There seems to be some question among historians as to whether the pumpkin was on the first Thanksgiving table in 1620, but no one contests that it was there in 1621. The pumpkin is a distinctly American food, having been a part of native diets going back to the mists of prehistory. Seeds have been found in ancient tombs in Mexico that were carbon dated to 5500 BC. Thus, the pumpkin has been cultivated in the New World for at least 7000 years!
One of my favorite food writers, the late Waverly Root, disputes the commonly held belief that squashes were prevalent throughout the old world. Despite assertions in the record that squashes were “grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon; that Pliny mentioned it; that Apicius gave recipes for it; that Martial gave a dinner composed entirely of different kinds of squash,” Root dismisses all this as errors in translation. Where past translators said “squash,” they should have said “gourd.”
These days pumpkins get used more for carving into Jack-o-Lanterns than for food, and when folks make pie, almost everyone buys the canned stuff. Not so on your holiday table this year, though. You are going to make pumpkin pie from scratch and I am here to tell you how.
First of all, you need a pumpkin; doesn’t need to be a large one. You will need about 2 cups of cooked pumpkin flesh for each 9″ pie. There are two ways to cook it. If you want to boil it, first peel it with a knife or vegetable peeler, then split it in half, remove the seeds, and cut it into 2″ chunks. Alternatively, and for added flavor, leave the skin on, then split it, seed it, and roast it with some butter at 350° for about 15 minutes per pound. When it is nice and tender, the flesh will scrape right off the skin. Puree it in a food processor or with a potato masher until smooth.
2 cups pureed pumpkin
About 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
A dash of salt
2 beaten eggs
Add a combination of these spices to your taste (never be afraid to experiment):
2 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves, or less
For added kick, throw in a shot or two of bourbon!
(Makes 3 crusts)
Use unbleached pastry flour. Bleaching toughens the gluten in flour and will result in a tougher crust. If you can’t find pastry flour, you can make it yourself. Buy King Arthur Flour and replace 2 tablespoons of flour per cup with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, then sift twice.
3 cups unbleached pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
Then cut in 1/2 cup of cold lard (yes, I did say “lard”—hydrogenated vegetable shortening tastes bad and is bad for you) until the flour is the consistency of cornmeal. Then cut in another 1/2 cup, this time using your fingertips until the lard forms pea-size chunks. (Vegetarians can substitute butter for the lard.)
Sprinkle with ice-cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing gently with a fork until the dough just sticks together. You should end up using about 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) or so.
Divide the dough into thirds. Press one of these evenly into a 9″ pie pan (wrap and freeze the two others for your next pie). Fill with your pumpkin pie filling and bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350° and bake a further 45 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Serve only to people who’ve cleaned their plates.