They wanted me to bake pumpkin bread, but I didn’t want to bake pumpkin bread. “I don’t cook,” I said. “I’ve never made pumpkin bread. I’m not sure I’ve even opened an oven before. I don’t own an oven.”
“You will bake pumpkin bread,” they said crisply, depositing the box on my desk with a sense of finality. This was really happening. “Cherryvale Farms Pumpkin Spice Bread,” the box chirped sadistically. “Everything But The…Pumpkin. And a little bit of oil and water.”
I needed backup, so I roped in my friend Chesley. She had to have an apron in her East Village apartment. “They’re making you bake pumpkin bread?” she asked. “What the hell are they doing to you over there?”
“I tried to imply I’ve never opened an oven, but they wouldn’t have it,” I said. “I need your help. I have to hang up now—they’re coming.”
It was decided the pumpkin bread would rise on Easter Sunday. That night, I trawled the aisles of Key Foods on Avenue A until I got all the fixings (fixins?): a can of pumpkin puree and a bottle of vegetable oil—in this case, Crisco. Chesley summarily deposited the Crisco into the nearest trash receptacle when I got to the apartment. Adult humor was exchanged. She had her own vegetable oil. We’d use that.
After donning her apron, I found myself buttering the loaf pan with a zest hitherto unknown to me. Was it really so easy? The vegetable oil, water, pureed pumpkin and Cherryvale Farms mix made for a nasty, nuclear-orange glop, but it tasted very delicious right out of the mixing bowl. “Am I gourmet?” I wondered airily, licking my fingers.
I poured the glut of goodness into the loaf pan, threw it in the oven (oven mitts on), and waited. We smoked tremulously, drank red wine in silence. Hospital waiting rooms had nothing on us. Would the pumpkin loaf pull through? Was everything going to be ok? Did Chesley believe in God?
The moment of truth came an hour later, when I pulled the pumpkin bread out of the oven. It was healthy-looking; all of a piece. It filled the entire apartment with a heady, delicious aroma. We tasted it. There were loud hosannas all around. The bread was moist. Pure. As we gorged like greedlings, I tried not to gloat.
“God, it really just has the most distinctly fluffy mouth-feel, don’t you think? What?”
The next morning, the editorial staff tasted the pumpkin bread—first with palpable distrust, and then with mounting enthusiasm.
“I just broke keeping pesach,” Josh said. “And it was totally worth it.”
“You actually pulled it off,” Shirley said, visibly rattled. “You actually… pulled it off.”
“It’s delicious,” Johanna said. “And you can say that’s from a certified Park Slope baking snob.”
“Eh, it’s just a little something I threw together on the fly,” I said, “with a little help from my friend Chesley—and the good people at Cherryvale Farms.”
"Okay, Derek. Simmer down."