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Something for Everyone: Two From-Scratch Pumpkin Pies!

The holidays are approaching, which every year seem to become less defined in terms of their origins, and increasingly in terms of family and the foods that we prepare for our families in their celebration. Though many of the foods we eat at this time of year share numerous cultural similarities, the approach we take in preparing them can differ tremendously from household to household. As you shop the Produce department, some of you mention your intentions to eat an all-local holiday meal. Others of you want to remain faithful to your commitment to a vegan diet. Still others want to craft seemingly traditional comfort foods in accordance with the principles of increasingly prevalent raw foods diets. Regardless of your approach to cooking (or “uncooking”) for your family and friends for the holidays, one refrain resounds loud and clear: you want to do more from-scratch food preparation, using high quality organic ingredients sourced locally whenever possible. This month I will feature two recipes for a traditional Thanksgiving favorite—pumpkin pie. They differ stylistically, though share some similarities inherent in almost all home cooked foods—the willingness to pause in the midst of a busy life to take time in the kitchen in order to create something good.

Pie #1: A Local Pumpkin Pie Made from an Actual Pumpkin (or Squash)
Though I do know some families who do not celebrate Thanksgiving with traditional foods such as turkeys or Tofurkys, cranberries, applesauce, potatoes, squash, breads and stuffing, they are the exceptions rather than the rule. Thankfully (no pun intended, seriously) our climate affords us many opportunities to source many of these foodslocally. Many people I know who talk quite a bit about attempting to keep their meal local will mention using canned pumpkin for their pies. I chose pumpkin pie as the topic for this month’s newsletter article because it is one more potentially locally sourced food that my seasoned and local-loyal customers continue to describe as intimidating enough to persuade them to use canned pumpkin. Admittedly, however, before writing this article, I had never made a pumpkin pie from scratch or otherwise, and found the task terribly daunting myself.

Just like with canning, fermenting sauerkraut, or any other from-scratch food project, baking this pumpkin pie sounds much more complicated than it really is. The fact is, I have cooked pumpkin and squash many times before for side dishes and soups. I have made countless piecrusts for quiches and fruit pies. None of these steps are prohibitively difficult; it is when they become a series that we view them as daunting. All of these tasks are easily broken down into smaller pieces, and may be staggered over the course of several evenings if you do not have enough time to complete the project in its entirety. I have said this in previous articles, but it bears repeating: the key to successful from-scratch cooking is to avoid being overwhelmed. Familiarize yourself with the recipe in advance. Don’t memorize it, but get a realistic sense of what’s involved. Strategize once you know your schedule. To give you a sense of what is possible, the night before writing this article, I made both of the following pie recipes in their entirety, while using my moments of downtime to roast pumpkin seeds and whip up a few more batches of pesto for freezing while I still had access to a borrowed food processor. If you do want to break this process up over the course of several nights, I suggest preparing the pumpkin puree up to several days in advance, or making the dough for the piecrust in advance.

Filling Ingredients:

  • 1 pie pumpkin or butternut squash, approximately 6” in diameter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups cooked pumpkin

Pumpkin Puree Process:

  1. Clean exterior of pumpkin. You need not use soap.
  2. Cut pumpkin in half. A serrated knife definitely works best for this.
  3. Scoop out seeds and stringy interior bits with an ice cream scoop. Save seeds to be roasted and eaten later.
  4. Steam pumpkin or squash on the stovetop. (If using pumpkin, steam with the skin on. If you are using a butternut, I peel the butternut with a vegetable peeler and chunk before cooking.) I have a very large pot with an inset-steaming device, but I have also done this in a regular large pot with a small amount of water in the bottom of the pot. Cook until the pumpkin or squash softens dramatically. This should take about half an hour to 45 minutes, and can be done the night before you bake the pie for convenience purposes. To test the pumpkin for doneness, spear with a butter knife. The knife should enter the pumpkin easily, with very little resistance.
  5. Allow pumpkin or squash to cool, and then scoop out insides with a large spoon. If at this point you are concerned about the amount of water in your pumpkin, you may set the cooked pumpkin in a strainer in the sink for 30 minutes or so to drain before moving on to the next step of the recipe. I did not do this, and my pie was not at all watery. Trust your intuition, however.
  6. Blend the cooked pumpkin or squash in a food processor, blender, or with an immersion blender. I used a blender. My pumpkin, once blended, yielded exactly three cups of pumpkin puree. If you find you have too much, you may eat the puree as a side dish served with butter and salt, though it is delicious plain, or you may add it to a soup.

