Tuesday, November 22

A Tale of Two Pies

Here we go. Pumpkin Pies. You should know that I really did take this seriously before you read further. I am not a Scientist, but I do take Pies very seriously. There may be some places of necessary technicality or at least a little ramble hear and there. These are all ideas that have been ruminating in my head for a few years and I've finally found a useful purpose for them. Pumpkin pies generally consist of pumpkin filling and a crust, but then you probably know that. I have a go-to crust that I'll be using, which I'll give you the recipe for, but I really want to focus on getting the best pie filling from the pumpkin I can. I've selected a couple of recipes to try.

I mentioned before that I was on the watch to see if my pumpkins had frozen over yet. Well, they were nicely frozen last night when I went out to check on them, snow capped  from a storm a few days ago to be precise. But I recently learned a trick that my previously mentioned uncle uses to sweeten up his squash. Apparently he doesn't pick his Banana Squash until after the first frost. So unlike many other years, I left the pumpkins out. I wondered, but never moved them under my somewhat more sheltered car port. Last night I brought one inside and set it on the floor to thaw out. Today it is room temperature and solid as a rock, from that I know that there was no damage from the cold.

So I know that you need no detailed instructions on how to roast a pumpkin. If you do, these images should be more than enough instruction. And there is nothing wrong with your two year old periodically turning the oven off, it might just take twice as long. It doesn't take away from the fact that this is an experiment. I first scrubbed the paint off of the pumpkin. Actually I first took some pictures of the pumpkin. The apple is suppose to give you an idea of how big the pumpkin was. I tried to choose smaller pumpkins so that they would fit in my oven, but smaller fruits seem to always be somewhat more flavorful and some of the Jack-o-lanterns were truly Monstrous.

To start out, I scrubbed the paint off the surface of the pumpkin (Latex paint and Pumpkin Pie, not so much). I turned my oven on to 350 and placed a baking dish under the pumpkin to catch the liquids that will eventually seep out. 

I honestly can't remember how long I let that baby sit in the oven. It was at least 3 hours. But when I do this again in a few weeks, I'll let it sit longer. I use visual cues. Wait until the skin is darker  and more wrinkled than mine. A fork should poke through with no resistance and I mean NO resistance. The softer, the better. The longer it roasts, the more those sugars can carmelize. It seems like my oven was warmer toward the back, so I would rotate it once after a couple of hours.

Strip the skin off with a fork or knife. It falls away pretty easily. It was easy for me to work in sections stripping and slicing into the flesh.  This image really doesn't do it justice, but the flesh on this is two inches thick. I really thought that it was going to be a lot thinner and harder than it was. Just makes it that much sadder than all of this goes to waste so often.

You can see that the fruit is very stringy, but we'll just let our food processor work all that out for us. Cut into large chunks and process it until there are none left, till its nice and smooth. 

Drain it in a mesh strainer, seive or, even better, in cheese cloth.

Next for the filling. I found a recipe that calls for maple syrup and so I've used something from there.
However there were a few things that don't fit my taste. For one, I think spices should be considered as separate ingredients. Also My husband isn't real big on cinnamon; I on the other hand, love fresh ginger and we both love fresh grated nutmeg. Its a give and take thing. I also used whole fat plain yogurt instead of sour cream just because I ussually do when baking. So here's the final result for what's in recipe one:

Recipe I Pumpkin filling:

2 cups strained pumpkin puree
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 eggs
1/2 tsp cinnamon,
1 heaping tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger

For the second recipe I am using my usual:

Recipe II Pumpkin Filling

3 eggs
2 cups strained pumpkin pie filling
3/4 c whole milk
3/4 c heavy cream
1/2 c demarara sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 heaping tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

This part might have been helpful first, but since I'm assuming that you'll read through the whole recipe before trying it, that shouldn't be a problem. Just because the filling is meant to be sweet and soft and the main affair of a pie, does not in any way discount the wrapping. A crust is like the wrapping of a present. it can be of newspaper, brown paper bags or colorful satin textured super-wrap, but the wrapping of a present is important and adds to the over all effect of gift giving. If there is one thing in a bakers book I have  practiced and tried and experimented through and through, it is the pie crust. Like I've said before, dough is what I play with in lieu of a potters wheel and clay. And I learned alot of my techinique from a handy little (Big) book called JOY of Cooking. My coffee stained, bulging at the seems, steam warped copy is one of my prized kitchen possessions. If there was ever a book that shouts to the world the art and heritage of American Cooking it is Joy of Cooking. Get it. You'll never say nothing is uniquely American again. The recipe II Pumpkin filling above is taken from that The ingredients in this Deluxe Butter Flaky Pastry Dough, page 862 are as follows:

1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp salt
*mix* then cut in:
1/2 lb cold unsalted butter
1/4 c solid vegetable shortening.
add slowly
1/3 + 1 Tbsp Ice cold water and mix with your hands the minimum amount necessary to encorporate the water.

