Pumpkin-Walnut Muffins with Apples

Yields 12 muffins

Flyover Pumpkins make a fine muffin, as evidenced by this “taste of fall” recipe, which I got originally from Amy Traverso’s wonderful (and very, very informative!) book The Apple Lover’s Cookbook1. Ms. Traverso’s recipe makes 15 muffins, but I’ve scaled this down to 12 (the size of my muffin tin). The apples add a delicious moistness but the pumpkin really shines here.


What You’ll Need

  • two mixing bowls, one large and one medium
  • whisk
  • wooden spoon for mixing
  • measuring cups, both liquid and solid
  • measuring spoons
  • 12-cup muffin tin
  • muffin liners
  • cake tester or wooden skewer
  • cooling rack


  • 1-1/3 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 Tbsp roasted walnut oil
  • 1 large or 2 small apples, peeled and cored
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • How to Make the Muffins

    1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F.
    2. Put the paper liners into the muffin cups.
    3. Put the flour, sugars, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Mix together so that the ingredients are well distributed.
    4. Chop the apples into small pieces, about 1/4-in or so.
    5. Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk to combine the whites and the yolks. Add the pumpkin puree, oil, and vanilla extract and whisk to combine with the eggs. Then add the walnuts and apples, mixing thoroughly.
    6. Add the wet ingredients to the dry flour mixture. With a wooden spoon, stir until combined but not further. A few dry bits are fine. You don’t want to overmix the batter and risk making dense muffins.
    7. Divide the dough among the muffin cups. Fill each cup approximately 2/3 to 3/4 full.
    8. Place the muffin tin on the rack in the oven’s center and bake for 20-25 minutes. Check after 20 minutes—if a cake tester inserted into a muffin’s center comes out clean, they are ready to be removed from the oven. If not, bake for a few more minutes.
    9. Once taken out of the oven, remove the individual muffins and place them on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes.
    10. Serve warm or at room temperature.

    1Expect to hear more about this book during apple weeks–two Flyover States (Michigan and Ohio) are among the top apple-producing states in the US!


Pumpkins, Pumpkins

A New World Native, A Flyover Mainstay

It’s October and here in the United States doorways and stoops are decorated with the ubiquitous orange almost-orbs known as pumpkins. They are left whole, often parked next to a pot of hardy mums. They are carved as jack-o-lanterns with faces for Halloween, illuminated at night by candles placed inside. They are, in short, pretty much a de facto symbol of October, even moreso than former Oakland A (and Mr. October) Reggie Jackson.


From the genus Cucurbita, specifically C. pepo, the pumpkin is of North and Meso American origin (its seeds have been traced to approximately 7000 BCE). The Cucurbita genus includes the pumpkin’s many relatives, including the hard winter squashes like acorn, butternut, hubbard, and my personal favorite, kabocha; the more delicate summer squashes (like zucchini) and cucumbers and melons are also in the Cucurbit family tree (take that Ancestry.com!). Part of traditional Native American cuisine, dried pumpkin strips were used to make mats and the seeds were used for native medicines. And, although a sweetened, baked pumpkin dish may well have been part of the first Thanksgiving, the pumpkin pie decidedly was not—no ovens! Pumpkins were stuffed with honey and spices, then baked in ashes, but not in the familiar pie form.


The Word “Pumpkin”

The way to our word “pumpkin” began with πέπων (latinized as pepon), meaning “large melon” in Greek. Why the Greek origin for a New World plant? Well, melons (not pumpkins or winter squash) likely emerged in North Africa and Asia, specifically Egypt, Persia (modern-day Iran), and India. Anyway, pepon became pompon in French, then pumpion in England, eventually morphing into pumpkin in the North American British colonies.

Illinois—Our Pumpkin Epicenter

Although many of us make pumpkin pies come October and November, some fewer of us make the pies from an actual pumpkin. Rather, we buy canned pumpkin (whether pure or spiced and sold as “pumpkin pie filling”); often, there’s a pie recipe on the labels of those cans. And no wonder—to make the requisite pumpkin puree, one has to cut up the pumpkin and remove the seeds and stringy bits, cook the pumpkin, and then puree it (and possibly drain it if watery) before adding the rest of the ingredients. It’s simply easier to use canned pumpkin (which yields a consistently fine result).

