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A Taste of Pumpkin

Pumpkin is a traditional fall-winter staple and several Merced restaurants have added it to their menus — and not just dessert.

Pumpkin fanciers can treat themselves to different twists on pumpkins at The Bar B-Q Pit and Toni's Courtyard Café and Bakery in Merced and at Jantz Bakery locations in Merced, Atwater and Mariposa.


Owner Roy Mercado said pumpkins remind him of Indian food.

"I like to be creative, whatever the theme," Mercado says. "It's heavy; you have to love it. You can use all kinds of spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. It has a good smell to it."

Last year Mercado added pumpkin fettucine to the menu for the fall which is popular as a dinner dish on weekends. He said people like to try new things and pumpkin is different.

For the fettucine, he adds half a gallon of heavy cream to garlic sautéed with four ounces of white wine, salt and pepper. He adds four drops of tobasco, corn starch to thicken and 14 ounces of pumpkin puree.

Bar B-Q Pit diners also can try pumpkin waffles and pancakes along with pumpkin rolls.

The Bar B-Q Pit is located at 1720 G St., Merced.TONI'S COURTYARD CAFE

Toni's Courtyard Café owner Toni Fiorenza loves pumpkin. Its scents remind her of childhood memories, going to her grandmother's house and helping her cook holiday meals.

"Fall is my favorite season of the year," Fiorenza said. "I love pumpkin and make pumpkin bread every day and serve it with breakfast all year round. If I go somewhere, I will eat pumpkin. I love the smell of pumpkin; it lends itself to the fall flavors."

At the end of October and early November, Fiorenza offers a grilled pumpkin salad. It features spring greens, tomatoes, cubed and grilled pumpkins and pumpkin seeds, along with buttered carrots and an apple cider vinaigrette.

Fiorena, who celebrated 15 years in business last June, also serves pumpkin soup. Served hot, the soup has sautéed onions, sage, chicken broth, roasted pumpkin, and thyme. She has been serving this for about three years.

Pumpkin also shows up in the Courtyard's pumpkin cookies, some which include chocolate chips or oatmeal. Besides traditional pumpkin pie with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, the restaurant also offers a pumpkin cheesecake, with real cream and a ginger snap crust.

Toni' Courtyard patrons also can enjoy a pumpkin-spice latte from October to February or March. During November, every Wednesday features a pumpkin cake with cinnamon-nutmeg glaze, with a free slice for each customer. The eggs, sour cream and flour are blended together with the sour cream giving a richer flavor, she says.

"We go through pounds of pumpkin," Fiorenza says. "We average 10 pounds a week and during the holidays will go through 40 pounds a week."

Toni’s Courtyard Café & Bakery is located at 516 W. 18th St., Merced.JANTZ BAKERY

In the fall, pumpkin is prominent on the menu of Jantz Bakery restaurants in Merced, Atwater and Mariposa. Pumpkin-derived dishes start in October and some extend through December.

Julia Siler, Atwater-based bakery manager, said pumpkin tastes similar to sweet potatoes. It has a very mild taste and definitely is popular with customers, who have already made pre-orders.

"Fall is my favorite season," Siler says. "People like pumpkin because of all the spices that go with the recipes. It's trending very hard and the concept just gets bigger and bigger."

In her fifth year with Jantz, Siler can't remember pumpkin being this popular when she started. She suspects social media is helping feed the pumpkin frenzy.

One of the benefits of pumpkin is you can literally make "pumpkin anything," she jokes.

One of the more popular offerings is their pumpkin cream cheese bars, comprised of soft pumpkin bread, a light layer of cream cheese and a frosting on top.

Pumpkin cream cheese rolls are made to order during Thanksgiving. Pumpkin cookies also are a big hit, Siler says, with white chocolate chips.

In October, pumpkin bread takes center stage. Jantz also offers traditional pumpkin pies which she thinks are much better than the chain stores, due to their homemade taste.

A pretty popular item is the pumpkin cheesecake, along with pumpkin scones, which are great with coffee.

Jantz uses quite a bit of pumpkin, especially during Thanksgiving week. The bakery goes through 10 to 15 cases of five-pound cans of pumpkins.

Jantz Café and Bakery is located at 3361 G St., Merced.

Doane Yawger of Merced is a semi-retired newspaper reporter and editor.