For Thanksgiving: The OMG I Can't Get Any Pumpkin Pie

by Diane Duane

Normally I try to keep  food postings more or less over at EuropeanCuisines.com, the part of the household where most of the cooking craziness in the household manifests itself. But I thought I’d copy it over at this side of things to make it available for those who might not normally visit cooking sites.

Those of us who routinely spend Thanksgiving off the North American continent but still try to lay out a traditional Thanksgiving dinner probably all have our own stories about being unable to get some vital missing ingredient, and then being forced to make do with something less than optimal…

One item that sometimes turns out to be very hard to lay hands on is pumpkin.

The difficulty usually surrounds canned pumpkin rather than the fresh kind… but even that can be a problem when it’s out of season. Markets in France and Germany for example, routinely feature some of the best fresh pumpkin to be found anywhere on the planet — firm, meaty, relatively seedless, and (most important) flavorful. But then these are varieties that have been bred for the table for centuries — not the North American varieties that are mostly bred for size so that they’ll make good jack-o-lanterns at Halloween. Problem is, once they’re out of season, you won’t see them again until the next year… and when you go looking for canned pumpkin, the response is usually bemusement. You won’t find it in most parts of Europe. If you can track it down, it’s usually in some overpriced store that caters to foreigners and is going to make you pay five or ten times more for it than you would have in a supermarket in the States or Canada.

At such times — if you’re not willing to buckle under — you learn to improvise. This recipe is one of EuroCuisineLady’s takes on the theme. It’s an adaptation of the basic pumpkin pie recipe in The Joy of Cooking. This pie — using butternut squash and yams to replace the pumpkin — produces a rich, dense pie that compares very favorably with the traditional pumpkin version. It’s not going to taste exactly like it… but for the moment it’ll do.

(For a variant on this theme using only sweet potatoes, check out our Virtually Pumpkin Pie.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 recipe of pie dough for a single crust pie (see below)
  • 2 butternut squash or 1 butternut squash and 2 yams (about 10 ounces each), to make about 2 1/2 – 3 cups of cooked squash/yam mixture
  • 1 1/2 cups undiluted evaporated milk or rich cream (double cream is ideal, but standard whipping cream will do)
  • 1/4 cup molasses or 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 5 slightly beaten eggs and 1 egg yolk
  • Optional flavorings /inclusions:
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla, or 2 tablespoons brandy or rum, or 1 teaspoon rum flavoring
    • 1 1-inch bud long pepper, ground fine (If you can get long pepper, this addition is strongly recommended: it really makes a difference to the finished pie. It’s terrific in real pumpkin pie, too.)
    • 3/4 cup black walnut meats, chopped/broken

Method:

Prepare the pie crust (see below for recipe).

Preheat oven to 325° F. Wash the butternut squash(es) and split the long way: remove the seeds and strings. If using yams, peel them. Place the squashes or squash and yams cut side down on a baking sheet with a little water in it, and bake for one hour.

When finished, scoop the baked pulp out of the butternut squash into a bowl: if using yams, split them and do the same. Beat, puree or whip the squash or squash-and-yam mixture until very smooth.

If using molasses, warm it slightly in the microwave or put its jar in warm water to make it a little easier to handle. In a bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolk. Then add the molasses or brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, spices, and cream, beating very well until blended. Add the squash or squash/yam mixture and beat well again. Add the vanilla, rum or brandy, or rum flavoring, and (if you’re using them) the walnut meats.

Pour the mixture into the pie shell. Preheat the oven to 425° F. When the oven is ready, bake the pie at 425° F for fifteen minutes, then reduce to 350° F and bake for another 45-50 minutes. Test with a knife blade: the pie is ready when the knife comes out clean (or very nearly so).

Pie crust recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup pastry shortening or butter
  • 3 tablespoons water (slightly more if required)

Method:

Sift the flour before measuring it into a roomy bowl or food processor. Add the salt and mix well: then work in the shortening by cutting it in with two knives, using a pastry blender, or pulsing the mixture in a food processor with the plastic blade, until the grain in the mixture is pea-sized. Stir or pulse the water in one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture holds together when you gather it into a ball. (If using a food processor, pulse until the dough mixture just gathers to make a ball.)

Allow to rest for 15 minutes in the refrigerator: then roll out and use to line a 9-inch pie pan. Fill as described above and bake.

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