Saturday, October 25, 2008

I make a Pretentious Pumpkin Pie

I’ve been watching my little bit of retirement fund as it is affected by the economic winds shaking the stock market and thinking dark thoughts about economic apocalypse. Or at least about a depression. I’ve been thinking a lot about rain barrels and gardens and having two bedrooms and how I could take in a couple of boarders. Not really seriously (although I do plan to garden next spring since I’m not going to be traveling as much as I have been.) This is the only explanation I have for why, when I was at the grocery and saw Sugar Pie pumpkins I bought one with plans to make a pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin is a pretty weird thing to put in a dessert. Not that pumpkin isn’t, botanically speaking, a fruit. But so are tomatoes, green peppers, and cucumbers and we don’t make dessert pies out of cucumbers. Pumpkin pie is a triumph of sugar over vegetableness. (There are tomato desserts—tomato sorbets, tomato pies. They are also, obviously, a triumph of sugar, this time over acid.) Pumpkin is a squash, like Acorn or Hubbard. It’s pretty good as a vegetable, and it makes a killer soup. In fact the stuff in the can, labeled pumpkin, is actually not pumpkin but a different squash, one that is actually more pumpkin colored than actual cooked pumpkin. But it tastes just like pumpkin and also makes great soup.

The pumpkin sat, picturesquely, in my kitchen for a couple of days, while I contemplated the folly of what I had done. Maybe it really wasn’t my depression fantasies/anxieties. Maybe it was instead a snobbish obsession with preparing foods ‘from scratch.’ A disdain for ‘processed’ foods. ‘From scratch’ is always better, right? ‘Processed’ is bad. Unless the process is making cheese, or wine. Or even sugar. Give me sugar beets and tell me to make sugar and I’m pretty much up a creek. Well, here I was, about to process a pumpkin. It certainly looked cool, there on the counter, in its unmistakable pumpkiness.

Eventually the pumpkin shamed me and I roasted it. The options were pretty much roasted or steamed or boiled, and one of the many advantages of canned pumpkin is that it has a lot less water in it than fresh pumpkin. Roasting, I thought, would deepen and caramelize the flavor a little and would reduce liquid rather than add it. I wouldn’t be making pumpkin pie, I’d be making ‘roasted pumpkin pie.’ ‘Roasted pumpkin pie’ had to be better. On a menu in a restaurant, I might order pumpkin pie. But I would certainly be impressed by Roasted Pumpkin Pie.

Besides, I tried peeling a pumpkin once and it was very very hard.

I cut the pumpkin in half, cleaned out the seeds, and baked it in the oven on 350 degrees for about forty minutes (maybe longer) until it was soft and the edges had started to brown. Then I took it out of the oven and let it cool, glaring at the Golden Retriever who is currently on prednisone and has an appetite that drives him to counter surf. He wandered around the kitchen, lifting his nose to counter level when he thought I wasn’t looking.

I scooped out the pumpkin flesh and plunked it in the food processor and pureed the stuff.It took a surprisingly long time.And there was quite a bit of it. Maybe two pumpkin pie’s worth? Hard to tell, because I don’t usually measure pumpkin. I open the can and plop the whole contents in a bowl with beaten eggs.

I made sure that it was out of reach of the dogs and wandered off to read about using fresh pumpkin.

There was a surprising amount of material on how to get the water out. You can kind of simmer the stuff for awhile. Or you could take the glob, wrap it in cheesecloth and let it drain, the way you make soft cheese. (Which, come to think of it, might be why it’s called ‘cheese cloth.’) Of course the stuff that drains out of it is pumpkin juice and you are draining away some flavor.

I did a little of both. I cooked the stuff for awhile, but I was eventually afraid of burning it and by this time I had sunk enough time and effort into this damn stuff that thought of ruining it was intolerable. I wrapped it in cheesecloth, squeezed liquid out of it (into a bowl) and then let it sit and drain awhile.

I took all the squeezed out pumpkin juice and stirred it into the dog’s food. I happen to know that dogs like pumpkin. One of the things you can do with an overweight dog is replace a third of his food measure for measure with canned pumpkin. Pumpkin is a vegetable, remember? Low in calories, high in fiber. And it’s got a ton of beta carotene, so it’s probably good for their night vision or something. They don’t care, they just really like it. The dog liked the pumpkin juice, too.

I finally stuck the pumpkin puree in the fridge and put off making pumpkin pie until the next day.

The next day I made the pumpkin pie. I have a kitchen scale so I pulled a can of pumpkin out of the pantry (I am not kidding, I bought a pumpkin when I already had canned pumpkin in the pantry) and found out that a can of pumpkin is 15 oz. So I measured out 15 oz of my pumpkin puree, which was quite pretty in a baby food sort of way. There was a lot more left. I replaced a third of the dog's food with homemade pumpkin puree. He liked it fine. Of course, he eats sticks in the back yard.

I made the pie pretty much according to the directions on the can except—having read a couple of articles on making a better pumpkin pie (all right, cheating, but I had invested a great deal of time in this thing and I thought I should pull out all the stops)—I replaced a fourth of a cup of the sugar with a fourth of a cup of real maple syrup.

