Colonial Pumpkin Pie

When it’s soon to be Thanksgiving, you almost can’t help but think of pumpkin pie. I’ve had my share over the years, some better than others. Let’s say there’s a scale of 1-10 with ten being the best. If you’ve only ever had mid-range, 5-6ish pies that lean more toward bland than flavorful, you might think: Pumpkin pie, so what? I’ll tell you what – you want to try this one!

It’s only natural that the tastes we grow up with become the ones we categorize as authentic and normal (and hopefully good!). Thus it is that my mom’s “Colonial Pumpkin Pie” tastes perfect to me. And once again I say: Thank you, Mom! If you have a recipe that you love from your mom or dad or grandma, by all means go ahead and use it. But if you don’t, this recipe might very quickly taste like home to you. (Why it’s called “Colonial” I never asked. Your guess is as good as mine. Did the colonists have all these spices? Maybe?)

One part of this process that’s fun for me is checking if it’s done. Many times recipes call for a toothpick inserted into the middle, and if it comes out clean, the pie or cake or bread is done. This one calls for a knife. A very sharp knife is not necessary, but don’t use a thick one either. Your regular knife that butters toast will be just fine. Notice there are two slits in this pie. First knife: Not clean!

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But I get ahead of myself.

As flippant as I can be about some recipes (little of this, little of that) I am pretty darn exact about this one. As I copied it long ago from Mom’s recipe book, this is it, spatters and all, and I don’t change a thing.

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P.S. I never omit the molasses. Why on earth would anyone do that?

I have made this pie with canned pumpkin most of the time. Be careful to get the can that is strictly pumpkin, not the one you can find sometimes that has spices already added to it. You want pumpkin pure and simple to start with. Pumpkin is bright orange. Bright orange is the authentic pumpkin color. But you may know me well enough by now to know that I am going to be unconventional sometimes. I am still going to follow the recipe, and all it says is 1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin. I had cooked down and pureed some homegrown pumpkins that had white flesh, and I wanted to use that, but look, in the bowl, it’s too white. See what I mean? It’s just not right.

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Some things have to be the way they are supposed to be. Or maybe just not so far afield. I decided the best remedy was to double the recipe. I added the same amount of canned (orange) pumpkin…

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…stirred it up…

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…and then doubled everything else. Hmmm, I wonder which is the dominant color?! Anyway I felt better and could carry on.

Another reason I like this recipe is that it calls for allspice, which is not, as the name implies, a bunch of (or all) spices mixed together, but rather a kind of pepper native to the Greater Antilles, southern Mexico and Central America. It is also called pimento, Jamaica pimento or myrtle pepper. Neither its origin nor its name is why I like using it though. I like my tin. Check this out. I’ve had this allspice tin for decades and who knows if I even bought it new (maybe it was my mother’s!). I can tell you that the front and the back are exactly the same as each other, and both sides are the same as each other except for the seam in the metal being part of one side.

No UPC, no warnings, no ingredients list, no metric weight, no zip code for Elmhurst, no trademark. I love all my tins, but this is one of my favorites. I have refilled it over the years but could never bear to part with it. Perhaps refilling is a very bad idea (sticking to the insides is some very old allspice!), but I haven’t died yet, so I will continue my system.

The rest of the ingredients, added but unstirred, all except for the milk, look like a funky continental United States map to me: The shiny molasses like rain in Seattle at the 10:00 position, the eggs like a storm tracking from Texas to the mid-Atlantic, the brown sugar like high desert from Arizona to North Dakota. (Some people see castles in the clouds. I see a storm tracking in the eggs – what can I say!?) And hey, why not see the whisk stuck in the middle as the teacher saying Now, children, do get along! Granted, the real U.S. is wider than it is high, and California, New England and the Great Lakes are more or less missing in this rendition, but Imagination Art is not required to be accurately representative.

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I digress! Apologies!

Whisk those ingredients together thoroughly, getting to a rich golden brown color.

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Then add the evaporated milk and whisk again. This is what it looks like when the milk is mostly stirred in but not all the way.

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Mix the milk in until it is thoroughly blended, then get ready to pour into a prepared pie crust (purchased or homemade, you know which mine is). You might recall that I doubled the recipe because of wanting to use the white pumpkin. Half of this amount – a very full quart – I poured into my crust. The other half I put in a quart container and froze. When I thaw it and pour it into another crust, it will be just as good.

Note well: The mixture will be very liquidy.

The most delicate part of this operation comes next, the part where you want to make sure there are no small children running about or random dog toys underfoot likely to trip you up. Moving the pie dish from the counter to the oven with this very soupy mixture in it requires a steady hand and no surprises. Trust me on this! I speak from experience. Goopy, soupy pumpkin pie mixture that has dripped down and worked its way into the crevices of your oven (you are not fast enough to catch it!) is a pain to clean up if you spill it. For a while, unwilling to risk the same big mess, I put the pie plate with its empty crust on the oven rack and then poured the mixture in! But this has its own challenges, including how to pour it within a confined space. In the end, I am just super careful with this part.

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For some reason pumpkin pie tastes best in the fall. Is it that I am (and maybe we all are) conditioned that way, having had it only at Thanksgiving for many years? Is it that the cinnamon/cloves/ginger/molasses combo – these stronger, winter flavors – inherently and mysteriously taste “right” when the weather is cooler? I don’t know. I don’t eat pumpkin pie only at Thanksgiving, but I do wait till there’s a nip in the air!

4 thoughts on “Colonial Pumpkin Pie

  1. I just bought a frozen Dutch Apple Pie from Walmart today getting ready for our Thanksgiving meal. Now after this irresistible recipe I’m going to have to stop by Walmart again tomorrow after golfing, weather permitting, and get the ingredients to try this.

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  2. My mouth waters up. I can almost taste the spices and smell the flavours in the kitchen. Events, people and emotions make up our memories. Working in the kitchen with you, sharing life with you, your family and friends and enjoying wonderful food are deeply embedded memories in my neural system. Thank you! Enjoy this great pie, the tastes, the people and the memories that come to heart and mind. Make new ones. Happy Thanksgiving!

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