This year, for the very first time, I grew my own pumpkins from seed. There were dozens of promise-filled blossoms from the six seeds I planted, but torrential rains and subsequent floodings of my garden took all but three of my pumpkins. Even so, I was able to harvest them and make enough puree for 12 pumpkin pies (see footnotes on making the puree).
We have a certain product here called "One Pie," and I believe, this pie filling is offered exclusively in New England. They offer squash and pumpkin pie fillings, and we've probably enjoyed hundreds of pies through the years from the well-loved recipes on the back of their cans. I tried the famous national brand, and even Ole Sweetie-Pi noticed the difference and commented that the pumpkin pie tasted "different and not as good;" it seems his own mother used the "One Pie" brand as well.
When it came time to chose a recipe for my first from-scratch pumpkin pie, it came as no surprise that I turned to the recipe on the back of "One Pie", and it worked wonderfully. Delicious pumpkin with molasses and a bit of spice. This pie is an integral and delicious part of our holiday traditions and memories. The holidays just aren't the same without it.
Pastry crust for one deep dish, 9-inch pie plate
15 ounces pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt (scant)
1 1/2 tablespoon butter, melted
1-12 oz. can evaporated milk
dash of lemon juice, optional
1 cup sugar
1/8 cup molasses
2 eggs, beaten
Have prepared a deep dish, 9-inch pie plate. Preheat oven to 450*F.
Sift sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg together. Mix this with the pumpkin puree. Add eggs, eaten, melted butter, molasses and milk. Add a dash of lemon juice (if desired).
Pour contents into the prepared pie plate. Bake in 450*F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350*F and continue to bake for 50 minutes or until a thin sharp blade inserted in the center of the pie tests clean. Allow to cool before serving.
To Make Pumpkin Puree
The whole idea of making pumpkin puree intimidated me for some reason, don't ask me why. Perhaps it's because I've never had a from-scratch pumpkin pie, and have never known anyone who made their own pumpkin puree, or perhaps it's because the directions I read seemed rather vague and uncertain. If you decide to undertake this, let me reassure you, this is easy peasy, lemon squeezy. There is no question that this takes some time, but knowing that what I am serving is fresh and organic and the fruit of my labors makes it all worth it.
The most difficult part is cutting up the pumpkin. I washed my pumpkin under cold running water and used a vegetable brush to clean the outside. I used a combination of several knives to cut it open. Start by cutting around the stem and putting off the "cap," and then slicing down the sides, making long slabs of pumpkin slices. You don't have to be particular about the size or the shape; you can always cut the larger pieces into smaller ones. Whatever you do, exercise great caution as your knife can easily slip and you could hurt yourself.
Grab yourself a large garbage bowl because you'll need it for the seeds and strings that will be removed from the pumpkin's insides. I used a large soup spoon as well as a large melon baller, scraping down until all that was left was a clean, seed-free, string-free inside. Cut any large pieces of pumpkin into fist-sized pieces.
For the next part I found my crockpot to be the perfect tool. Put in only two tablespoons of water (do not be tempted to put in more ~ the pumpkin has a lot of natural water) and place one layer of pumpkin, skin side down, into the crockpot. The rest of the pumpkin slices can be placed skin side up, or however it will fit nicely. Put the crockpot on high and let it go for five or six hours. You can test for doneness with a sharp knife, and if it pierces easily (as testing for doneness in a boiled potato), you are done.
Chances are the cooked pumpkin is going to be quite watery. Using your large soup spoon or other favorite implement, scrape the flesh away from the peel. You'll probably want to put the flesh into a colander to give it an opportunity to drain while you are working on the rest of the pumpkin pieces. You can reserve the juice for making a gorgeous soup stock or not; I leave that up to you.
Put the pumpkin flesh through a food mill, or do as I did, and use the food processor. This will help to break down any fibers to give you a smooth puree. The puree is going to look pretty watery, and to tell you the truth, that part troubled me. I put the puree through a fine sieve to squeeze out as much water as I could and it still looked watery. I was concerned that the pie would be watery as a result, even though I had found a couple of web recipes that positively said not to worry about it. I chose to worry.
Good fortune smiled down on me, as I found an invaluable hint in one of my little 1946 pamphlets entitled Good Vermont Cooks. The recipe submitter said she cooked down her pumpkin puree even further by putting it in a sauce pan and cooking and stirring over medium heat until the water evaporated. A bonus in doing this is that the puree goes from a pale yellow color to the deep orange color that we are familiar with. I pressed the puree up against the side of the sauce pan to see if any water seeped out and once it looked dry and the puree held its shape when I dragged my spoon through it, I decided it was done.
From there, the puree can be frozen or used as you would any canned pumpkin.