So, where do our cans and cans and cans of pumpkin come from? Well, if you’d guessed “Illinois”, you’d likely be correct! Illinois is the top pumpkin-producing state, with about 90% of the share of commercial pumpkin production; in 2008, almost half a billion pounds of pumpkins for processing were grown in The Land of Lincoln. Flyover neighbors Michigan and Ohio are also in the top six. Indiana used to be a top producer, but has fallen out of the top six (as per 2013 data). Still, a lot of Flyover-ness founding PumpkinMania.

Where, O Where, in the Land of Lincoln


Click on the map to enlarge it!

Morton, Illinois, between Bloomington and Peoria and easily accessible from Interstates 74 and 155, is the self-described Pumpkin Capital of the World. Even if they didn’t describe themselves this way, someone else would. After all, Morton is home to a Libby’s™ (a Nestlé subsidiary) pumpkin processing plant. Eighty-five percent of the world’s pumpkin is canned in Morton. It’s no wonder the town (administratively a village) holds an annual Pumpkin Festival each September. They’ve been hosting this for almost 50 years!

Of Nutrition and Health

Although we don’t exactly think of pumpkin pie or pumpkin bars or pumpkin roll or pumpkin spice lattes1 as healthy, pumpkin itself is a pretty nutritious food. For one thing, it’s a Vitamin A powerhouse (although you knew that just from seeing its brilliant orange color). One-half cup has 200% of the daily RDA, largely as beta-carotene. But pumpkin also gives you plenty of potassium and fiber, too. All this for only 50 calories! The pie is starting to look pretty healthy, isn’t it? In fact, it’s probably one of the more benign Thanksgiving desserts you can eat, assuming you skip the sweetened whipped cream (which I would NEVER do).

While canned pumpkin makes creating your delicacies easier (and requires far less of a time investment), you may be up the challenge of starting from scratch with an actual pumpkin. Make sure you select the proper pumpkin. Do NOT use your large jack-o-lantern pumpkin for culinary purposes—the flesh is typically stringy and flavorless. Look for pie pumpkins (such as a Baby Pam Sugar Pie or Winter Luxury pumpkin)—they are smaller than your carving variety2. You can also use a butternut squash, which results in a terrific pie3. In fact, the pumpkin you buy in cans may contain butternut squash as well!

1Which, by the way, don’t actually contain any pumpkin. That said, I do like them and usually have a couple during their season.

2A 2.5 to 3 lb. pumpkin should yield enough for a 9-inch pie. That said, I have had mixed luck with pie pumpkins. Usually they are fairly sweet, but last year I roasted one for the puree and the flesh was watery and insipid.

3Some people, such as the New York Times writer and cookbook author Melissa Clark recommends butternut squash.


University of Illinois Extentsion

The Oxford Companion to Food, by Alan Davidson, 2nd edition (Tom Jaine, ed.), Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 2006.

The New Food Lover’s Companion, 4th edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst, Barron’s, Hauppauge, New York, 2007.


Wisconsin Proud! The Old Fashioned Tavern & Restaurant in Madison

On Capitol Square in Madison, Wisconsin, you’ll find theThe Old Fashioned Tavern & Restaurant. The subtitle, if that word is appropriate for a restaurant name, is Where Wisconsin is King. Indeed, they expressly note that they serve Wisconsin fare (it’s on the logo). Given my interests in local foods and, more importantly, my incredible, pregnancy-like1 craving for a real burger with real meat and real cheese, it’s no surprise that I ended up lunching at The Old Fashioned.


This image comes from the restaurant’s website.

Menu items at The Old Fashioned live and breathe the Badger State. According to their website , the restaurant “exists to pay tribute to the foods and spirits that make [their] state famous.” Well, a lot of Wisconsin food SHOULD be famous—it’s delicious! Anyway, they feature local cheeses, meats, beers and other drinks. This place is truly a gustatory homage to the growers and producers of Wisconsin foods!

