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GBH Provisions

A Very GBH Thanksgiving — Course 5: Pumpkin Bread and Mom’s Bars

Welcome to A Very GBH Thanksgiving. This week, we’re using our Provisions category as an excuse to indulge a’la the season: five courses—soup/salad, vegetable side dish, starch, main dish, dessert—over five days, with some tasty beverages sprinkled along the way.

A pair of our most food-centric writers—one in London, one in Chicago—are teaming up to create this GBH-endorsed Thanksgiving feast. Please enjoy, make it your own, and don’t forget to show some gratitude over the next couple weeks.

—Austin L. Ray, GBH Editorial Director


Course 1: Warm Mushroom Salad and Toasted Corn Husk Soup

Course 2: Roasted Root Vegetables and Collard Greens

Course 3: Challah Bread Pudding and Mashed Butter Potatoes

Course 4: Jerk Turkey and Spiced Quails with Tahini Sauce

Course 5: Pumpkin Bread and Mom’s Bars

Over the past week, my offerings have spanned from conceptual dishes based on the surroundings of my childhood home to recently adopted turkey traditions. But there’s been nothing that reflected a meal as it would’ve been prepared for me in my youth. It seems fitting to end the week with such an example.

My mom is a good cook, but a terrific baker. Baking is her happy place. When the holidays come around, she’s generally found in the kitchen, stained pages of her old cookbook propped open, standing under the kitchen light measuring out dry ingredients. I return to Chicago each year, following two weeks back in Nebraska for Christmas, a bit heavier than when I left. Most of that weight is due to mom’s baking.


I uphold few Thanksgiving rituals, but pumpkin bread is sacrosanct. It’s a family favorite, and the only dish I revive yearly, unchangingly. Like banana bread, this pumpkin bread is dense and tender of crumb, satisfying in its straightforwardness. It adheres to the single-bowl, dump-and-mix school of baking, which is perfect if you’re into gourds and cinnamon but don’t feel like fretting over crust. In short, it’s unimprovable.

On the page, this recipe might read strangely. It contains far more sugar than seems correct—a healthy, American amount of white sugar—and enough vegetable oil to raise an eyebrow (don’t skimp on it, though: that’s what makes it so moist). It does yield two generous loaves, which means you can serve one and stow the second in the fridge, a week of festive breakfasts all wrapped up in foil. In recent years, I’ve taken to serving maple butter on the side, the bread still warm from the oven, which is the most that this recipe has evolved in several decades.


Strudels, pies, kolaches, cookies, and myriad other baked goodies as far as the eye can see. My favorite of them all, though? Mom’s bars. They aren’t really brownies. I’ve heard some call them blondies. We always called them “bars.” They are a popular attraction at bake sales, birthdays, and with my father just, like, any time of the year.

I’ve been eating these bars as long as I can remember. I assumed they originated from a recipe my mother got from my grandmother. It turns out she got it from my high school speech teacher. I learned this literally last week.


After the complexities of the other dishes, mom’s bars, on paper, seem like an odd duck. However, something’s refreshing about sitting at a table of adults after a decadent meal and seeing their eyes fill with joy as they quickly joust their way to this finger food. For me, the playful nature is the perfect way to end a meal.

I made two minor alterations from the original recipe as presented to me. First, apparently, there was something in the 1970s/’80s called “oleo.” The internet told me that oleo is basically margarine. I subbed out all oleo/margarine with butter. Also, after the bars cool a bit, I top the whole thing with flaked sea salt. The salt is by no means a necessity, but it certainly ties the dish together, IMO.


This is the first year that I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in possession of a porrón: the Catalonian wine pitcher shaped vaguely like a watering can, from which shoots a jet of liquid in a thin, steady arc. Drinkers are transformed into reverse fountains as they aim for their tongues, trying to master the elegant lift—the higher you raise the porrón, the more impressive the stream—while guarding against overflow and spills. It’s a spectacle, and the potential for splattered carpets is high, but it’s also joyful and silly and exactly right for a holiday that is governed by tradition, and which could use some freeing-up. Nothing lightens a mood like collective foolishness.


Red wine would be a risky way for the amateur porrónista to practice the technique, but pumpkin beer has less potential for stains. And so we emptied a bottle of Southern Tier’s Pumking—still my favorite pumpkin beer to date—into its stem, and took to swigging.

I like to end holiday meals with big beers. It’s a party, for fuck’s sake! Spiteful Brewing’s God Damn Pidgeon Porter—and its 8% ABV—is big enough to enjoy without going nuts. It has well-balanced chocolate and roasted malt character that accents the bars nicely. It doesn’t drink like an 8% beer, either. Crush Pidgeons at your own risk.


You don’t need to be told that a sweet, Imperial Pumpkin Ale makes sense alongside a pumpkin dessert. You should know, though, that this beer did taste best when aerated in perfect plumes between glass and mouth, when passed around the table in a single vessel. That isn’t to say that a porrón is a required ingredient for a successful Thanksgiving celebration. But I’d argue that playfulness—indeed, some spirit of novelty—is. All the better if it comes in the form of a goofy drinking game.

13. Lonely Bar.jpg

Mom’s Bars

1-12 ounce package of  chocolate chips

2 eggs             

1 12-oz. can of sweetened condensed milk

1 cup + 3 tablespoons of butter                           

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon of baking soda

2 teaspoons of vanilla                                

1 teaspoon of salt

2 cups brown sugar                           

3 cups quick cooking oatmeal

1. Using a double boiler or microwave, melt together the chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, and butter.

2. Cream together 1 cup of butter and brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat well.

3. Sift together the flour, soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture. Add rolled oats.

4. Press approximately 2/3 of the cookie mixture into a large, greased, rimmed cookie sheet, about 10 by 16 inches. (Moistening hands with cold water will help avoid sticky hands.)

5. Spread the fudge mixture over the cookie dough on the cookie sheet. Sprinkle in dabs the remaining cookie mixture over fudge filling and bake at 350 degrees for 20-23 min. Do not over-bake.


Pumpkin Bread with Maple Butter

Yields 2 loaves

For the pumpkin bread

3 ½ cups (490g) all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground ginger

1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt

3 cups (600g) sugar

4 large eggs, beaten

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup vegetable oil

⅔ cup water

1 15 oz (425g)-can pumpkin puree (preferably Libby’s)

For the maple butter

1 stick (115g) salted butter, room temperature

Roughly 3-4 tablespoons maple syrup

1. Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit (177° Celsius). Lightly grease and flour 2 large loaf pans.

2. Add all the dry ingredients to a large bowl, and whisk to combine. Make a well in the center and add the wet ingredients. Stir together until smooth and uniform.

3. Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pans. It should come nearly up to the top of each. Smooth the tops with a spatula.

4. Bake the pumpkin bread for roughly 50 mins.—1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean. Start checking how the bread is doing at the 40-minute mark. You may need to rotate the pans or lightly cover them with foil if the loaves are getting too dark.

5. While the bread bakes, prepare the maple butter. Add the butter to a food processor and blend on high until airy and whipped. Turn the speed to low and slowly drizzle in the maple syrup one tablespoon at a time. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a spatula to help incorporate it as you go. Transfer the butter to a ramekin or small bowl and chill, covered, for 20-30 minutes to firm slightly.

6. Leave the bread to cool in the pans for 10 minutes before carefully transferring the loaves to a wire cooling rack. Serve while still slightly warm, with maple butter on the side. The bread will keep well, wrapped and in the fridge, for up to a week.

Words + Recipes: Claire Bullen,
Mark Spence
Photos: Claire Bullen + Steph Byce