This story was originally published in November 2021.
It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie.
A few reports we’re reading online or in papers caution us about shortages of canned pumpkin for pie this Thanksgiving, due to a shortage of steel cans which are manufactured in China, and are in shorter supply because of factory closings due to COVID-19.
While I haven’t observed this yet in the chain store I most often frequent, I have seen pumpkins in stores, farm stands and on front porches all over. So this might be the year that more cooks find themselves making pumpkin pies from scratch.
And using pumpkin pie spice.
When we fork up a mouthful of pumpkin pie, part of what we think of as pumpkin flavor is the blend of spices that season it. That’s the same seasoning in pumpkin beer, pumpkin lattes and lots of the other semi-pumpkin dishes that have less pumpkin than other ingredients but all have pumpkin pie spice to flavor them.
A good pumpkin pie starts with a good pie pumpkin, usually smaller, slightly darker skinned and with smooth, deep orange flesh. Pumpkins grown for jack-o’-lanterns are perfectly edible, and usually have lighter colored, coarser, and less flavorful flesh. Still a cook can tinker with them, steam or bake them, mash, puree or run the cooked pumpkin through a food mill or colander, and drain it well just as you do with smaller pie pumpkins. After that, sweetening and seasoning them to taste turns Halloween into Thanksgiving.
Over the years I’ve grown many pumpkins and stored them whole in a cool dry part of my house, or cooked them up for pie, bread, cookies and cake. Cooking them before they have a chance to spoil, and freezing the pulp in handy 1 or 2 cup packages gives you the equivalent of canned pumpkin. Of course, that requires more effort than opening a can but with a strategy it needn’t be oppressive.
I don’t peel the pumpkin, merely remove the seeds. I wait until it’s cooked, then I scrape the pulp from the skin. To cook it, I steam it sometimes on the stove; blessed with a wood burning cook stove, I have a hot surface from November until the pumpkins are all gone. If I bake, I chuck chunks of pumpkin into the oven at the same time. Almost always, there is more pumpkin than I need for one recipe, so the puree lands in the freezer for immediate use as needed.
Draining the cooked and pureed pulp in a sieve until there are no more drips, about 10 minutes, ensures a texture similar to canned pumpkin.
Then we need pumpkin pie spices.
With the exception of changing my own oil for the car, I am a huge do-it-yourselfer. I wouldn’t ever buy pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice because I can measure my own cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves or allspice, thank you very much. I guess if I didn’t bake much ever, and didn’t need each of those spices for other things I cooked, then the pre-mix would make sense. If you like having one jar to reach for when you make a pumpkin pie, consider assembling the spices and mixing it for future use.
I like to use evaporated milk. Even though most canned pumpkin comes in 14 to 15 ounce cans, I stick to the old rule of 2 cups of pumpkin puree. If I used canned pumpkin, I would just scant the milk a bit — shave off a quarter cup or so — and reduce the sugar slightly.
Pie spice leads with cinnamon. Ginger is next usually, at two parts to cinnamon’s three, but just as often, less. Nearly all the recipes call for nutmeg. Allspice and cloves, which are really quite similar, seem to be interchangeable; some formulas use one or the other but seldom both. Directions follow, and you can make your own convenient blend for future pies or any other pumpkin-y dessert you like to make.
Pumpkin pie spice
3 tablespoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon of cloves and/or allspice
Sift together and store in an airtight jar.
Yields one pie.
Pastry sufficient for one crust
2 cups pureed pumpkin
½ cup light brown sugar
1 ¾ cup (or 1 12-ounce can) evaporated milk
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice, or more to taste
Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line a pie plate with the pastry and crimp the edges.
Put all the ingredients into a medium mixing bowl and whisk them together until you have a smooth batter.
Pour the pumpkin batter into the pie plate.
Bake at 375 for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the filling is puffed and a knife inserted comes out clean.
Cool before serving.
Looking for… Applesauce Cake. Bobbie Lehigh in Eastport wrote that “I am without an excellent applesauce cake recipe.” This is a dreadful situation. She has lost the Robin Hood Flour recipe for the cake that she used to have, and she reported, “None of the cookbooks I live among has a recipe that looks a bit like it.” But maybe one of you does, or can share your old favorite reliable recipe for one?