No…not a misspelling, so I guess you know where we are headed, right? It was after my post on the Pumpkin Cheesecake last month and my reminiscence about sharing a piece of pumpkin pie with my grandma, that I realized, while I have preached pumpkin and shared a million pumpkin recipes during the past three years, I’ve never offered to share my grandma’s pumpkin pie. Amazing.
So let me amend that today by giving you a taste of what I remember as pumpkin pie. And it starts with lard. Now before you back away, know two things: you can use unsalted butter and this recipe will be as good (well nearly) and if you buy quality lard—and you’ll need a local source like mine, which is Papa’s Pasture—you couldn’t ask for a cleaner, greener ingredient.
And then there is the squash—confession here: it’s not pumpkin. It is a large beautiful squash called cushaw. Many times, the “pumpkin” you buy in the can is not pumpkin at all, but it might very well be cushaw. This squash is probably only available at your farmers market, which is where I got mine. The flavor is milder than most heirloom pumpkins, so if there are those at your table who don’t care for strong pumpkin flavor and sometimes stringy texture, the cushaw squash is for you. I’m guessing Grandma could have used cushaw, but probably used pumpkin. As she got older, she used Libby’s, but we aren’t going to think about that. Keep in mind my grandma lived to 97, so “older” is relative.
Now, let’s bake that pie, and then I’ll share some handy pie tips and some year-end thoughts about eating the “right” way.
- Two and one-half cups all purpose, unbleached flour, sifted (My grandma swore by Gold Medal--and many bakers still do--but that was then; this is now in the age of GMO, and I use King Arthur or other quality organic.)
- One teaspoon fine sea salt
- One teaspoon evaporated cane juice (should be fine grade)
- One cup lard or unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size chunks and frozen (The lard is slightly more stable than the butter, meaning it will not start to melt quite as quickly.)
- One-half cup ice water (You won’t use it all, but pie crust has a mind of its own, so better to have too much than not enough.)
- One large egg yolk
- About two cups of sugar for the blind bake (creates the “weight” you need to keep the crust flat)
- Two extra-large eggs (I like using extra-large, but you could use three large eggs, instead.)
- Two cups cooked pumpkin or squash of choice (This is usually more than one can, but you aren’t using canned, right? Fresh-roasted pumpkin or squash must be pureed and well-drained overnight in the frig before using.)
- Three-quarters cup heavy cream
- One-half cup buttermilk
- One tablespoon unsulfured blackstrap molasses
- One-half cup evaporated cane juice
- One-quarter cup brown sugar
- One teaspoon cinnamon
- One teaspoon ginger (I used some freshly grated gingerroot for mine, but you can use powder.)
- One-half teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- One-quarter teaspoon ground cloves
- Zest of one large orange
- One-half teaspoon fine sea salt
- Sift your flour, salt and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Stir well with a large whisk to make sure you evenly distribute all the ingredients.
- Using a pastry blender, cut the fat (either lard or butter) into the flour. For flaky crust, it is essential not to overwork the flour. Leave a considerable amount of the fat in larger pieces, about the size of nickels or dimes. A finer texture with uniform fat cells produces great shortbread but not pie crust.
- Make a well in the center of the flour and add about one-third cup of the ice water all at once. Working from the outside in, toss the flour into the water, using “lifting” strokes with a fork until you have incorporated all the flour and you can make the dough hold together by squeezing it in your hand. If it is too dry, it will not roll out well and will crumble. If you think the dough is too dry, add a teaspoon of ice water at a time until it holds together when squeezed. However, this does not mean the dough should hold together on its own; if that’s the case, the dough is too wet and will yield tough crust.
- Once the dough will hold together when squeezed, turn it out on a lightly floured board and using your floured hands form it into a solid round disk. Using your bench scraper, divide the dough in half. Form each half into its own round disk, wrap tightly in parchment paper and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for at least two hours, up to overnight. Keep in mind that you may need to calm your dough down a bit in order to roll it out if it has been in the frig longer than a few hours, so allow that time.
- While your dough “chills out”, make the filling. I like to use the stand mixer with the whisk attachment for this, but you can also whisk by hand, which I’m sure is what Grandma did.
- In a medium bowl, combine the white and brown sugar with the spices, including the salt and orange zest. Set aside. Note if you use fresh gingerroot, you should add that with the pumpkin.
