The Great Pumpkin War!

By Suzanne Oaks Brownstein

Ahhhh…the pleasures of fall. Football on Saturday afternoon. Kids jumping through piles of leaves. Those cute boots coming out of the back of your closet.

Wait, did the high really hit 81 degrees today in Tampa?? Guess I’ll be sweating in those boots.

But one of the real treats of fall that works in all temperatures is pumpkin. If you’re one of those folks who’s on her twentieth straight day of Pumpkin Spiced Lattes from Starbucks, you might be wondering if there’s more to pumpkin than seasonal caffeinated liquid.

Fortunately, there are some great recipes from JLT cookbooks that put a delicious twist on pumpkin – and can be perfect additions to holiday get-togethers (whether you’re hosting your friends and family or bringing a table gift if you’re the guest).

In our second round of the JLT “Iron Leaguer” competition – in which cookbook committee members are pitted against each other in an anonymous taste test at the General Membership Meeting – pumpkin took center stage. Krista Dietrich, assistant chair of the cookbook committee, chose the Marble Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust from Savor the Seasons, while Elizabeth Watson, co-chief of the cookbook marketing team, took on the Pumpkin Coffee Cake from Tampa Treasures.

A Q&A with both ladies reveals insight about recipe selection and how to think on your feet when a kitchen challenge arises. You can see the competitive edge required should you ever find yourself in a “cook-off”. . . .

How did you choose your recipe? 

Krista: I chose from Savor the Seasons, my favorite cookbook from our JLT Culinary Collection, and knew I couldn’t go wrong with pumpkin plus cheesecake plus gingersnaps – all of fall’s best flavors!  I almost made a traditional pumpkin pie but wanted to challenge myself and excite the voters’ taste buds.

Elizabeth: I chose my recipe because it highlighted the secret ingredient of pumpkin and contained other great fall ingredients like cinnamon and pecans.

Are you a fan of pumpkins?

Krista: HUGE fan! I love to eat anything with pumpkin in it and and am known to overdose on Pumpkin Spice Lattes [Aha! A fellow traveler], pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pancakes — you name it. I also love to decorate with pumpkins and grew up on a farm where we had our own patch up north. “Mildly obsessed” you might call it.

Elizabeth: I’m a huge pumpkin fan – of both their appearance and their flavor.

How did you size up your competition? Were you intimidated?

Krista: For all I knew, Elizabeth could have been the next Martha Stewart, so I had to prepare like I was taking down a world class chef.

Elizabeth: Krista is a great chef and very inventive. But I am, too – so I didn’t feel a bit intimidated. 😉

What did you do to mentally prepare for this “Iron Leaguer” cooking contest?

Krista: I meditated deeply and became one with the pumpkin.

Elizabeth: In terms of mental preparation, I made sure to be very organized. I created a detailed grocery list to procure my ingredients and made sure to follow the recipe step by step. This preparation paid off!

Did you experience any challenges in preparing your dish?

Krista: I have never prepared this dish before so I was a little concerned since I couldn’t taste test it. Plus, the recipe called for the oven to heat up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit and my oven only goes to 500, so I had to adjust some of the cooking times. This had me a little worried.

Elizabeth: I struggled with baking time as my oven can be inconsistent. I solved this by rotating my pans and setting a timer a few moments shy of the baking time to test the bread with a toothpick for doneness.

Were you happy with the final product?

Krista: I was very happy with it – I got a chance to taste the leftovers and shared it with family. I have requests for the holidays already!

Elizabeth: I was thrilled! The bread was delicious.

What advice do you have for future competitors?

Krista: Bring your “A” game. We have some seriously talented chefs in our League and our cookbooks can make even the serial PB & J maker look like a gourmet chef.
Elizabeth: Cook with confidence!

So who took home the prize (well, there is no actual PRIZE prize, but contestants do get mentioned in a blog!)? The winner of the Great Pumpkin War was. . . Krista!

In truth, both dishes were delicious. Why not kick off your holiday morning with the coffee cake, and then bookend your turkey dinner with the cheesecake? Pumpkin madness!


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