Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pumpkin Pie

It's fall! Though it certainly doesn't feel like it. The last few days have had high temperatures in the 70's, and I've been walking around in skirts and tank tops. Still, it's October and the grocery stores are starting to fill up with squash, peaches, apples, and giant jugs of cider.

Right now it's early enough that all that food seems like a novelty. The deep reddish orange pie pumpkins look like rare jewels after months of summer produce. Don't get me wrong, I love summer (and summer food), but fall is my favorite season. So when I was at the grocery store and saw those gorgeous pumpkins, I had to get one and try my hand at making pumpkin pie.

When I was a kid, my mother generally only made pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. It was one of those holiday foods that we ate once a year (except one year, when my brother asked for it instead of birthday cake). She'd make the crust from scratch, rolling out dough between sheets of waxed paper, and make a filling from canned pumpkin puree.

My mother and I are very different in the kitchen. She loves to cook, but she loves to cook efficiently. At some point in the past, she devoted time to figuring out the best way to get food on the table quickly and with minimal cleanup time afterwards. For her, that's part of the fun of cooking. I understand that, because I find similar pleasure in grocery budgeting and planning my route through the store.* I cook efficiently when I have to, like on winter mornings when I put the kettle on while I get dressed and then use that hot water to make both coffee and oatmeal (pack my purse while the coffee drips and the oatmeal soaks), and I always clean my dishes while I cook. On my days off, though, I prefer to take it slow. Hence the whole pumpkin.

This is only the second pie I've ever made. The first was a shaker lemon pie last winter. That pie was just okay. The filling was good, but I overworked the crust to the point that cutting it was like trying to break through a rock.

This time I made a really simple crust with flour, salt, sugar, milk, and vegetable oil. This dough was a lot easier to work with, but vegetable oil doesn't exactly lend itself to marvelous flavor (butter is so much tastier). Still, it's a ridiculously easy recipe to throw together when you want a quick pie (I got it from Owlhaven) and it probably tastes a lot better if you use the recommended coconut oil (I didn't have that on hand, so used the optional veg. oil instead).

For the filling, I used the recipe from my Betty Crocker Illustrated Cook Book, and it turned out beautifully. The only things I did differently were using fresh ginger instead of dried and allspice instead of cloves. I also didn't exactly measure the pumpkin puree (I just used my whole pumpkin), and probably ended up with a lot more than intended. So I doubled the crust recipe, and baked the pie in my 10" springform pan. I probably could have used my big cast iron skillet instead, but I didn't think of that. The only thing I might try differently next time (other than a richer crust recipe) is maybe cutting the sugar in half. I like sweet things, but I know a lot of people who don't. Halving the sugar might be a good compromise.

Pumpkin Pie

 1 smallish pie pumpkin
1/2 t salt
1 3/4 c milk
2 large eggs
2/3 c brown sugar
2 T sugar
1 1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 t allspice

Crust (for a 10" pie):
3 c flour
4 T sugar
1 t salt
1 c vegetable oil
4 T milk

-Stab the pumpkin a few times with a knife, then roast it whole, on a cookie sheet, in a 350 degree oven for about an hour and a half (until the color darkens and it's soft).

-Meanwhile, prepare pie crust. Combine flour, sugar, salt, and vegetable oil in your pan (whatever you'll be baking the pie in). Mix with hands until ingredients are well combined and you can gather the dough into a ball. Spread the dough to the edges of the pan, by gently pressing and flattening it.

-When the pumpkin is done, cut it in half and scoop out and discard the stringy innards (but please save the seeds for toasting, they taste lovely with a little olive oil and black pepper). Scoop the flesh into a bowl and mash it really well (or just run it through a food processor).

-Combine mashed pumpkin with milk, eggs, sugars, and seasonings. Pour into prepared pie crust, and bake for about an hour in a 425 degree oven.

*I go through the produce section first. Then I swing around the outer perimeter of the store, grabbing things like dairy, eggs, and possibly meat before heading down the aisles. I completely skip the junk food aisles, so that there won't be any temptation. I also track my spending while I shop. I round the price of each item to the nearest dollar and write that number down next to the item on the grocery list, then keep a second column with a running total. If it looks like I'm going to go over budget, I evaluate how much I really need some of the items in the cart. If I'm under budget, I try to think of some staple items I could stock up on... I really am a geek ;)

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