Friday, November 5, 2010

How to kick the can: Making Pumpkin Pie from scratch

Halloween is over and all of the jack-o-lanterns are moldering (In my neighborhood they are also being devoured by giant slugs). It amuses me that most of us have had intimate knowledge of the innards of a pumpkin at one time or another, that we are quite comfortable vivissecting these symbols of autumn for halloween, or eating them in a pie at thanksgiving, and yet very few of us (myself included) have ever followed one all the way from its natural state to the dinner table. I have cooked pumpkin in various incarnations over the years but that main ingredient always came from a can-even when its jack-o-lantern brother was staring me right in the face nearby! Its not that I never made the connection, it just always seemed like too much work and afterall, the ingredients on the can just say "pumpkin", there are no additives to be frightened of, its pretty damn close to scratch right?

Well...those of you that are interested in nutrition might be surprised to learn that because of the high heat, etc required by industrial canning processes, the food being preserved is in danger of being denatured. In other words canned foods can have significantly less of the vitamins and enzymes that we require. Pumpkin and other squashes are a wonderful source of carotenes, which the body uses to produce vitamin A, but when they are eaten in processed form, you may not be getting the full dose that you expect. So due to this, and the fact that I wanted to finally be able to say that I had cooked the elusive from-scratch pumpkin pie, I ditched the can and bought myself a sugar pumpkin.

* Fun pumpkin fact: Pumpkins are believed to have originated in the Americas and seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back to 7000 BC.

The type of pumpkins that we love to carve are mostly unsuitable for cooking. They are bred for the quality of their shells, not their flesh, and they can be rather stringy and dull in flavor. Sugar pumpkins are smaller, deeper in color, and contain a much larger amount of flesh in proportion to their shells. They are also extremely easy to peel and, as I soon found, relatively easy to prepare.

Cut off the top and bottom of your pumpkin and cut in half. Scoop out the seeds and peel with a vegetable peeler.

Cut the pumpkin into 2in chunks and place in a steamer basket over 2in of boiling water. Cover and steam for 15min.

Let the pumpkin cool and then puree in a food processor or blender. The result was just as smooth as the canned version but significantly brighter in color. The pumpkin I used made about 2 and 1/2 cups of puree.

From what I have read, culinary historians have discovered recipes for pumpkin pie dating back as far as the middle ages. Now days you can find a simple recipe on the back on any can of pumpkin, but since I was kicking the can, I decided to adapt Sally Fallon's recipe from her book Nourishing Traditions. This recipe omits several processes ingredients that I have been trying to avoid such as condensed milk and large amounts of refined sugar.

1 batch pate brisee
2 Cups pumpkin puree
3 pastured eggs
3/4 cup Turbinado sugar
1 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 Cup sour cream or creme fraiche (I used Zoe's organic cultured sour cream)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Line a 9-inch pan with pate brisee and pinch edge to make a border. Cream eggs with sugar and gradually blend in other ingredients. Pour into pie shell and bake for 35-45min.

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