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November 27, 2012

keeps me searching for a heart of gold | pumpkin fruit cake

There is something familiar about traditions. Comforting in their reassuring sameness; while everything else might be different, you can guarantee that the one thing, that one tradition, will be as it always was.  I first realised I was a creature of habit when I worked Sundays at a supermarket when I was younger. The Sunday paper used to contain an excellent small magazine "Sunday"*, which had short but interesting features, a little piece on home interiors, a "going up, going down" get the idea. I loved it. Every Sunday, I would run a bath when I got home from work, find the Sunday magazine, and read it while I soaked my tired body. Until one Sunday when I couldn't find the magazine anywhere around the house. "Oh," said Dad casually, "we didn't get around to buying the paper today." And, just like that, my Sunday evening was ruined. In retrospect, it seems a little dramatic, but little rituals are calming amongst the chaos - all the other unexpected events the day can bring.

There are a number of traditions in my family that revolve around food. There is always pink lady cake on Dad's birthday, at Christmas there are fresh berries, and whenever I visit Wellington Dad makes espresso at home. Pumpkin cake is another tradition. Whenever my Grandma Gwen would fly up to Wellington to visit us, she would carry two pumpkin cakes in her suitcases for us. Most often, these were never iced, and were enjoyed for afternoon tea, or in school lunches. We always tried to get a piece with the strange, circular, green or red cherry-jelly. Sometimes these were picked out in advance. Pumpkin cake was usually cut in squares, like fruit cake is at Christmas, and for special occasions, it was iced with butter icing flavoured with port wine; with the same circular pattern knifed into the icing. That's just how it always was.

Like any good recipe, the pumpkin cake has a story. My grandfather was a minister, and in the 1960's, being a minister meant making regular visits to the parishioners, keeping up with their lives. On one particular visit to an elderly lady called Mrs. Hunter, my grandad was served this cake. He liked it so much, he wrote the recipe down on the back of a visiting card** and brought it home to my grandmother. Grandma was intrigued by the use of mashed pumpkin in the mixture - something "quite radical in cakes in New Zealand at the time." It has now been a family favourite for about fifty years! 

*the Sunday magazine still exists, however I can no longer attest to its quality.
**visiting cards were used by ministers, left when they had visited but nobody was home.

mrs. hunter's pumpkin fruit cake

courtesy of my Grandma Gwen

250g butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup cooked mashed pumpkin
1/2 tsp almond essence
1/2 tsp lemon essence
1 tsp vanilla
2 large cups flour
2 full tsp baking powder
500g mixed dried fruit

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, and beat again until soft and creamy. Add the cooked pumpkin and beat again. Stir in the three essences. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and mixed fruit. Stir the flour over and through the fruit until it is thoroughly coated. Mix together the separate mixtures and stir well.

Spoon into a greased lined 22cm round/square cake tin and bake for 1 3/4 - 2 hours in a moderate (150ÂșC) oven.

Notes from my grandmother -
This cake keeps well and is best left for a few days before cutting. "Large" and "full" refer to non-level measurements. In terms of the baking, a "moderate" oven is not specific, but grandma says it's better to cook it cooler and longer. The cake is perfectly delicious un-iced but a simple butter icing flavoured with port wine (or a little ginger beer) makes it more of a special-occasion cake. 


What family traditions do you have that revolve around food? Any recipes that have been in your family for generations? I'd love to know ...


day 3/365
Again, it goes without saying, today I'm grateful for traditions: those strange, endearing rituals that identify us and our families.


title from neil young - heart of gold


  1. I will be adding this gorgeous cake to my recipe files, i just love that pretty icing too... and that I always leave for blog humming a good tune!

    xox Lilly

  2. Pumpkin fruit cake - I must say I have never heard of this, but I love, love, love all things pumpkin so I'd really love to give this a try.

    Nina x

  3. That recipe looks amazing. I make pumpkin cakes every Halloween but they can be quite dense and heavy - i think yours looks much lighter.

    I grew up eating a lot of traditional (but delicious) British food. We would often have a roast dinner at my Grandma's for Sunday lunch. And when sailing we would always eat "Lardy Cake", this yummy and hugely calorific sweet bread. It's a local food and has fallen out of fashion recently but I went on a mission to learn to make some earlier this year. It's the taste of my childhood!

  4. one thing i have never tried is pumpkin cake. yours looks so delicious. we grew up eating my nan's carrot cake. i still bake it today. one of my favourites. i understand what you say about rituals. i get so annoyed when i realise that my caramel coffee capsules are out and so the time i would spend enjoying a quiet cup finds me instead at the isle of the supermarket. as silly as it sounds it completely ruins my afternoon. creatures of habit we are. xo

  5. Just catching up on a week's worth of blog reading.. beautiful cake! And that title just so happens to be from one of my favorite Neil Young songs. For years I've had a tattoo in mind inspired by that song!

  6. I relish each and every one of your posts. Such a delightful little glance into your world. The Sunday magazine tradition story made me chuckle...
    (does is take you forever to come up with the song title titles?!)