Saturday, October 19, 2013

FRESH Pumpkin Pie and Savory Side

With autumn in high gear and Thanksgiving approaching, nothing sounds more delightful than foods made with pumpkin.  So today I wanted to share both a pumpkin pie and a savory pumpkin side dish recipe with you.  I made both dishes from fresh pumpkins of differing varieties and find that two different techniques make for the best results.

Sugar "Pie" Pumpkins

Pumpkin Pie History

Recipes for pumpkins cooked with sugar, spices and cream wrapped in pastry trace their roots to European cuisine. The Columbian Exchange [16th century] shipped the "old world" foods found in the "new world" (the Americas). These new foods (pumpkins, potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts, corn etc.) were incorporated into traditional cuisines. Pumpkins were similar to "old world" squash and superior in flavor. They were also just as easy to grow and as such, were quickly popular.  They were even made into pies if you were lucky enough to be in a household that could afford the expensive ingredients (sugar and spices) and equipment (sieves, ovens, etc.) that were used to make pies.  The ‘less fortunate’ generally just cut off the top, cleaned out the insides and filled it with other fruits, then placed it in hot embers to slowly roast much like the native American Indians.  This was probably equally good but certainly not a ‘finely prepared’ dish in the classic French tradition.  In 1651 the famous French chef and author published “Le Vrai Cuisinier Francois” (The True French Cook) that contained his recipe for pompion (French for pumpkin) tourte.  It was translated and published in England as The French Cook in 1653. It contains what is thought to be the first published recipe for a pumpkin pie that included the pastry:
Tourte of pumpkin - Boile it with good milk, pass it through a straining pan very thick, and mix it with sugar, butter, a little salt and if you will, a few stamped almonds; let all be very thin. Put it in your sheet of paste; bake it. After it is baked, besprinkle it with sugar and serve.
But was pumpkin pie served at the first American Thanksgiving?  Historians believe that the earliest American settlers (Plimoth Plantation 1620-1692) might have made pumpkin by stewing or by filling a hollowed out shell with milk, honey and spices, and then baking it in hot ashes similar to their ‘less fortunate’ European counterparts and techniques learned from the Indians.  Ovens to bake pies were not available in the colony at that time. About 50 years after the first Thanksgiving in America they likely ate what we think of as pumpkin pie.

From Steamed Fresh Pumpkin
However, it was not until 1796 that the first American cookbook was published (American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons) that contained her recipes for pumpkin puddings that were baked in a crust and similar to present day pumpkin pies:
Pompkin Pudding No. 1. One quart stewed and strained, 3 pints cream, 9 beaten eggs, sugar, mace, nutmeg and ginger, laid into paste No. 7 or 3, and with a dough spur, cross Pompkin Pudding No. 2. One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.

Fresh Pumpkin Pie – Libby’s vs. Homemade?

In a recent small survey I found that only 25% of people had ever tasted a truly fresh pumpkin pie that started with making the pumpkin puree.  Everyone else reported only have ever tasted Libby’s pumpkin puree from the can.

Fresh Pumpkin Puree from Steamed Pumpkin
The Libby’s puree is usually good and reliable, and they dominate the market.  90% of the pumpkins grown in the United States are farmed within an 80 mile radius of Morton, Illinois not far from my home here in Chicago.  Libby contracts with private farmers and supplies their proprietary seed and the equipment to grow their patented pumpkins.  About 5,000 acres of farm land is devoted to producing the Dickinson pumpkins for Libby.  Libby´s Select Dickinson Pumpkins are a special variety of pie pumpkin.  They are larger than your typical pie pumpkins that weigh 2.5 – 5 pounds. The Dickinson’s weigh 10 to 14 pounds, are oblong and tan in color with much thicker orange flesh and less open space in the center.  The danger in all this is, of course, that if disease strikes it takes out the entire supply.  Recently there have also been reports of ‘sandy grit’ in the puree which is not noticeable until you eat the pie.  Libby’s admits this sometimes happens and provides coupons upon complaint for replacement cans.  They do nothing for the embarrassment it causes you at your table.

So this year I decided to prepare my fall pumpkin desserts from fresh pumpkin.  The question before me was, what’s the best method to cook pumpkins for puree?  Over at, probably the most popular site for this topic, they give guidance in that any of the usual methods will yield good results.  These are steaming, boiling, roasting and microwaving.  I tried all of them and while they all do cook the pumpkin, there is a definite preferred method that yielded the most favorable results with the best texture:  roasting. Once you make this puree, you can freeze it in containers or zippered storage bags and use it in all baking recipes where it calls for pumpkin puree.

Making Pumpkin Puree

Purchase small pie pumpkins (sometimes called sugar pumpkins).  One 2-3 pound pumpkin will provide sufficient puree for one deep dish pie.  A five pound pumpkin is sufficient for two standard pies.  Pie pumpkins are the modern baking pumpkin. The skin is more thin, the flesh is sweeter and dryer, and they have a substantially finer grain than a jack-o-lantern type pumpkin, which were bred for thick rinds and stability when carved.

Preheat your oven to 400F degrees. Wash the outsides and slice off the top leaving as much pumpkin as possible.  Cut the pumpkin in half as shown.  Using a heavy ice cream scoop, scrape out the seeds and strings leaving the lighter orange flesh intact with the shell.  (You may wish to save the seeds for later roasting.) Lightly oil the pumpkins on all sides and sprinkle with a little powdered cinnamon.   Using a baking sheet or dish with sides, cover it in foil and spray with food release or some additional oil.  Add water until it is approximately one quarter of an inch deep.  Place the pumpkins cut side down onto the prepared baking sheet and place in the oven for one hour, until the pumpkins are tender and the shells beginning to brown. Prepare the pie crust while the pumpkin is roasting.

Pumpkins and Acorn Squash Roasting
Remove from the oven and turn over to release steam and allow to cool until they can be handled comfortably with your bare hands.

Skin Peels Off by Hand
Peel off the pumpkin skin from the flesh.  They typically come apart quite easily although you could run a knife between the flesh and the skin if necessary.  Discard the skins and place the flesh into a bowl and mash it with a spoon or your hand.  Puree the pumpkin by using a stick blender, a food processor or a traditional drink blender.  I prefer the stick blender as it is convenient to use in the bowl, ensures a good smooth blend and cleans up quickly.  The other equipment gives equally good results.

Pureed with a Stick Blender
The pumpkin should resemble that you get from the can.  It may be slightly lighter or a different consistency. If it is too watery, place it into a pot and simmer over low heat to evaporate excess moisture.  If it is too tight, stir in a little water or apple cider.  I did not have to do this with any of the pumpkins I tested when using the roasting method, although pumpkins from the same batch required me to remove extra moisture when steamed or boiled.  Use the puree for the pumpkin pie recipe below or store it for later use by freezing or refrigerating.

Winner - Roasted Pumpkin with Recipe Below
I also tested numerous pumpkin pie recipes and below is the one that was judged best overall by my several tasting panels, especially when made with fresh roasted pumpkin.  It yields a very flavorful pumpkin pie that has a nice consistency similar to what your guests expect from one prepared with canned pumpkin.

Pumpkin Pie Ingredients

1 pie pastry for 9 inch pie, deep dish or standard glass pie plate.
1/4 - 1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup Splenda sugar blend (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground almonds (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2-3 cups of fresh pumpkin puree, room temperature
1 12 ounce can evaporated milk

Whipped cream for topping (optional)

Pumpkin Pie Instructions

Preheat oven to 425F degrees and place a baking sheet (cookie sheet) on the lowest rack.  Prepare or purchase fresh pie pastry.  Place it in a glass pie dish (for the best possible crisp crust).  Prick the sides and bottom with a fork.  Lay a sheet of parchment into on top of the pastry and weight it down with pie weights or beans.  Place in the oven to bake for 3-4 minutes.  Remove and let sit with weights while you prepare the filling.

Crust with Pie Weights
Stir 1/4 cup brown sugar and spices together in a small mixing bowl.  In a large mixing bowl lightly beat (with an electric hand mixer or wire whisk) the wet ingredients (vanilla, eggs, pumpkin puree and evaporated milk.) Stir in the dry mixture.  As fresh pumpkin can be sweet on its own, I recommend you taste the uncooked batter to determine if it needs more sugar.  Alternatively you can cook a small amount (1/3 cup) in an oven proof ramekin for tasting.  If it does, you can add the addition 1/4 cup of brown sugar or Splenda sugar blend if you are watching your sugar intake.  Stir in the optional ground almonds if using.  They add nice flavor but do change the consistency enough that your guests will notice their addition.

The Dry Ingredients without Optional Nuts
Remove the weights and parchment from the crust.  Open the oven and pull out the rack. Set the partially baked shell on the hot baking sheet.  Pour in your pumpkin filling.  Place any remaining filling into individual ramekins and add to oven alongside the pie.
Bake for 15 minutes at 425F, then reduce temperature to 350F degrees.  Bake for an additional 45-60 minutes, just until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Do not over bake.  Check pie frequently and cover the crust edge with a pie crust guard or aluminum foil to prevent over-browning.

The Winning Recipe
Remove from oven and let cool.  When ready to serve, cut and top each piece with sweetened whipped cream.  Sprinkle a little ground cinnamon on the whipped cream and you are ready for serving.

See next week's posting on Savory Pumpkin Sides

1 comment:

  1. David, my method with fresh roasted pumpkin is to drain it. It works beautifully. Just line a strainer with paper towels and let it sit. It will lose a lot of liquid. If you don't drain it, you really need to change the recipe. I must tell you, one thing I've always want to try is grilling it to get a bit of smoke into it, I bet it would be delicious. Maybe bake it a bit first, peel and smoke.
    That said, you pie looks fabulous. Thanks for the old French recipe. I made an old English version of the same vintage that was layered and had herbs in it. It was quite delicious.