Sunday, October 26, 2008

Not Just a Country Pumpkin

I'm pretty lucky. I may not have thought so when I was growing up, but I was lucky to get a solid kitchen training from the Chef Mother. No matter how much I might have fussed then, I'm awfully glad I know how to make a wide variety of recipes and how to make the best use of the food I buy.

Not everyone is that fortunate, I know. But I'm always happy to pass along what was taught to me. And if I get to enjoy some of the end results... well, even better!

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've mentioned before that the Renaissance Man, a man of many talents and far-reaching intellectual pursuits, is not a cook. He wasn't taught, and beyond making very basic dishes for himself, he hasn't generally attempted to expand those skills. Don't get me wrong, he's very capable with some techniques (roasting squash, baking cornbread, opening cans) -- but he also has a pantry that desperately needs to be cleaned out because he doesn't usually venture too far beyond his tried-and-true classics.

He's willing to try, though, and lately he has apparently set some goals for himself. First he asked me for some basic bread recipes so that he could try baking breads on his own. Then, he decided -- after eating a pumpkin pie bought at the local grocery -- that he needed to learn how to make pie. Being all too happy to help someone develop new skills (especially when he has done the same for me), I offered him one of my CSA pie pumpkins, one of my glass pie pans, and my coaching.

Since he decided that he wanted to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, we made it our weekend project. Yesterday, he baked the pumpkin, and once it had cooled, he scooped out the flesh and mashed it. Today, he made the crust under my close supervision (including the Chef Mother's never-fail trick for flaky crusts: ice water) and trimmed it to the pie pan.

After just a quick show-and-tell on my part, he fluted the edge of the crust quickly and beautifully. Then we set the pan in the refrigerator while we took a breather and ran errands.

When we returned, he mixed the pumpkin puree with the remaining ingredients -- deciding that he could live with a bit of stringiness in the batter if it meant he didn't have to pull out the food processor or blender and smooth it all out.

And really, in the long run, that didn't really matter.

As soon as I pulled the pie out of the oven, I could tell that he had successfully completed his project. It looked absolutely professional.

It tasted pretty amazing, too, especially with the homemade whipped cream I contributed to the experiment. (Can you tell that we couldn't wait for the pie to cool? Look at that cream melt!)

The pie was a huge success. The pumpkin filling retained its pumpkin taste, but pleasantly blended with sugar and spice, and the crust was perfectly flaky and melted in the mouth. Upon finishing his piece, the Renaissance Man mused that in comparison to this from-scratch pie, there wasn't really much difference between a store-bought pie and a pie made with a pre-made crust and filling from a can -- the from-scratch pie was so superior.

So who says you can't learn something new? We can all stretch beyond what we were taught growing up, and we can all share in the joys of the kitchen.

But you can't all have that pie. Sorry! (Boy, was it good!)

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At 10/27/2008 3:16 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

I've never tried making pumpkin filling from scratch. Sketchy memory says something about cooking one once for that purpose and it was watery, at least relative to canned pumpkin. Any tips?

At 10/27/2008 3:20 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Yes, I've had that experience, too. Here are some possible ways to keep it from being too watery:

1. Make sure you're using a real pie pumpkin. Some varieties are more watery, but a good pie pumpkin should be more meaty.

2. Roast the pumpkin in a greased pan with no additional water. (Steaming might add more liquid.)

3. Drain after mashing.

4. Cut back a little on the liquid in the filling.

That said, he used water in the baking pan, didn't drain the pulp, and used the whole can of evaporated milk -- granted, it had to bake an additional 20 minutes or so, but it set up beautifully.

At 10/27/2008 3:41 PM, Blogger Phoenix said...

Wow! You must give Renaissance Man my congratulations! That pie looks amazing, and I trust you when you say it tasted amazing, too.

I didn't get around to making one myself, but am currently in the process of convincing a friend to let me help make pumpkin ice cream.

At 10/27/2008 3:50 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Will do, Phoenix -- and your own project sounds like an equally worthy endeavor!

I still have four pie pumpkins -- wonder what else we could come up with???

At 10/27/2008 4:12 PM, Blogger Kelly said...

oh, yum! I need to pick up a few more pie pumpkins to process and freeze... have been making a lot of gluten free pumpkin corn muffins to dunk in the various pots of soup we've had this fall... soooo gooooood!

At 10/28/2008 7:27 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Those muffins sound pretty tasty, Kelly -- are you using just corn meal or corn flour for the grain? I bet those would be terrific with chili!


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