So, what did I have? Well clearly, a burger was in order. I opted for the No. 30, The Old Fashioned House Burger (the numbers refer to all menu items, not just burgers). A grilled burger with fried onions, hickory-smoked bacon, aged Wisconsin cheddar cheese, garlic sauce, and, to gild this meat lily, a fried egg. This was not exactly the neatest thing to eat, but I didn’t care. If I wanted a dainty, twee lunch, I’d have ordered something else (or even gone elsewhere). Besides, it’s a restaurant. They have napkins. They will even give you more of them if you use up the ones you have. As far as the side, I opted for the fries instead of the salad (I was on vacation!). Anyway, this kept me quite satisfied until dinner and fortified me for my trip to the National Mustard Museum later that day.

The Old Fashioned doesn’t take reservations, instead working on a first-come, first-served basis. Fine with me. I had an early lunch (around 11:30) and the wait time for a table was about 30-40 minutes or I could get seated at the bar immediately, which I chose to do. And I don’t have pictures of that fabulous burger, so instead I’ll link to a post on Serious Eats about this very same burger (written by someone equally enamored of it as I was). The Old Fashioned—seriously Wisconsin, seriously good.

1I’m childfree by choice, but this craving was so strong that I can only imagine it would rival that of a pregnant woman, based on conversations with friends of mine who do have kids.


Maytag Blue Cheese Dressing—Works as a Dip, Too!


What a great way of eating those salad greens that pesky nutritionists always implore you to ingest! Low-carb, too!

The recipe originally came from Alton Brown. It yields about 1.5 cups of dressing and keeps for at least a week in the refrigerator. And sorry, but there’s no way to veganize this recipe.

What You’ll Need

  • a bowl
  • a fork
  • a whisk
  • measuring cup and measuring spoons
  • a jar


  • 4 ounces Maytag Blue Cheese
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise, purchased or homemade1
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper (freshly ground makes all the difference!)

How to make the dressing

  1. Place the cheese into your bowl
  2. CheeseInBowl

    Remove the wrapper first. The dressing will taste better without plastic and paper.
  3. Using your fork, mash it up.
  4. CheeseMashedBowl

  5. Add the rest of the ingredients, whisking until they are fully mixed.
  6. WhiskedDressing

  7. Put the dressing into a jar and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour (overnight is even better), allowing the flavors to meld.

1Omit the garlic and chive from this recipe if you are making your own mayonnaise for this salad dressing.


Maytag Blue Pecan Potatoes

Full disclosure: I have not tried this recipe, which is why you won’t find any pictures of the recipe, only the card. I do not like to do that (after all, if I’m posting a recipe, I insist on vetting it first). The only reason I am making an exception here is because Maytag Dairy Farms offers recipe cards to visitors who stop by for a tour. Being a Flyover Foodie, I naturally took all that were available.
A couple of the recipes were “dip-like”, which I deemed too similar to the salad dressing recipe. This one is a bit unusual, sort of like the sweet potato casserole with the brown sugar, but using white potatoes instead. I look at the recipe cards as gifts given by Maytag Dairy Farms and am sharing a gift with you.

What You’ll Need

  • a large saucepan
  • a small saucepan
  • a fork
  • a knife for peeling
  • a potato masher
  • measuring cups
  • a knife for chopping
  • chopping board
  • a casserole dish or a baking dish


  • 2 lbs. red-skinned potatoes
  • 4 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, warmed
  • 8 ounces Maytag Blue Cheese, divided
  • 4 ounces (8 Tbsp or 1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • salt and pepper

How to Make the Potatoes

  1. In a large saucepan, boil the potatoes until fully cooked.
  2. Drain, then peel half of them.
  3. Mash the potatoes (all of them, peeled and unpeeled) roughly with 6 Tbsp (3/4 stick or 3 oz) of the butter and the heavy cream.
  4. Crumble half (4 oz.) of the cheese. Stir it into the potatoes, along with half (2 oz.) of the parsley.
  5. Add more cream if the potatoes are too thick for your tastes. Then season with salt and pepper and place in a baking dish.
  6. In a small saucepan, brown the pecans with the remaining butter and the brown sugar. Do not let the pecans burn.
  7. Crumble the remaining cheese over the mashed potatoes.
  8. Drizzle the pecan mixture over the cheese-topped potatoes. Garnish with the rest of the parsley.