Articles,  Radio Hour

The Sweetness of Pumpkin Bread


by Lydia Kwateng Eppic

Lydia’s essay appears in episode 40 of The Dirty Spoon Radio Hour.

The Sweetness of Pumpkin Bread

Most of my recipes stashed away in my recipe box are connected to a story, a memory. Fresh strawberry muffins that my sister loved as a care package treat. Minestrone soup I made while watching our favorite college team win a championship. The smoothie creation that kept me energized through my first pregnancy. Each recipe carries a story and a memory. 

In a busy, fast-paced society that eats on the go or wants food “fresh and fast,” we can rush through meals instead of savoring them. I am certainly guilty of that! That’s why recipes like these are a treasure. They are personal extensions of my story, mile markers on the journey of life. Recipes can be an invitation to enjoy a flavor and savor a memory. 

I started creating and collecting recipe cards in my early twenties. Sometimes on index cards, sometimes a printed and hastily folded printout, I keep my recipe cards in two boxes on a cozy top shelf in my kitchen, just above my favorite spices. Every time I reach up for my recipe collection I smell cinnamon and ginger and know something special is about to happen. Originally they all fit neatly into one box, but over time they’ve expanded into two!

When I’m in the mood for a particular recipe, my recipe card box is like a collection of lab notes: what worked, what didn’t– all my cooking reflections. I love attaching personal memories to recipes by writing little notes in the corners. For instance, my Apple Walnut Crisp recipe I made for my coworkers at my first job. They were brave enough to try my baking experiments! And my latest recipe for Pad Kra Pao has a happy face on it – my “selective eating” daughter loves it and asks for seconds!

If there’s a recipe I don’t have I search the internet for the best. Sometimes I use my “research” to create my own version or print it out and try the best one I find. If it’s a winner, into the recipe box it goes!

There’s one particular recipe card that every time I pick it up, tears well up in my eyes. The memories and thanks come spilling in like a wave of gold. This might seem overly dramatic in talking about a recipe card, but you must know the story behind the recipe to understand. 

I received the pumpkin bread recipe almost twenty years ago. It was on a family reunion trip to visit my California parents, Fritz and Alice. They were a remarkable couple with a great love for food and family. I connected with them during my first internship.

I traveled to Silicon Valley in the summer of 2001 for an internship. The area was beautiful with lush trees, sunny skies, and winds perfect for kite flying and land windsurfing. As a NASA honors student, my scholarship included working at various NASA sites across the country. This was my first stint and I had no idea what to expect! I felt nervous and excited being thousands of miles and three time zones away from my family. 

Traveling to California was a big step in becoming a world explorer. The Valley was a melting pot, from the Farmers’ Market to art museums to the local parks. Asian, Hispanic, Indigenous tribes, Eastern European – everywhere I went there were new people to meet and cultures to learn from. And I was determined to take it all in. 

My first bold act was going to a new church by myself. I wanted to go somewhere similar to my church back East but close enough for a short cab ride. Map in hand, I looked up my options in the Yellow Pages and found what I hoped would be a good fit. That morning I called a cab and arrived bright and early for service. I’m sure they were surprised to see a foreign teenager show up at their front door that day! You can’t imagine how glad I was to find this small church to be filled with kind, loving, genuine people. I felt so at home there.

One of the first people I met was Fritz. He was a warm, funny man with great stories and a grandfatherly charm. His wife Alice was also sweet and welcoming. Standing barely 5 feet tall, this kind, wise Japanese woman became like a mother to me that summer. I affectionately called them my California parents ever since.

In California, I felt far away from home and in need of a family. I lived in apartments with other college kids but craved genuine relationships. Perhaps this is what drew me closer to Fritz and Alice. They looked past my bubbly personality and saw a girl who was looking for acceptance and guidance. I am so grateful they noticed my desire for connection and took me under their wing. Every weekend they would pick me up to go to church activities, play board games, and cook together. We enjoyed each other’s company so much. 

