We eat a lot of pumpkin pie at my house, because after all a serving of pumpkin pie counts as a vegetable (we say this like a mantra). I also think that a slice of pumpkin pie represents the culmination of a growing season in one of the most delicious packages known to humankind, which is the best reason to make pumpkin pie often and well.
For gardeners, the process of making a perfect pumpkin pie starts in June, when we sow seeds of pumpkin or winter squash varieties known for their pie-quality flesh. Among pumpkins, many of the best baking varieties produce smallish fruits the size of a soccer ball. Classic pie pumpkin varieties like 'Small Sugar' and 'New England Pie' (both Cucurbita pepo) typically weight less than 6 pounds (2.7 kg), with flesh that is dry and starchy compared to the stringier texture of big pumpkins grown for fun.
Many other storage cucurbits can be used for pumpkin pie, for example pleated, buff-brown Musque de Provence, which is more closely related to butternut squash (C. moschata) than to pie pumpkins. Beautiful burnished red Rouge Vif D'Etampes (C. maxima) has similar kinship issues, so in the interest of authenticity and simplicity, I will proceed with using humble pumpkins for pumpkin pie here.
Whether you grow or buy your pumpkin, the first step is to wash down the outside. I like to cut off a thin slice from the bottom to create a flat surface to keep the pumpkin from rolling about while I cut it in half. A grapefruit spoon makes quick work of scraping out the seeds and the dark, soft stringy tissues inside. With the seeds and yuck removed, I cut the halves to create quarters, which can be set on their sides in a baking pan along with one inch of water. Pumpkin thus prepared is ready to roast in a 400°F (200°C) oven for about 45 minutes, or until the rinds begin to turn brown. Allow the pumpkin to cool before scraping the flesh into a bowl. An ‘average’ pie pumpkin will produce about 4 cups (32 oz) of mashed, cooked pumpkin, which is enough for two pumpkin pies. If you want to make only one pie, the remainder can be frozen for use another day. Mashed, cooked pumpkin can be used as a substitute for sweet potatoes or cooked carrots in any recipe.
Mash or Puree?
Next comes a personal decision that will greatly influence your finished pumpkin pie. If you want to see a mosaic of pumpkin pieces in your pie (my personal choice), use a fork or potato masher to coarsely mash the cooked pumpkin. Should you desire a smooth, custard-like consistency in your pumpkin pie, you will need to puree your cooked pumpkin in a food processor. If you’re making a pie right away, you can use the food processor to mix the ingredients for the pie filling.
I think that the best recipes consist of a few simple ingredients, and homemade pumpkin pie is a prime example. I also will not seek pardon for using frozen pie crust, which cuts in half the time, mess, and risk of failure involved in making a perfect pumpkin pie. Finally, do not be concerned if your real pumpkin pie is lighter orange than it would be if you used canned pumpkin. The truth be told, a lot of canned pumpkin is made from winter squash.
Pumpkin Pie Recipe
Allow 1 frozen pie crust to thaw as you assemble ingredients. If desired, reshape the edge of the thawed crust to give it a more homemade look. Place the crust on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or foil to catch spills. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
Mix these dry ingredients together in a small bowl or large measuring cup:
- ¾ cup (6 oz) sugar
- 1 t. salt
- ½ t. each cinnamon and ginger
- 1⁄8 t. each nutmeg, cloves and allspice - or use 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice blend
- 3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
Mix these moist ingredients together in a medium-size bowl:
- 2 cups (32 oz) cooked, mashed or pureed pumpkin
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup (6 oz) milk (can be part buttermilk or plain yogurt)
- 1 t. vanilla
When the moist ingredients are well blended, thoroughly mix in the sugar mixture and pour into the prepared crust. Immediately place in a 400°F (200°C) oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F (175°C) and bake 30 minutes more. Allow pie to cool to lukewarm before cutting. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
By Barbara Pleasant