Filling Process:

  1. Combine all filling ingredients into the bowl of a Kitchenaid mixer, or large bowl big enough for use with a handheld electric mixer. Tip: crack each egg individually in a separate bowl before adding to mixture. That way if you accidentally drop any eggshells, you will have less trouble retrieving it.
  2. Mix until all ingredients are smoothly incorporated. Set aside for use once piecrust is prepared. You may want to refrigerate it if you’re not an expertly fast piecrust maker, since there are eggs in the filling.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

My Beautiful Mother, Nancy Powderly’s, Pie Crust Recipe:
Crust Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups flour (she uses unbleached white because it makes the flakiest and most tender crust, but you may use whole wheat or other types of flour)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup ice water
  • 3/4 cup Crisco or Earth Balance Shortening Sticks

Crust Process:

  1. Sift flour and salt together.
  2. Cut in Crisco or Earth Balance Shortening with a large fork until the mixture looks like pea-sized balls.
  3. Measure ice water into a separate, small bowl.
  4. Spoon some of the flour/shortening mixture into the ice water bowl, and stir to form a slurry.
  5. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and then pour slurry into center of well.
  6. Stir until mixture cleans the sides of the bowl. Note: stir and handle the dough as little as absolutely possible, and maintain its cold temperature. The more the dough is handled, the less flaky it becomes.
  7. Flour hands, and form dough into a ball.
  8. If making a one-crust pie, as we are for this recipe, cut the dough ball in half. You may double the following filling recipe and bake two pies, or you may roll the other half of the dough into a pie plate and freeze for later use. I have never frozen the dough in a ball for rolling later, though I am sure you could. You could also wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for a couple of days if you do not have time to make the filling right now. I wouldn’t store it longer than a few days. Regardless, if you are multitasking, this is a good stopping point.
  9. Roll (half of the original quantity of) dough on lightly floured surface using a floured rolling pin. I use a glass rolling pin that I may fill partially with water and place in the freezer prior to use. This helps the dough to remain cold while it is being worked, which will help its texture.
  10. I made a 9-inch pie. I rolled out the dough until it was slightly larger than my pie plate, and then rolled the dough over the rolling pin to transfer it to the pie plate. It didn’t fit exactly, but I did my best to crimp the dough around the rim of the pie plate for a decorative edge.
  11. Fill with pie filling. I filled my piecrust up to almost 1/4 inch from the top, and it baked nicely without spilling over out of the pan.
  12. Bake at 425º for 15 minutes, then turn oven temperature down to 350º and bake for remaining 45 minutes. Remove from oven and test for doneness—pierce the center of the pie with a knife, and if the knife comes out clean, the pie is done. If it is not yet done, put back in oven for up to 15 minutes, checking frequently to prevent burning.
  13. Cool and enjoy!

Pie #2: Raw, Vegan, Wheat-free and Delicious Pumpkin Pie
In addition to providing the most local from-scratch pie recipe possible, I will also respond to requests for recipes for those of you who have demonstrated a deepening desire to incorporate more raw foods into your diets. I am a strong proponent of an organic, raw foods based diet. I will discuss a raw foods diet in more depth more in next month’s article, but for those of you who have heard the term and are slightly unclear as to what that means, I will expound slightly here. When I refer to a diet, I speak of a lifestyle comprised of habits andnorms that revolve around meals whose primary components are whole, raw, organic foods. I do not mean a short-termset of behaviors in which one will engage in an attempt to lose weight, and then abandon once a particular weight-loss goal is achieved. My major critique of raw foods diets, however, is that in a climate such as ours, they tend to be very non-local throughout much of the year. Granted, there are ways of preserving local foods in a raw state through freezing and dehydration, however many of the raw foods recipes I peruse on the internet and in books require a majority of ingredients sourced from communities far from here, which funnel money out of our own community in each transaction. I personally believe that a balance is needed—that we must eat as healthfully as we can all the time, as locally as possible, and as organic and raw as possible.

