Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Story of a Pumpkin Pie

The first time I made a pumpkin pie was about seven or eight years ago, and I was living alone in a creepy, mouse-infested little farmhouse.  It was a house-sitting job that lasted about a year, so my motivation in living there was all the rent money I was able to save.

The house was blazing hot in summer with no AC or ventilation, and my white Persian cat would lie on the couch, panting under her blanket of long hair.  And in the winter, the poorly sealed windows whistled as the freezing wind tried to seep through the cracks.

With no internet or cable (I don’t think I knew that satellite was an option then), and only a few Spanish channels on TV that came through clearly, I did a lot of reading and knitting that winter to keep busy, and knitted more scarves than I could ever have hoped to use.

At night, I’d lie in bed, fearful of the mice that were chewing through the walls, certain that they would find their way into my bed and make a nest in my hair while I was sleeping.  I used poison, traps, and even one of those things you plug in that’s supposed to emit sound waves to drive them out…  but nothing worked.  A couple times a week, I gathered up all the mouse traps, dumped them in the dried up cornfield out back and set new ones.  And let me tell you, dealing with a live mouse caught in a trap was much, much worse than a dead one.  If only I could be as good-hearted as Cinderella and see mice as our friends.  They might have kept my cat and me company that winter in that lonely house.

But worse than the mice were the middle-of-the-night break-ins in the barn out back – the owners had left a stash of cars and car parts that someone seemed determined to steal.  When I think back on it all, the whole setup seemed a little shady, but all I knew was that I got to live there for free.  After the second break-in and the second police report, I bought myself a gun to keep in my nightstand and took a gun safety class to learn how to shoot it.  And in spite of the money I was saving, I was relieved when the mortgage checks stopped coming, mysteriously, with no word from the owners, so I moved out.

All of this brings me back to pumpkin pie.  I actually starting writing this post almost a year ago, but then the holidays were over and I still hadn't posted it, so I've been waiting now for nearly a year to get to share this story and recipe with you.

For starters, I’ll say that pumpkin pie is my least favorite way to eat pumpkin, and it’s always been my “last resort” pie, if all the double-crust apple pie, blueberry streusel pie and chocolate bourbon pecan pie is gone.  It’s not that I dislike it all that much, it’s just not my first choice.

That winter in the farmhouse, though, for whatever reason, maybe just to pass the time on a chilly evening, I decided to make a pumpkin pie from a real, roasted pumpkin, instead of canned pumpkin.  So I brought a pumpkin home, cleaned out the seeds and stringy stuff,  roasted it in the oven, and pureed it for my pie.  I proudly took my creation over to my parents' house the next day so we could all have a piece (I hadn’t tasted it yet), and to my disappointment, it was completely horrible.  Not at all what I had expected after all that time and work.  Although, as my mom nicely put it, it just tasted a little “earthy”.

I had no idea what I’d done wrong – I’d followed a recipe precisely – until years later I learned there was such a thing called a “pie pumpkin”, and that I’d used a regular one for carving, which was not intended for eating.  Who knew they didn’t all taste as good as the next one!

With that experience behind me, I actually have no desire to spend time roasting and mashing a pie pumpkin either (they’re rarely available at the store anyway), and feel that the perfectly smooth and creamy pumpkin that comes in cans is already pretty perfect.  Not something I want to spend time trying to improve upon.

So, with all this said, and pumpkin pie still not being my first choice, I have wanted to make one this fall anyway, because I know other people like it, and it’s a recipe that I need to have in my recipe repertoire.  To make it more exciting though, I made a Pumpkin Turtle Pie, with chocolate, caramel and pecans between the crust and the filling.  Then I topped it with a whipped cream cheese.  Because everyone knows that pumpkin and cream cheese are the very best of friends.

One Year Ago:   Shepherd's Pie with Lamb and Roasted Butternut Squash
Two Years AgoA Holiday Cranberry Cocktail and Cranberry Orange Compote

Pumpkin Turtle Pie with Whipped Cream Cheese
  • 1 pie crust, unbaked
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce (or you can substitute 8 soft caramel candies, cut into 4ths)
  • 1 can (14 ounces) pumpkin
  • 1 can (12 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, cold

Preheat the oven to 425.  Roll out the pie crust and fit it into a deep-dish pie pan.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips, pecans and caramel over the bottom of the pie crust.

In a bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt until smooth.  Pour into the crust.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake for an additional 30 minutes until set, slightly puffed and cracked.  Cool completely.

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth.  Gradually add the whipping cream, and beat until thick and fluffy.  Spread the whipped cream cheese over the cooled pie (or you can pipe it in swirls, a lattice pattern, etc.).  If you like, you can also garnish the top of the pie with more chocolate chips, pecans and caramel sauce.

Refrigerate until ready to serve, and refrigerate leftovers, covered with plastic wrap.

Yields 8-10 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen