Smile Politely

Easier Than Pie

On the list of ways to screw up a perfectly good Thanksgiving dinner, the brown rubber that often passes for pumpkin pie is second only to a dry bird. This is unfortunate for anyone in Illinois looking to do more with local food because: 1) we grow more pumpkins than anywhere in the U.S, and 2) a six-year old can handle making the interior of the pie. I will grant you that good crust takes some practice and Thanksgiving is probably not the best time to start. But, don’t let this stop you from at least making “pumpkin custard,” which is what pumpkin pie is when you put it in a dish instead of a crust.

For pumpkin custard, you will need a pie pumpkin. Pie pumpkins are sweeter and less fibrous than larger Jack-O-Lantern varieties. Sugar pie is the classic. Cinderellas, which look like you’d expect the famed coach to look, are a little less sweet and a bit moister. There also are some white pumpkin varieties, like Lumina, that make wonderful pies and custards. Common Ground Food Co-op in Urbana still has a few white pumpkins from Moore Family Farm in Watseka. Check with the produce managers at other area stores, as some of their pumpkins may have been grown locally, as well.

The easiest way to make pumpkin puree is to preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the pumpkin in half. Using a large metal spoon, scrape out the strings and seeds*. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil, or just use an old one as is. Place the halves cut side down and cook about an hour (two hours for larger pumpkins) until you can easily stick a fork through the skin. Allow the pumpkin to cool and scrape out the flesh with a metal spoon. If there is liquid present, you will need to put the pumpkin in a flour-sack lined colander or a fine sieve and drain it for two hours or until it is the consistency of stiff mashed potatoes. Puree it in a food processor, blender, or use a stick blender if you have one.

If you do not have a food processor or blender, or if you can’t find a fresh pumpkin, you can use canned. More than likely, what is in the can was grown in Illinois. Illinois farmers, specifically Peoria-area farmers, grow 95 percent of the nation’s canned pumpkin. (FYI: If you attempt to go looking for Illinois’ commercial pumpkin farms, you will not see vast fields of orange. Processing pumpkins are pale like butternut squash as their skin is ground along with the flesh for canned pumpkin. This is a big part of why fresh puree is different than canned.)

It also bears mention that since 1985, Nestle has owned both Libby and Carnation, hence the reason the so-called classic pumpkin pie recipe calls for evaporated milk instead of regular milk or cream. Regular milk and/or cream yields a softer, less rubbery texture.

The spicing on this recipe is more complex than the Libby recipe, which is pretty heavy-handed with the cinnamon. If you don’t already have these on hand, both Common Ground or Strawberry Fields sell them in bulk, which is better for the environment and cheaper because you’re not paying to transport a lot of small containers.

Pumpkin Custard

2 large eggs
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. of ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin or 1 3/4 cups fresh pumpkin puree
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp whisky, preferably bourbon (optional)
Whipped cream for topping (optional)
Chopped candied ginger or toasted pecans for topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 10-inch quiche dish, 9-inch pie plate or six 1/2-cup ramekins. In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and fluffy. Mix in sugar, salt and spices. Stir in pumpkin. Gradually stir in cream and whisk. Pour into dish(es). Place dishes on a baking sheet and place in the lower third of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes (five minutes less for individual custards). Cool on a wire rack for 2 hours. Top with whipped cream and chopped candied ginger or toasted pecans if desired.

Note: If you want to make an actual pie or tart, you will need a homemade or purchased 12-inch crust. Place it in a 10-inch tart pan or 9-inch pie pan. Line the crust with foil. Fill with pie weights or beans. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Fill and bake as above.

_* Clean the pumpkin fibers from the seeds and dry them in a single layer on toweling for a snack. Roasted Pumpkin Seed recipe coming shortly._

Recipe Copyright Anna Barnes 2008

More Articles