Nov 19, 2008

let's talk about pie

i love pie. i love custard. i love squash. i love history.* we are headed to japan over thanksgiving break this year. we have been meaning to get back to japan for 4 years and now that the dollar is at an all-time low against the yen. we are going. i planned the trip back in july, before the economic news became so grim. on thanksgiving day we will be far away in a 400 year-old inn with volvanic hotsprings on the izu penninsula looking at mount fuji. but anyway, we aren't going to care about any of that now. back to pie.

not wanting to miss out on our favorite part of american thanksgiving, i made pumpkin pies last weekend. i prefer pie with a homemade crust, usually a pate brisee, with butter (never margarine or crisco or lard, never any of those, not ever). but even if i don't have time to make my own crust, (like this year when i am running around trying to pack, cancel the papers, hold the mail, lower the thermostats, notify the teachers, remember the essential toiletries, wash 100 loads of laundry, straighten the house), i buy a frozen crust made with the same ingredients i use. namely flour, butter, salt, a touch of sugar. nothing else. these are available frozen at whole foods. so, when i am too hurried to make my own crust, i am not too hurried to remove the crust from those awful-tasting aluminum foil pans and place them into a nice ceramic dish at home. i just love how it cooks in ceramic, and no sticking. a quality metal pan works great too. i just thaw the frozen pastry shells briefly until they become soft, hopefully lift them out of their foil and place them into my own pans. really a pretty smooth operation.

and i am no master of pie dough let me tell you. when i make a crust, i get covered head to foot with flour. a fine dusting of fresh flour covers all the surfaces of my kitchen, even under the burners on the stove, how is that even POSSIBLE? i wear a canvas apron, but it still gets all over my clothes. you get the picture. it is not a talent i possess, dexterity with doughs. they are misshapen and they tear and they are too thick and yet still they wind up delicious. but usually quite homemade and rustic in appearance. i persevere. just like the original colonists. does this post seem like it is going on and on, like forever? like as long as a new england winter?

i will try to get to the most important part. the custard. i like the pie to taste more like custard. for this you add some extra eggs. you also remove the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. WHAT you say? no cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves? yes, i say. you may think, that is not even pumpkin pie without all that pumpkin pie spice. but you would be mistaken i believe. if you think about it, those are very heavy spices, very strong tasting. and this is not called spice pie, is it? and this pie, it is delicious on its own, why do you EVEN NEED them? hmmm. tradition, perhaps.* well, i do add some flavor interest... i add a heaping spoonful of minced crystallized ginger and a tiny smidge of allspice. it has the hint of spice, but only a hint. this lets the wiggly jiggly custard pumpkin flavor sparkle and shine. and i am so thankful.

patee brisee for 2 open pies (joy of cooking has a nice recipe, so do julia childs and alice waters)
rolled out and placed in pans with edges attractively crimped or smooshed or just in there!
or 2 frozen all pie crusts (try to move them into your own pans, it is not too too hard)

2 15oz cans pumpkin**
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 TBSP minced crystallized ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 eggs, whisked
whisk the pumpkin, cream, milk, sugars, salt and spices together thoroughly. correct flavor if necessary (sweeter, ginger, etc) add in whisked eggs. pour into prepared pie crusts in pans. bake in a preheated oven set at 375 for 30 to 45 minutes until done, should jiggle just a bit in the center. when you make it in a tart pan as pictured above, it is done in 30 to 35. in a deep dish ceramic pie dish it takes closer to 40-45 minutes. allow pie to cool for 30 minutes before devouring.

r and the kids love whipped cream on their pie and make it themselves. 1 cup heavy whipping cream and 2 teaspoons sugar, whipped until soft peaks form. they love the whisking and gleefully take turns, imagining their reward.

* pumpkin pie history: i understand that pumpkin pie was originally invented as a LUNCH. not a dessert at all. i think it makes a fine breakfast as well.... supper even. also, in the new world pumpkin was plentiful, almost too plentiful, (pumpkin for breakfast lunch and dinner) and pies or puddings were frequently made without cinnamon or cloves, a ginger/allspice version was common. also a nutmeg, ginger and mace version. hows that for tradition? yes, that's right, often NO cinnamon NO cloves. sometimes apples below the pumpkin filling. i think i am going to start calling my pie, "historically more accurate pumpkin pie" no wait, i dont cook it in hot ashes do i? oh and there is that canned pumpkin issue... canning wasn't invented until the late 18th century. i understand we have napoleon to thank, he wanted to keep his armies well fed on the road and offered a prize to the person who could figure out long term food preservation. first they bottled food, but i imagine that would have been too breakable for wartime travel. short time later tins were developed.
** i use organic canned pumpkin, i have tried making the squash myself, it is laborious and the one time i did it the pumpkin tasted all watery and flavorless, not dense and rich. yes, i did use the smaller pie pumpkins they sell around here. altogether disappointing experience. i don't think i will try it again. unless someone out there can talk me into it.

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