Sunday was one of those long, quiet rainy days, the kind that make you think you should take a nap or have a second cup of coffee and then maybe a third while watching your DVD of The Philadelphia Story because James Stewart is so darned adorable.
On that quiet day, my friend Kyle mentioned the phrase "Pumpkin dump cake" on Facebook. That simple three-word phrase embedded in my brain, and I knew I had to make the thing. I don't make dump cakes, partially because I don't make cakes in general, and more specifically because dump cakes are usually made with cake mixes. As a rule, I am opposed to mixes. I hold that cooking with a mix is morally, ethically, socially, intellectually, grammatically offensive; but with the pumpkin cake in my head, I gave in to my objection and went to the grocery store for canned pumpkin and a yellow cake mix. My convictions only go so far.
There's a shortage of canned pumpkin, they say, and I discovered the shelf marked "Libby Pumpkin" was cleaned out. My guess is the people who were afraid the shortage would affect their Thanksgiving menu stocked up as soon as they saw cans on the shelf. Selfish gourd hogs. Later that evening, Husband and I had dinner in Canton and stopped by the grocery store at The Strip (our clever name for a strip mall), and bingo, canned pumpkin.
As soon as I got home, I followed this recipe* for pumpkin dump cake, and within minutes, my house smelled the way houses should smell in the fall—like mulled cider, spicy sorghum molasses, ginger snaps, cozy sweaters. I didn't care if I ever took a bite of this culinary-defect cake. Just making it turned my house into autumn, and I think that was the appeal of it for me in the first place.
After 55 minutes of the glorious smells, I took the cake out of the oven and discovered not a tempting baked good but a monstrous gloppy mess in the 9 x 13 pan. Something happened to prevent the cake mix from mixing thoroughly with the melted butter to make a nice crust, and instead it formed a mottled and lumpy surface like the back of a giant, warty toad. I checked the recipe to make sure I had drizzled on enough butter, and I had, so I melted more, drizzled it on the dry clumps of cake mix and put the whole thing back in the oven for 10 minutes. That helped just a little bit, but the dump cake was a bust. Even if it did taste okay, who could bring themselves to eat something so ugly? I had a small serving, suffered an immediate sugar headache, and them dumped the whole thing down the disposal. There's your pumpkin dump cake.
Well, at least I got the benefit of the smell wafting through the house. A candle might have been easier.
*Kyle writes for a weekly newspaper and has promised to publish her recipe in its next issue. I'll link to it here when she does. She's as opposed to mixes as I am, I think, so I can't wait to see what she's made. I'll bet her pumpkin dump cake is a success.