I Love this crust because it's soft and buttery. I should add that because I used part pastry flour, the recipe indicates that you should use 1/3 cup powdered sugar, but that's just too much sugar for me. So I actually used not quite 2 Tbsp. I know, big difference. The BIG trick is how you cut the fat with either a fork, two knives, or a mixture of both. (I've never had the luxury of a pastry knife.)Cutting the fat into the flour is key. Leave pea size pieces of butter intact. I 've also used a food processor wo mix my pie crust dough. It is tricky because the processor works so fast, but just remember to keep mixing to a minimum. Do the final kneading by hand into a ball. 

I also have to add a special disclaimer here in honor of my very best cooking friend and newly become sister and law (with which I had nothing to do) Ivy. My kitchen Library would be very sad without her generous donations over the years. On to pies:

As a last detail, the pies should be baked in the middle of the oven at 375 F.  give them about 40 minutes. But you'll know when the pie is ready to take out when it is still a little soft in the middle and moves just a little bit when you jiggle it. if it sloshes, not done. if if sways ever so slightly, it's probably done. Home cooking experiments are not an exact science and no matter how many descriptions I give you, nothing can take the place of your own practice.

Pie I
Recipe I Pumpkin Pie analysis:
Texture: Good, this sliced up better than the other,. The filling was nice and firm.
Crust: excellent Held together when cut, crumbled upon the touch of a fork.
Taste: Here's where I can tell the difference in my ingredients. This pie was not nearly as sweet as the other. Maple syrup is generally less sweet than sugar. Considering that the filling was plenty firm, It could stand some more maple syrup. But the general lack of sweetness was probably from this being made with a Jack O' lantern.

Pie II
Can you tell by the size of this picture, that I'm trying to place emphasis on this pie?

Recipe II Pumpkin Pie Analysis:
Texture: Good, not as firm as the first, but still good. There was 1 more egg in this recipe making it more custardlike. It was also in a smaller pan, making the filling thicker and it took longer to cook. I suspect that added to the softness of the filling.
Crust: Excellent. Not quite as pretty. But if you don't like a lot of crust this is a great way to do it.
Taste: The sweetness won me over. I Loved the ginger, but my husband thought it was too strong. So if you're not a hug ginger fan, use 1/2 Tbsp instead.

So there you have it. Two Pies. Two recipes, one pumpkin. And I would say that with the help of a food processor, there is no reason why an awesome pumpkin pie can not be made with a Jack O' lantern. but then, with some amount of determination..whatever, you knew I was going to say that....

Monday, November 14

Just Your Average Pumpkin...

Passionate things. Autumn is just a passionate time of year. Passion colors abound; oranges, reds, dark auburn and smooth subtle greys. I am passionate about Fall. It's the harvest, the rain, the cool weather, the need to snuggle up with someone warm, and the need to turn on the oven. I am not an expert baker. The technicalities of how exactly the baking soda works or the time required to fluff my egg whites perfectly before folding them into whatever it is I'm making, usually escapes me. But I love fall vegetables. I Love roasting them with olive oil and sea salt, Italian sausages, or chicken. I Love pureeing them and adding them to soups and breads and cookies.

I've been fortunate the last few years to be on the receiving end of other hard working gardeners spoils. For a long time it was my great uncle Lyman, in Logan, UT. He could feed a village, and does. They have in impressively large and healthy family and  from what I understand usually take a lot their excess harvest to the food bank. Now, I know it sounds silly and selfish, but the times I heard about them sending food to the food bank, it gaves me a very small twitch in my eye to think of the amazing produce I would not enjoy at their hands. However, we no longer live close enough that I can bum a box of produce whenever there is one. But... recently my parents acquired a healthy plot of land in the same bread-basket-soiled neighborhood. Now I have a new source for winter squash and potatoes. (Internal Hip. hip. Hooray!) Recently my mom brought down an enourmous banana squash. The walls of this beautiful beast were at least 3 inches thick. I made pumpkin pie and a large pot of pumpkin (banana squash) butter for the freezer. And yet my thirst for squash and the recent harvest of now frozen-over soil is not quenched. My garden didn't do too well this year and though I did get one impressive pumpkin out of it (are you impressed?), all I have to show for it is a shelf full of tomotoes ripening and a few cans in the basement food storage.

