As I discussed in “Always Lick the Bowl”, some of my favorite memories of cooking and baking come from learning at my mother’s side in the kitchen.

My siblings and I absolutely loved our mom’s “Great Pumpkin” Cookies.  She made them once a year around Halloween (although later shifted it to around Thanksgiving when we were away at college so that we could enjoy them while in town).  We used to beg her to make them other times during the year but, in hindsight, I think this once a year tradition is what made them so desired and special.  Over the years, I have made these cookies many times for friends (not necessarily limiting myself to just around Halloween) and have always gotten rave reviews about how delicious they are.

Another once a year tradition was Irish Soda Bread around St. Patrick’s Day.  My family always had a traditional homemade St. Patrick’s Day meal of corned beef, potatoes, cabbage and, of course, Irish soda bread.  My mom also had her own tradition on the holiday of dying everything she could green – whether the Irish soda bread itself, the milk, the butter…one year even dying some scramble eggs green for our morning breakfast (unintentionally also leading to a variety of Dr. Seuss jokes over the course of the breakfast).  I may be a bit biased but I have had other Irish soda breads over the years and nothing comes close to her recipe. I don’t think I am alone in this thinking though…it became so loved by family and friends, that my mom often spent a full day in the kitchen prior to St. Patrick’s Day baking loaves of it to give to people, either plain or with raisins as requested.  To this day, my mom still makes me a loaf every year, which I go through far quicker than I care to admit – cut a slice, spread a little butter on it, and it’s a perfect breakfast with a cup of coffee.  When I was younger I always wanted the plain version, but in recent years I ask for extra raisins if possible.

This is one recipe I have never attempted to make on my own until now in preparation for writing this down.  I realize you can use a variety of pans for the recipe and simply adjust the baking time accordingly.  However, after trying several types of pans early on, my mom discovered one pan in particular which she became quite attached to, convinced that it plays a role in the superiority of her Irish soda bread.  It is the only thing she uses the pan for and I had to promise multiple times to keep it safe and return it to her intact and unscathed before she would entrust it to me to make the recipe.  Even now, I am not entirely sure she will breathe easy until it is returned to her.  Despite my mom’s absurd over-attachment to this baking vessel, I’ll admit that having finally attempted (and succeeded) in making a perfect Irish Soda Bread using the pan, I will likely insist upon using the same pan in all future endeavors as well (thanks Mom).


Great Pumpkin Cookies

A few notes:

  • This dough is very soft and in the summer this dough spreads quite a bit, so it is best to refrigerate it for at least a half hour before scooping and baking cookies during warm seasons.
  • Let the cookies cool completely before stacking them in a tin or tupperware as they will stick together otherwise – still tasty, but more complicated.
  • 1 T. of dough makes a large cookie; if you wish to make smaller cookies, use about a 1/2 T.
  • Because my mom made them once a year, this recipe makes a lot of cookies. If you decide not to use all the dough you can always freeze half the dough for up to six months.


2 cups flour

1 cup quick or old-fashioned oats

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup pumpkin puree (such as Libby’s)

1 12 oz. pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add egg and vanilla and mix until combined.
  4. Alternate additions of dry ingredients and pumpkin, mixing well after each addition. Then fold in chocolate chips. You can refrigerate the dough now if it is very soft or bake immediately (see notes above).
  5. Shape balls of about 1 T. (or less) of dough onto lightly greased or lined cookie sheet, leaving about an 1 1/2 inches of space in between.
  6. Bake 10-12 minutes until bottoms are just slightly browned, rotating cookie sheets half way through baking (they won’t look completely done but give them a chance to settle once out of the oven and you will find they actually are).
  7. Let cool briefly on cookie sheets and then completely on wire racks. Enjoy!

Makes 4-6 dozen, depending on size.


Irish Soda Bread

A few notes:

  • The baking pan we used is a very specific glazed clay oblong baking tray. However, you can bake this on a greased cookie sheet in a round loaf, in two loaf pans, or in an open dutch oven. Just check the color to see if it is done.
  • Raisins are optional, but highly recommended!


3 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

3 heaping tsp. baking powder (preferably aluminum free)

1 pint buttermilk

1 egg, lightly beaten

Raisins (optional, but recommended – about 3/4 cup)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together dry ingredients in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl for a hand mixer.
  3. Add buttermilk and egg to the dry ingredients and mix well with mixer to combine into a loose dough
  4. If desired, stir in a couple handfuls of raisins (or more to taste).
  5. Pour dough into a greased pan and bake for 45-50 minutes (time can vary depending on pan size).
  6. Leave in pan to cool for about 10-15 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool the rest of the way.
  7. Once cooled, slice and spread with butter, if desired, to serve.  Enjoy!

Makes 1 large loaf (or two smaller loaves, if using loaf pans).