- In the mixer bowl, whisk the eggs until they are light yellow and foamy. With the mixer on low, add the pumpkin, then the cream, buttermilk and molasses. Now gradually add the sugar and spice mixture. Continue to whisk, turning up the mixer until everything is well combined, creamy and smooth. Now set aside until you are ready to fill the pie shell.
- This pie requires a blind-baked crust, so remove one dough disk from the refrigerator, place on a lightly floured surface and roll out into a 10 to 12-inch circle. Rolling in one direction from the center and then turning the dough slightly and continuing to roll at an angle in the other direction tends to work best for me. It might be different for you. Note that I am not a genius at pie crust—it's never visually perfect but most of the time it tastes good.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Once you have your pie shell rolled out to the right size with even thickness, carefully place it in your pie dish. No need to grease or flour the dish, but a deep-dish glass pie dish is what I think works best here. Now take a fork and dock (prick tiny holes with the tines) the dough all over the bottom to keep it from puffing up while it blind bakes.
- Now cover with parchment paper that extends over the edges of the crust and fill three-quarters of the way up with sugar—cheap sugar is just fine; it’s only the weight for the crust. That said, toasted sugar can be a great ingredient in your next pudding, ice cream or frosting--something to keep in mind as you select a brand.
- Bake for 20 minutes; then, reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
- Remove the crust from the oven and carefully lift off the parchment paper containing the sugar. Since the point of blind-baking is to seal the crust to avoid sogginess from a custard filling such as this one, use one egg yolk, beaten well with a pinch of salt, to brush across the entire bottom and sides of the prebaked crust to ensure the seal. Fill the hot crust with the pumpkin filling and return to the oven for another 35-45 minutes, just until the filling is set but somewhat quivery in the very center, if you tap the dish.
- Let cool completely on a baking rack before refrigerating...or just grab a fork and dig in. Best if eaten within a couple of days.
Note that the prep time refers to the time it takes to make and roll the dough and prepare the filling. The cook time includes the blind baking and the time it takes to finish the pie, but it does not include the time it takes the dough to rest in the refrigerator.
Double Crust Dilemma
Well, not really. You can always bake two pies and give one as a gift, which is what I did. You can also refrigerate pie dough for at least a week or freeze it for a couple of months or even create a raw-dough pie that doesn’t need blind baking and freeze the entire thing until ready to bake. My one-stop shop for everything pie related, from ingredients, to techniques to storing methods, is the Joy of Cooking. Indispensable.
The Kitchen Atmosphere
I really am a bit pie-crust phobic, so I take every precaution I can. If my kitchen is warm and humid, I chill everything—the pastry board, the blending tool, the bowl, etc. Just me…but maybe you, too. Rubbing the fat into the flour with your hands is a popular method of creating the right consistency for flakey pie crust—in that case your hands should be cold and dry and lightly floured. And about that chill-out for the raw dough. Some folks like to do their rolling first and just chill out the dough right in the pie dish. If that works for you–great! It’s not a comfortable thing for me. However, chilling out the dough–regardless of when you roll it–is essential. It allows the fat to firm up and the dough to rest. Don’t skimp on that.
Further Pie Musings
And just what is a vegetarian like me doing stuffing her face with flaky, rich lard crust? It’s all about what works—kind of a theme this month for me—this last month when we typically take stock of the past year and make new promises to be “better”, whatever that might be. I have spent some contemplative time reviewing the wisdom my farmer friends have shared—like being green and buying local can mean eating meat, if it is humanly raised and free of unnecessary drugs and chemicals—like understanding that even though there is no “USDA Certified Organic” label on the farm gate (which is more about money and politics than clean food), many local, small-farm producers grow amazingly healthy food that contributes little to problems like climate change–and can actually improve our planet over time.
So no, I’m not going whole hog on meat consumption, but I have learned that what is the right answer for me, may not be the right answer for you. Yet we can both lead healthy and green lives. More and more, I’m realizing that for those big issues like climate change, we are all in this together, and if we want to continue in this together, we’re going to have to be creative, flexible, generous and committed. We must stand up for what we hold to be true and just, and we must be will to hear each other, take care of each other and…well…feed each other with good food and kind intentions.
My grandma would say: “Why don’t you pull up a chair and have a piece of pie and we’ll talk about it.” For many years, this is how great ideas began, friendships were forged and effective communication happened… one small piece of pie at a time.
And just in case you are wondering…that is my grandma when she was a young woman in the photo next to the pie.