However there is one food that I have been saving, all decked out in weather proof paint. It sits outside my front gate to mark the coming of one of the great Autumn holidays, All Hallows Eve, long since gone. An egg carton filled with paint to mix and brushes to spare is about the max in free flowing decorating that my two and three year old can handle (or is it me?) We took it outside and enjoyed one of Octobers beautiful days when Aunt Kristin was here for a visit and lately I've been on the watch to see if it has frozen over too.

And it is...a Pumpkin. Not anything special. Not a sugar pumpkin or any kind of special supposedly flavorful sweet pumpkin. Just a pumpkin. I've read that these large hollow beasts are basically tasteless and I really don't want to hear about how you can't use them for baking or eat them, I've read that the seeds are good for roasting and that's about the extent of thier usefullness outside of carving and lighting up the porch for couple of hours. I've heard all that. You've heard all that. I can't think of one food related question I've heard more at this time of year than "Do I have to use a pie pumpkin to make pumpkin pie?" Or "What kind of pumpkin do I have to use to make a pumpkin pie?" or any number of the same question with varied wording. What it comes down to is this: There are four round orbs sitting outside that I would feel really really sad throwing away. It comes down to the fact that even though I'm reluctant to share the graciousness of my uncles artfully grown garden spoils with those less fortunate than I, I still have a heart. There's something about the image in my head of starving children in far away places. The ones we think about every once in a while, not more, because it might disturb our comfortable way of going about in our big cars and eating at big chain restaurants. When I think about throwing out a genetically selected hard mass of food, what it comes down to is that it is still that: food. I can't stand to see it go to waste and I have enough scraps that go in my compost already. So I'm going to do an experiment. The name of the experiment is not: "What pumpkin makes the best pumpkin pie?". It is, "Can I make a decent pumpkin pie out of a Halloween pumpkin?". And there you have it. Stay tuned for updates on my experiment. I fully intend to take a couple to Thanksgiving Dinner (Did I mention that I'm passionate about homemade pies?) and I'm even going to try a vegan version that my Dad can enjoy. If you've ever asked yourself the same question, feel free to come by on Monday to taste the pumpkin pie filling, or just wait for it here as I take you through the process. I can't imagine that it could taste half as bad as the synthetic, overly sweet versions that are in grocery stores. To be started in the morning with roasting....DUN. Dun. dun......(Followed by eery alien whistling music....)      

Saturday, November 12

Driving Thoughts

It's too bad I can't blog while driving a car. Presently. I'm sure somebody can. Somebody who has an insane lack of judgement, or someone who has an insane amount of technology. As I drove home tonight from a gathering of sight, sound and other vital senses, I was full and overrun with thoughts that I wanted to blog. I've come to a few conclusions. Talking to other humans, I realize that we all have a need for ventilation. Not like slits in the back of our pants or anything (to delete or not delete?).  We all sometimes have a need to have a small or large outburst of words, either written or spoken. I've come to recognize that I am not the only one and because of this fact, I really need to stop worrying about whether or not anything I write has any relevance to anyone (since I wouldn't know the difference if it did(n't)). The point being that in a world where the 'virtual' and the 'real' are every day closer to the same thing, I feel a constant growing need to be in contact with real people. I don't know if I would feel this way if it weren't for the recent losses I've suffered of real people, but the fact that I remember that I feel this way on a daily basis is unavoidably true. Bottom line: I want to be around people. I want to feel their energy, their differences, their peculiarities. I want to feel awkward and explode with the energy of an expression that is uniquely my own, and find people who comprehend it all, possibly at the same time, possibly even feel rejection. These things are what make our interactions of people real. And yet, do these things happen in the virtual world of making a friend who is only recognizable to us by a profile picture or a button on their blog? Do we make actual friends by blogging and face book surfing? I imagine some people do. I have definitely grown closer to a lot of people through these sorts of mediums. I've found family that I didn't know I had. I've found reassurance where I was fairly sure I was walking out onto a flimsy plank over eel infested waters. But tonight is confirmation that to me, real people; breathing, sweating, dancing, stuttering people, is where life is at.  And this my friends, has not even touched on tonight's driving epiphanies.