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GREG PRYOR: Pumpkin pies from scratch
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GREG PRYOR: Pumpkin pies from scratch

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Recently I harvested several dozen small “pie pumpkins” from my garden. Pie pumpkins are much smaller than the jumbo ones intended for carving into jack-o-lanterns. Both types will arrive in local grocery stores and produce stands soon.

As their name implies, pie pumpkins are best used for making pumpkin pie. A modern Thanksgiving staple, pumpkin pie is flavored with cinnamon, allspice, and ginger. Without those spices, pumpkins don’t taste or smell anything like the “pumpkin spice” coffees, muffins, candles, and whatnots that flood the market this time of year.

Pumpkins are winter squashes that are native to North America, and pumpkin pies were first popularized in the Northern states by Pilgrims and early colonists. In fact, the Southern states rejected pumpkin pies after the Civil War because of their association with Yankees. Instead, Southerners embraced sweet potato pies adorned with pecans.

Today, most pumpkin pies are made from canned pumpkin, and fewer and fewer people know how to process an actual pumpkin into a pie. Furthermore, most canned pumpkin originates in China and India. In this article, I’m going to take you through the entire process, from pumpkin to pie.

Although you can make pie from jack-o-lantern pumpkins, pie pumpkins are best because of their more convenient size, firmer texture, and higher sugar content. Pie pumpkins are around 6 to 8 inches in diameter.

The first step in making authentic pumpkin pie is to slice the pumpkins in half and remove the seeds. Two small pumpkins will be plenty for a pie or two. Any extra pumpkin puree can be frozen for later use.

The halves are placed face-down on a baking sheet and baked at 350 F for 45 minutes, or until the pumpkin is fork-tender. The skin will be dark brown and the flesh will smell slightly caramelized.

Let it cool, then scoop the pulp away from the skin and puree it in a food processor. You could also use a potato masher, ricer, or food mill. If it’s too dry, add a little water, and if it’s too watery, strain it through a colander or strainer. It’s that easy! What you have is pure pumpkin puree, ready for making pies or other pumpkin-based goodies like pumpkin bread, muffin, cookies, or smoothies.

Below, I provide a recipe for an old-fashioned pumpkin pie, made from your own pumpkin puree.

OLD-FASHIONED PUMPKIN PIE

Ingredients

2 large eggs

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon allspice (or 1/4 teaspoon each of nutmeg and ground cloves)

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

2 cups pumpkin puree

12-ounce can evaporated milk (or 1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream)

1 pie crust (homemade with lard is best!)

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, brown and white sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and lemon zest. Mix in the pumpkin puree and evaporated milk or cream to make the pie filling.

Pour the filling into a pie crust in a pie plate and bake it at 425 F for 15 minutes. Then, turn the temperature down to 350 F and bake for another 45 to 50 minutes, or until the center of the pie is just a little jiggly.

Let the pie cool for at least two hours before serving. As it cools, the pie filling will “deflate” and settle slightly.

I much prefer pie made from pumpkins that I process myself into puree, over store-bought pies made from canned pumpkin. I think it has a more complex flavor due to the oven-roasted pumpkin.

I get immense satisfaction from using my homegrown pumpkins, and knowing where the pumpkins came from and how they were grown. This fall, you might want to try processing a whole pumpkin into a pumpkin pie. Let’s give them pumpkin to talk about!

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