Following a recipe from my trusty copy of “The Joy of Cooking,” I had no idea how long the journey to finished pie would be. A crust had to be pre-baked, then the pumpkin roasted, peeled and pureed. If the puree seemed “loose and wet” I was told, I must wrap it in cheesecloth and drain it for up to an hour, weighted, until it reached “the consistency of the canned type.” Never having used the canned type, I had no idea what it looked like, but I was beginning to understand why so many people rely on it to make their pie.
Still, I persevered. I chose to increase the ratio of egg to puree, in pursuit of a custardy rather than firm texture. I cut the suggested amounts of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove in half, because I’m convinced the overuse of spice gives pumpkin pie a bad rap. (Maybe that’s what’s wrong with mince pie, too.) Many miles down the road, finally baked and topped with whipped cream, the pie drew cheers even from the pumpkin-pie-haters in the group, who turned out to be most at the table.
I give some credit to the eggs, which were not only numerous but were laid by pullets — that is, hens less than a year old. Pullet eggs, adorably small, have a large ratio of yolk to white, which imparts not only a brighter orange color in cooking but also makes a dish rise more, if rising is what you’re after, and makes the texture of a custard more creamy and tender.
I also credit the pumpkin, which was an old-fashioned variety we grew called Long Island Cheese, named not for its beige color but for its round, flattened, cheese-wheel shape. You can find it among the old-time pie pumpkins offered by Fedco Seeds, which also sells the tasty Winter Luxury, Young’s Beauty, New England Pie, Rouge Vif d’Etampes and Long Pie, which looks like a zucchini grown to brickbat size. I’ve always found overgrown zucchinis a little unnerving, lurking in the garden under their huge leaves, and I’m thinking that one would make a fine, spooky, jack-o’-lantern — maybe carved like a snake.
Recipe | Pumpkin chicken chili
Damrosch is a freelance writer and author of “The Garden Primer.”
— Adrian Higgins