It was a little paler than pumpkin pie usually is. It was a good pumpkin pie. It was a pretentious pumpkin pie. The maple syrup was a great tip. It came out light and custardy.

But it was hardly a great pumpkin pie. In fact, other than the maple syrup, it was probably like a lot of other perfectly good pumpkin pies I have made before.

But hey, it’s nice to know that if the economy goes to hell and we are forced to live off of a garden, I could make a scratch pumpkin pie.

Just as soon as I figure out how to make Crisco from scratch.


Blogger David Moles said...

I think a crisco is something you herd, isn't it? Some sort of big tubby rodent, like a nutria? They ought to do well in east Texas, but Austin might already be too dry.

Dibs on one of those boarders' bunks if this really does turn into another Great Depression? I don't have any crisco-herding experience but I did grow up on my dad's tales of suede and nauga ranching.

(Meanwhile, maybe I should try replacing a third of my food measure for measure with canned pumpkin.)

October 26, 2008 3:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Use corn oil instead of Crisco, using slightly less of the oil than you would the more-solid Crisco. It's better for you than hydrogenated stuff and it makes a delicious crust.

I like making my own pumpkin pie from scratch, but will even go with a store-bought frozen pie than go without pumpkin. Yum!

October 26, 2008 6:03 PM  
Blogger Tvini said...

If you find yourself with pumpkin left over, I highly recommend using it in pancake batter. It's great to start your day feeling self-righteously healthy. Especially when it tastes like you're eating pie for breakfast.

October 26, 2008 8:14 PM  
Blogger Jesse the K said...

Winter squash is part of my daily breakfast. I find easiest cooking is in the microwave. Halve it around the equator. Drape wax paper on glass tray. Place squash cut side down. Nuke on high around 9 minutes and test for squishiness with fork. Bump up 60 seconds until desired texture is reached.

Something about nuking dehydrates it nicely. Get your thick mitts and upend; repeat with other half. After an hour or so, grab a peeler and the skin slides right off.

(Same breakfast every day = joy = old farthood, yes? Rest of breakfast is blueberries and dollop of cooked amaranth, with a side of chicken breast. Mmmm, protein.)

October 26, 2008 9:27 PM  
Blogger dubjay said...

Maureen, your pumpkin pie looks great! You can come to Thanksgiving at my house anytime!

The easiest way to cook a pumpkin that I have found is to put it in the microwave. Cut the top off, scoop out the gunk, put the top back on lightly, and microwave for about 5 minutes.

Rotate the pumpkin and go for another 5 minutes. Repeat until the pumpkin looks cooked.

Let the pumpkin cool down till you can touch it. You should find, at this point, that it is fairly easy to scrape the pumpkin flesh and the pumpkin skin apart.

Once, when I was a kid, my mother cooked a pumpkin in a pressure cooker. It was so much work and such a mess that I thought "I'm never going to do that."

Then, they invented microwaves!

Happy pumpkin cooking!

Kathy H.

October 26, 2008 9:32 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Maureen, If you truly want to be pretentious (Amish) and frugal when the economy hits the fan, then here's an article on rendering your own lard:

And since you'll be starting with the pig, you'll have raegips for the dogs :)

I know what you mean, though, not too long ago I was looking out my window and saw a squirrel sitting on top of the fence and thought "hey, if I went upstairs and got the gun and opened the bathroom window, I'd have a perfect shot and we could have squirrel stew for dinner!" It's been 20 years since I've gone squirrel hunting. Clearly my fears about the economy are showing through.

October 27, 2008 9:50 AM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

David Moles, I just want you to understand that this will be a respectable boarding house. With that understood, you are at the top of the list of 'Gentlemen Boarders.' House rules, I suspect will have an extended section on TV remote etiquette, not a topic that those Depression boarders worried about.

Pumpkin in a microwave does sound easier. Although I think that the carmelization from the oven did help. But good to know if I want to make, say, soup. (Cause I do think that pumpkin is a nifty vegetable.)

Michelle, my understanding was that you either needed a lot of squirrels or a lot of dumplings to stretch the pot. But on the other hand, if your squirrels are like ours, they aren't she and you could probably get you a mess of squirrels in a suburban neighborhood in pretty short order. And then you've got squirrel pelts which have got to be good for something.

October 27, 2008 11:52 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

When I was a kid I collected squirrel tails. Then one day my mom threw them out. She said they were disgusting. I don't believe I've ever forgiven her for it.

Squirrel pelts, now I have to go back to Lehman's website for more research. Great store, BTW, in Kidron, a bit north of Millersburg. In my never-ending quest to become self-sufficient, Steve and I spent a whole day there, with, of all people, his dad.

October 27, 2008 1:54 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

No fear! I've read plenty of Maureen McHugh books, so I know all about respectable boarding houses. I promise not to bring my shaman, my synthetic boyfriend, my nosey foreman or those Hand of God creeps who put a pipe bomb through the letterbox at my last place home with me.

October 27, 2008 2:48 PM  

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