Monday, November 17, 2008

Wholly Pumpkin

In between all this talk of strong whiskey I feel the need for something wholesome.  Namely, pie.  Pumpkin pie.  It is the season after all, and if we are really being honest, when is there a wrong time for pie?

I have many pie ambitions.  I aspire to shape flawlessly crimped crusts.  I will find the perfect recipe for both flaky and mealy dough (I happen to prefer a crumbly crust!)  Among my many pie dreams is nestled a shamefully simple wish: to make a pumpkin pie from an actual pumpkin.  How this has yet to be, I often ask ask myself.  And while there will always be a place in my stomach for mom's Libby's canned pumpkin pie, I recently decided it was time to get back to basics and slice into a real, big, orange pumpkin.

Full of that enthusiasm you get from setting out to fulfill a lifelong quest, I pick two picture worthy, round and deeply orange sugar pumpkins from a big pile at my local grocery.  Two, and not just the sufficient one, because...I get excited.  Quest fulfilling enthusiasm is a powerful thing.

And speaking of powerful things, I'm sure all you pie people out there will confirm, once you start thinking about pie you can't compartmentalize that kind of want.  It calls for instant gratification.  Back in the kitchen, it's pie time.

To make pumpkin puree is a simple task.  The largest challenge really lies in getting into the pumpkin itself.  With a sharp knife, stabbing at the thick rind I felt ghoulish, a little like some form of vegetarian butcher.  Then, shaking the ghoul and setting down the knife, breaking open the pumpkin, comes a beauty moment.  Beauty moments are what I call those times when you, a true lover of food, think to yourself just how beautiful -- physically, colorfully, texturally -- food can be.  When you think, "that grows, that!"  My fellow pie lovers, a beauty moment:

Scraping out the flesh I remember being a little girl, soaking my fingers into slimy, stringy pumpkin goo to pick out seeds for toasting on pumpkin carving night.  I make sure to save the seeds from these sugar pumpkins to do the same.

Once clean, the halves go face down on parchment lined baking sheets and into a toasty 425-450 degree F oven.  Working on the crust I'll admit, a near crisis ensues as I nearly forget about the precious beauty moment inspiring pumpkins.  It's a mystery among many burn-prone when things go into the oven simultaneously the mind goes out for a drink.

But I come to just in time.  A small pumpkin should take about 40 minutes until the flesh is soft and the skin peels right off.

Once cool, the food processor comes out.  A few pulses, a whir, a hum, and the pumpkin turns into a sweet, brilliant, glistening pumpkin-pie-dream-fulfilling puree.

The rest is just like mom makes.  Eggs, cinnamon, allspice, sugar.  Adding a little more spice than the recipe calls for I watch the mixture turn a deep, rich and warm brown.  I pour it into the unbaked, not quite perfectly (yet) crimped crust.  And into the oven it goes.

Coming out, I think, "My god I love pie!"  Smelling it hot out of the oven I think it's a shame pumpkin pie tastes so much better chilled.  Waiting for it to cool I think how surprisingly happy I now am to have a freezer full of excessive amounts of pumpkin puree (re: the pumpkin buying enthusiasm).

The result of the real pumpkin adventure?  Worth it.  Perhaps worth getting excited and buying two, making extra puree and having it on hand to keep for the next time...less messy, and quicker.  But turning a pumpkin into a pie is a trick worth feeling enthusiastic about.  The flavor is sweet, but in an organic way, more complex and rich.  I didn't include a recipe for the pie because you can simply slip your puree into your own favorite pie recipe (I know pies can get very personal.)  You will however find a seed suggestion...for something to eat while you are waiting for the pie to cool.

Spiced Vanilla Pumpkin Seeds

The cleaned seeds from 1 pumpkin
Melted butter to coat
Sugar to coat
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
approx 1/2 t spice blend (or spice to taste)

Spice blend:
2 parts cinnamon
1 part nutmeg
1 part allspice
1/2 part cardamom

1.  Toss seeds in melted butter.
2.  Sprinkle with sugar and toss to coat.
3.  Stir in the inside of vanilla bean and spice blend...add more or less spice according to your taste.
4.  Spread evenly on a parchment lined baking sheet.
5.  Bake at 350 degrees F until golden brown, stirring often.

1 comment:

Melissa12 said...

Kaity, I love your blog! I want to try the bourbon. Are you free the first weekend in Dec. for a catch-up/gossip-filled brunch? Sat. or Sun. works for me! xo, Mel