A major advocate of this style of eating in our community is Cathy Thomas, who regularly teachers classes in our Community Room on transitioning to an increasingly raw foods based diet. She has gained a lot of supporters in individuals who desire the comfort of culturally familiar foods prepared in alternative ways, using healthier ingredients. I have taken several of her classes, one of which was last autumn and demonstrated methods of preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, though using raw ingredients. The following recipe is adapted from the one she taught that night, which she originally obtained from Jenny Cornbleet. For this recipe, it is recommended that you have a blender, a food processor, a dehydrator, and a Vita-mix, which is just a specific brand name of very high quality blender. If you are already a raw foods enthusiast, you will likely have some or all of these tools. However, I do not have a dehydrator or a Vitamix. I made this recipe with only a borrowed food processor, and think it turned out great. Eventually, if you decide you’d to transition to a primarily raw foods diet, you may decide you want to invest in these high quality tools. In my case, I don’t have that kind of money, and would prefer to invest the funds I do have into high quality ingredients. So I forsake the tools, improvise, and tend to be very satisfied with the results. I hope you will be, as well!

Crust Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups pecans, soaked and dehydrated
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • Filling Ingredients:
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 avocado, mashed
  • 1/2 cup raw cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 Tbs agar powder (Agar is a sea vegetable used as a thickening agent. We sell it in the bulk aisle with the spices.)
  • Cashew Cream:
  • 1 cup cashews, soaked for 2 hours
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar (I used local maple syrup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To Prepare Crust: Soak pecans. (Though this step is optional, I soaked all of the nuts in this pie to gain a better sense of how they would behave in the recipe. Soaking nuts prior to consumption is recommended because it neutralizes enzyme inhibitors, increases the amount of nutrients your body can absorb from the nuts, breaks down gluten for easier digestion, and reduces quantities of phytic acid, which inhibits absorption of important minerals. If you plan to soak the nuts for this recipe, I would soak the cashews for the cashew cream at this time, as well. Soak cashews separately in 2 cups water for 2 hours, using the following method. Rinse nuts in purified or distilled water. In a stainless steel or glass bowl, cover nuts with water, using the ratio of 1 part nuts to 2 parts water. In the case of this recipe, you will use 2 1/2 cups of pecan and 5 cups of purified water. Cover with a clean dishtowel, and allow to soak for several hours. In my research, I had a difficult time determining exactly how long it is recommended to soak pecans in particular. Most sources advised to soakthem long enough to release their enzyme inhibitors, though not long enough to leech valuable minerals. Based on what I read, I suggest a soak time of three to four hours. After soaking is complete, it is important to drain and rinse the nuts very well in pure water, as the soak water will be polluted with the enzyme inhibitors. I am not sure what necessitates the dehydration process, but I did have to skip that step because I do not have a dehydrator nor found one to borrow. Perhaps the nuts are typically dehydrated because the soaking caused them to become plump and slightly damp. I let them dry out on a dishtowel as best I could, and used them as they were. It worked fine.) Add all ingredients to food processor using the “S” blade, and process until the mixture holds together easily. Press mixture into an 8-inch pie pan.

To Prepare Filling: Add 1 cup water and all of the agar flakes to small sauce pan, and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally to dissolve agar. Simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool.

Place carrots, raw cane sugar, maple syrup, sea salt, lemon juice, pumpkin pie spice, and remaining water into Vita-mix or blender and blend until smooth. Then add avocado and agar mixture, and process again until smooth. Pour filling into crust, and chill, covered with plastic wrap, at least two hours before serving.

To Prepare Cashew Cream: If you haven’t already, soak cashews in 2 cups purified water for 2 hours. Drain and rinse very well. Place all ingredients into the blender, and blend on high until smooth. Store up to five days in the refrigerator in a sealed container. I use a mason jar. Garnish finished pie with cashew cream immediately before serving. To administer cashew cream, use a large spoon. The pie, like the cashew cream, will last for 5 days if stored, covered in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator. This information is helpful, like I said, if you’d like to make the pie in advance for time management purposes near the holidays. However, if you are looking to store leftovers, I very seriously doubt that your household will be able to let it remain unfinished for that long. The cashew cream will keep for five days, which means that you can prepare this step of the recipe in advance, at your convenience.

If you really enjoyed this recipe, and are interested in learning more about “uncooking” with raw foods, Cathy Thomas will be offering a course this month in the community room on November 11th, all about raw desserts, which will also highlight the use of different seaweeds as thickeners. You may sign up for her classes at the Customer Service desk or over the telephone. They do tend to fill up quickly, so be advised to sign up as soon as possible.