The secret ingredient in this Perfect Pumpkin Pie Recipe is real squash grown from your own garden. ‘Sweet meat’ squash, or any other flavorful squash, has natural sugars that sweeten and develop the flavor of the pie more fully than regular sugar.
In The Resilient Gardener (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010) scientist and gardener Carol Deppe combines her passion for gardening with newly emerging scientific information from many fields—resilience science, climate change, sustainable agriculture and more. In this book you’ll learn how to garden in an era of unpredictable weather and climate change; grow, store and cook different varieties of her five “key crops”; and keep a home laying flock of ducks or chickens. Deppe didn’t just write this book, she lives the principles in it every day, and you can, too, with her expert advice. Try making this Perfect Pumpkin Pie Recipe and notice how homegrown squash’s natural sugars sweeten the pie just as well as regular sugar. This recipe is excerpted is from chapter 10, “Squash and Pumpkins.”
You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: The Resilient Gardener.
Filling Ingredients (for Two Big Pies)
6 cups baked mashed ‘Sweet Meat’ or other prime squash or pumpkin
2–2 1/4 cups eggs (I use duck eggs, but chicken eggs are fine.)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1–3 cups brown sugar, packed down, depending upon the sweetness of the individual fruit
2 Tbs. Carol’s Perfect Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix (16:4:4:1 cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves)
1 tsp. real vanilla powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Recipes for pumpkin pie generally assume you are using poor-quality, watery boiled squash or pumpkin, most likely the bland stuff from cans. Such pies are based more upon the flavor of milk, cream, sugar, and spices than upon the squash or pumpkin, which is only a minor ingredient. I wanted to learn to make a pie from ‘Sweet Meat’ squash, which has considerable sugar of its own and its own rich flavor. I wanted as much squash as possible in the pie and as little as possible of other ingredients. I did not want to use evaporated or condensed milk, which have objectionable flavors and large amounts of cow’s milk protein. My pie would need less added sugar than most, because ‘Sweet Meats’ have so much sugar, and the pie would be mostly squash. I also wanted the pie to emphasize things I grow myself, that is, squash and eggs, and de-emphasize things I don’t grow, that is, dairy products and sugar. I particularly wanted my pie to minimize dairy protein, which gives me problems. If possible, I would design the pie to get the protein needed from eggs, not milk. I even experimented with soy milk powder. It didn’t work. Soy milk may be white and have protein in it, but it tastes nothing whatsoever like milk. The perfect pumpkin pie must have some dairy in it. Delightfully enough, dairy protein turns out to be unnecessary. I use heavy whipping cream, which has only traces of milk protein. This makes pies I can eat substantial amounts of for several days straight without getting a stuffy nose or other allergic reactions. Of course, using cream runs the calories up. But it adds flavor and richness to the pie, and I can deal with extra calories more easily than not being able to breathe.
I believe desserts should be serious food. I don’t usually eat desserts. When I do eat a dessert, though, I often pig out cheerfully, eat only the dessert, and call it dinner. That helps take care of the calorie issue, if the dessert is serious enough food to justify substituting it for dinner. So when I design a dessert, I’m willing for it to be rich and full of calories, as long as those calories are not empty calories. Using these principles, I included as many eggs as possible in this Perfect Pumpkin Pie Recipe, maximized the amount of squash, and limited the sugar and cream to what is necessary to give the spectacularly delicious pie I wanted. Most of the year, I view my Perfect Pumpkin Pie as a glorious but somewhat indulgent way of having eggs and squash for dinner. Only on holidays do I eat the Perfect Pumpkin Pie and a full meal. That takes care of the calorie issue. (Some people would suggest that it’s OK to have such a rich dessert only if you restrict the portion size, but when I’m in the same house with a Perfect Pumpkin Pie, that isn’t going to happen. I need other approaches. Like restricting everything else.) My recipe will work with any richly flavorful prime gourmet winter squash or pumpkin such as those I recommend. (At least, all those big enough to provide substantial amounts of flesh.)
