When the calendar turns to November, our thoughts - and tastebuds - turn to pumpkins. In Keller, make that pumpkin rolls. You know the ones: those delectable handmade spirals of moist pumpkin cake filled with cream cheese and dusted with powdered sugar that Keller High School's Indianettes have been selling in abundance for 30 years.
Arguably as anticipated as Girl Scout cookies, the Indianettes' soft sugar 'n' spice confections have become a beloved holiday tradition in the community.
"It's a traditional thing. People count on it, " says Maria Shedler, a senior and captain of the Indianettes drill team. "People ask us all the time when can they get pumpkin rolls."
Team director Christie Panno says the group began making the desserts in the mid-80s and the rest is, well, history.
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"A mom brought a pumpkin roll to an event and everyone loved it, " Panno says. "They were looking for an interesting fundraiser, so they decided to make a few and sell them."
With 100 made and sold that first year, a fundraiser was born. The popularity (and local fame) of the rolled cakes grew as time passed. Several years ago, the group started borrowing a refrigerated truck to store the completed desserts. Now they borrow cold storage from the Kroger warehouse on Kroger Drive.
Work begins on the pumpkin roll project long before fall. A committee starts writing donation letters in the summer to request items and money, and the girls take orders in October on their website, www.indianettes.com.
In recent years, sales have soared to 1,000 to 1,200 pumpkin rolls, depending on how many orders they've received by "Production Day."
On that magical date - Oct. 18 this year - the squad gathers at Keller High School and all the desserts are measured, mixed, baked, filled and rolled by the 44 varsity and 20 junior varsity dancers and helpful family members. Panno says it makes for a very, very long Saturday. In fact, work actually begins Friday night, with dads on ladders taping plastic on walls and other surfaces near food preparation zones. They use the cafeteria, the culinary arts kitchen areas and food lab, starting their cake assembly lines at 5 a.m. Shedler says the girls have separate rooms for mixing, baking and icing. Once the rolls are finished, they are immediately frozen to maintain freshness. Usually, the process continues through midnight and, of course, it includes massive cleanup duties. Every squad member must work an eight-hour shift - and have a family member who works at least half of that. Many in the group work longer.
"It's a very labor-intensive fundraiser, " Panno says. "Everyone works really hard, but they love it. After you've rested a day, everyone talks fondly of it."
Pumpkin Roll Production Day
Making 1,000 or more cakes takes an enormous number of baking supplies. Here's a rundown of what the Indianettes go through on a typical Production Day:
600 pounds of granulated sugar
400 pounds of flour
6,400 ounces of pumpkin puree
800 pounds of powdered sugar
300 dozen eggs
The recipe is "an Indianettes' secret, " Panno says, so buying them is the only way to taste them.
Where to buy
The Indianettes will sell their pumpkin rolls at the Indianettes' Craft Show on Dec. 6-7. They are $14 for a roll with nuts, and $13 without nuts. For more information and to order online, visit www.indianettes.com.