that isn’t just warfare and destruction, because they have such a rich history, fascinating food culture, and such warm, welcoming people.

Cheese Soufflé


When I was commuting to and from Bishop’s University a couple years back, I stayed at a lovely B&B run in Lennoxville, Quebec, Les Matins D’Antoine.

Every morning, the owner, Ronald, cooked up a delicious breakfast. Often, because it was Quebec after all, maple syrup was on the menu. But one of the last mornings that I stayed there, he made a cheese soufflé. I was a bit leery—in part because I’d never had a cheese soufflé but also because I generally avoid eating eggs at breakfast. However, the soufflé was delicious, filled with bright herbs and gobs of melty, stringy Quebec cheese.

I was determined to try making it myself.

Making a cheese soufflé turns out to be fairly easy, as long as you make certain to keep your egg whites pristine. There must be absolutely no trace of the egg yolk in the egg whites! Cooking the soufflés in a bit of a water bath also helps keep everything nice and even when they cook. This is a good recipe to use up scraps of cheese, or use your favourite cheese. Myself, I like a nice combination of sharp cheddar (for flavour) and Havarti or mozzarella (for melt-ability).

Cheese soufflé is delicious at breakfast or brunch with toast, or you could even serve it at dinner with a nice green salad.

Cheese Soufflé

Makes 3 servings

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter + extra for buttering dishes
1 1/2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried mustard powder
1/2 tsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
1-2 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
Pepper, to taste
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (packed) coarsely grated cheese (cheddar, gruyere, gouda, or any mix of your favourite cheeses)

1. Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 390F. Butter 3 small ramekin dishes. Add Parmesan cheese and tilt dish, coating bottom and sides.
2. Place ramekin dishes in a low roast pan. Carefully add water to roast pan until there water is about halfway up the height of the ramekin dishes.
3. Warm milk in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat until steaming.
4. Separate eggs, making sure that no trace of yolk is found in the egg whites.
5. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until mixture begins to foam and loses raw taste, about 2-3 minutes (do not allow mixture to brown). Remove saucepan from heat; let stand 1 minute.
6. Pour in warm milk, whisking until smooth. Return to heat and cook, whisking constantly until very thick, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in spices, salt, and herbs. Add egg yolks 1 at a time, whisking to blend after each addition. Add half of the grated cheese, and mix into base. Set base mixture aside.
7. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in another large bowl until stiff but not dry.
8. Fold 1/4 of whites into lukewarm soufflé base to lighten. Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions while gradually sprinkling in the rest of the cheese.
9. Transfer batter to prepared dishes. For an even rise, run a knife carefully along the inside perimeter of the dishes.
10. Place dishes (in the roast pan) in oven. Bake until soufflés are puffed and golden brown on top and center moves only slightly when dish is shaken gently, about 25 minutes (do not open oven door during first 20 minutes). Serve immediately.

This recipe can easily be doubled.