I found I could not produce a great squash or pumpkin pie with a commercial pumpkin-pie spice mix. Most have either too much clove seasoning or none at all, and the spices tend to be stale. So I developed my own pumpkin-pie spice mix. It is a 16:4:4:1 ratio of cinnamon to ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Spices in little jars are often stale, even on the store shelf. I always buy bulk, sniffing before buying. Also, use real vanilla powder, not an extract. The vanilla powder has a much richer and more complex flavor. (Bob’s Red Mill sells it.) Store the spice mix and the vanilla in the freezer. Even frozen, neither retains its full potency beyond a year. Use real brown sugar. (Real brown sugar has just one ingredient—brown sugar.) A light or medium-dark brown sugar is best. (Very dark brown sugar has too much molasses flavor, which overwhelms the flavor of the squash.)
The brown sugar in the recipe must be balanced with the sweetness of the individual squash. I use just 1 cup for two big pies for fully prime, fully cured ‘Sweet Meat’ squash. For less prime or less cured ‘Sweet Meats’ I use 1 1/2 to 2 cups. For prime, full-cured Hubbards I would suggest first trying 2 cups. With a little practice, you will learn to taste the mashed squash or pumpkin and figure out exactly how much sugar you’ll need for that individual fruit.
Use mashed baked squash. It can be freshly baked, baked a day to several days before and refrigerated for making into pies later, or thawed from your frozen stash (of baked squash/pumpkin).
If you can eat wheat and enjoy making crusts, you can use whatever pie-crust recipe you like. However, being unable to eat wheat, I find crusts problematic and just too much work. I make my pies completely crustless. Most of the labor of making the pies is in the crust, and the crust is high in fat and calories. If you love pumpkin pie but find yourself making it rarely, give my crustless version a try, even if you can eat wheat. My crustless pie looks just like a pie and is solid enough to cut and serve as wedges. In order to bake a crustless pie and not have the filling burn, I use heavy Pyrex pie plates, cook the pies more carefully and gently, and pre-warm the filling to lukewarm by setting the bowl with the filling inside another bowl of hot water for a while. (My pie plates, the biggest I could find, have internal dimensions of 8 inches across at the bottom, 9 3/4 inches across at the top. If yours are smaller you’ll want to adjust the recipe.)
Measure and combine the mashed squash, spice mix, vanilla, sugar, and salt in a large stainless steel bowl. Add the eggs. I use a hand mixer to beat the eggs (on top of the squash mix) for a few seconds, then add the cream and blend everything into a smooth batter. Any strings from the squash end up wrapped around the mixing blades and are thus automatically removed.
Pre-warm the batter by placing the bowl with the mixed ingredients inside another bowl or pan filled with hot water to bring the batter to lukewarm. (This shortens cooking time, and the edges and center of the pie cook more evenly.) When the batter is warm to the touch, pour it into the two pie plates.
I put the pies on the second rack from the bottom in an oven preheated to 350°F. It takes about 45 to 55 minutes to bake the pies. (This cooks the pies more gently than the standard bottom-rack position.) My perfect pies have much more squash and eggs and less fluid than most, and have completely different cooking characteristics than ordinary pumpkin pies. When my perfect pie is done, it puffs up into a convex shape as if it thinks it’s a rising cake, and it has a thin, light golden-tan crust over the entire pie, including the middle. The crust is actually dry to the touch. (If the edges are puffed up but not the middle, it isn’t done yet.)
Remove the pies from the oven and put them on a rack to cool. During cooling, the pie surface sinks down to become ordinary concave pie shape and the delicate crust disappears. Now, here comes the hard part. Cover the pies and refrigerate them for a day. It takes a day in the refrigerator for the full flavor to develop.
We usually eat the Perfect Pumpkin Pies plain. But for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I also make whipped cream. I use 3 tablespoons of sugar per cup of heavy whipping cream.
This Perfect Pumpkin Pie Recipe excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, published by Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010. Buy this book from our store: The Resilient Gardener.
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