Alice was an amazing cook – and I had no idea how to make anything! I would do my best to help out as she gracefully moved through her kitchen creating yummy creations from scratch. Afterward, we would sit down at their little kitchen table and listen to Fritz’s latest news or one of his hilarious stories. 

My personal favorite recipe was her pumpkin bread. She found it as a recipe clipping in the newspaper back in the 1950s and had kept it in her stash ever since. I remember the way her kitchen filled with the scent of brown sugar, pumpkin, and cinnamon when she baked it. Before pumpkin spice was an autumn craze, Alice had me hooked! 

What impressed me more than Alice’s cooking and Fritz’s jokes were their life stories. I loved listening to them recall growing up during the Depression and World War II. As a Japanese American in the 1940s, Alice’s family was “relocated” from San Francisco to an internment camp in the midwest. It was because of that move she met Fritz, a farmer’s son of German descent living in Iowa. They met, fell in love, and decided to get married. As an interracial couple in America in the 1950s, this was a dangerous and taboo choice. Decades later, remembering how they cared for one another, their marriage was a testament to amazing love and strong faith. 

Over the years I stayed in contact with them. I would call and catch up over the phone, send and receive birthday and holiday cards, and ask how their family and friends were doing. When I graduated from college and landed a job with an airline, I flew out to see them for Fritz’s birthday. It was a wonderful trip.

It was on that fateful trip that I made my first recipe card – pumpkin bread. Alice made loaves of pumpkin bread while we talked about my new job, faith, and my next steps. I had just left a tough relationship and wasn’t sure I wanted to get married or start a family. And like a good mom, she listened patiently and shared her wisdom. 

Bread baking in the oven, I asked if I could copy her recipe on a card. “Yes of course!” she said, handing me a 4-by-6 index card. Copying the style I had seen her use on her other recipes, I copied the title, ingredients, and directions from the newspaper clipping to the card. Instinctively I added the date and source of the recipe in the top corner. My first true recipe card was complete. 

That night, we gathered with friends on the couch around the piano to celebrate Fritz. We talked, shared stories, sang songs, and enjoyed one another’s company for hours. I had never experienced a birthday like that before, and I haven’t done that again since.

Little did I know that two years later I would be married. My husband is a different ethnicity than me – we are an interracial couple just like my sweet California parents. They taught me so much about what it means to stand for what you believe in, even in the midst of trials. In the 21st century, my husband and I faced people who did not approve of a black woman marrying a white man. Denied service at restaurants, and strange looks in stores – it was shocking but real as an interracial couple in the South. Then I would remember Fritz & Alice’s stories of traveling to a different state just to get married and facing suspicion as a German-Japanese couple just after the War. If they could withstand the tough times, so could we.

Recipes can come in many forms – passed down over generations, shared by good friends, or posted on a Pinterest board. What makes a great recipe is one with heart. Food is more than just putting ingredients in a bowl or pan and applying heat. It’s more than carb count, fats, or protein. Food is what connects cultures and people. It’s how we create traditions and make memories. Those memories season our meals, snacks, and desserts with love.

So when I start to measure out the flour and sugar, all the memories begin to flow. Singing in church. Potlucks with foods from around the world. As I scoop out pumpkin and whisk up eggs, I remember our car rides, laughter, and picking persimmons in the backyard. 


When I pour the batter and slide the loaf pans into the warm oven, more sweet moments come to mind:
Making vegetarian sushi from scratch.
Studying the Bible together.
Fritz playing the piano and Alice’s cozy sitting room.
Campground weekends in the mountains.
Sweet hugs from wrinkled hands. 


As I cut up my freshly made pumpkin bread, all that love flows out in every warm, crumbly slice.
I love my recipes’ stories.


Original artwork by Alex Knighten

About the Author

Lydia Kwateng Eppic is a teacher, writer, and plant-based foodie. A self-taught cook, she creates nourishing recipes based on her life adventures. Lydia currently resides in Memphis, TN with her husband and two children.

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