Everything here is just like a simile, and almost completely alliterative.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Holiday Recipe Fest, Part One: Pumpkin and Neurology

Like most children growing up in the 70s who didn't live on a farm, there were about four foods that I ate, and all of them came in a can or a Wendy's wrapper. For a long time I blamed my mother for this, and while yes, it's true that she was responsible for more than her fair share of canned-pears-topped-with-Miracle-Whip-and-grated-American-cheese salads, the reason for my constricted tastes probably has more to do with me than with her. There just weren't that many textures I could tolerate touching, and the thought of touching a new texture literally frightened me. Yes, I may have issues.

Once, Mom got wild and sprinkled paprika on top. WHAT.
My son has Asperger's, and so does my husband, and for a long time (kind of like with the blame-Mom thing) I thought both those facts were unrelated to me, and that my neurologically challenged family was something that had just happened to me on accident. Of course, researchers now know that autism spectrum disorders often appear in clusters, or "nests." In other words, people with Asperger's tend, for understandable reasons, to be drawn to each other, and the people they tend to develop close friendships with often have Asperger's or a related spectrum disorder, and then they produce (surprise!) kids with yet more Asperger's, and there you go - before long every single person with Asperger's in America is living in a five-block radius, which is pretty impressive for people who find social contact somewhere between difficult and agonizing. So yeah, I suspect I'm on that spectrum somewhere, and I only tend to think of myself as normal because when the doorbell rings every pair of eyes in the house turns to me in mute terrified pleading, knowing I am about the only one capable of handling superficially normal interaction, though what I think of as my competence probably strikes the rest of the world as deeply odd, and what were we talking about? Oh right, pie.

So about ten years ago we were invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house, and I offered to bring something, and my friend said, what about pie? So I said sure, no problem! I'd never made a pie in my life, much less something with that weird disturbing gelatinous texture, but I was a grown-up, I could handle this. It was Thanksgiving, so I made the inspired and original choice of a pumpkin pie, and I threw the gloppy ingredients in a bowl (I think I just got the recipe off the Libby's can) and prepared to slop it into the pie shell, and then I took a taste to make sure it was all right, as one does, and OH MY GOD.

Oh my God. It was sweet! It was spicy! It was voluptuous and creamy and something indefinable and yet warm and seductive that could only be the taste of PUMPKIN. The angels sang. The heavens opened. A voice from heaven said, This is my beloved pie, in whom I am well-pleased. I fell to my knees and ate it. I don't mean I ate the pie when it came out of the oven. I mean I DRANK THE RAW FILLING, all of it, straight from the bowl, and licked the edges like an Ambien-crazed sleepwalker, one of those people who wakes up at four in the morning to find her face in a mop bucket filled with funfetti cake batter and an empty can of Easy Cheese in her other hand.

So yeah, I like me some pumpkin pie.

What follows is my variation on a recipe published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution back in 2006. I can talk about pie dough if you want, but I suspect most people just like to get the chilled pre-made pie dough from the dairy section of their grocery store, and that's perfectly fine, honestly I think those taste just as good as the homemade. So I will save discussion of pie dough for another day, since that's Advanced Pie Making anyway, and plus it will give me something else to talk about!

Finally, I will say that I am not one of those scoop-and-sift-and-bake-your-own-pumpkin people. For starters, jack-o-lantern pumpkins that you buy in the stores are not the same as pie pumpkins, and they produce a pumpkin meat that is distinctly coarser and more bitter than you are going to want in your pie, or than you will be able to counteract without a metric assload of sugar. And for another thing, who the hell are you people, and would it kill you to open a goddamn can for once? You know what's inside those cans? PUMPKIN. You know what you just spent three hours slaving over in your kitchen? PUMPKIN. This is one of those times when purity is not going to gain you any mileage. If you really feel called by Jesus to be the Queen of Pie, save it for the pie dough.

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 eggs
1 15-oz. can of pure pumpkin
1 12-oz. can of sweetened condensed milk

1 unbaked pie crust, laid in a 9-inch pie dish

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Combine the sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a medium-size bowl. Beat the eggs lightly in a small bowl, then whisk them into the sugar and spice mixture. Add the pumpkin and the condensed milk, and stir it all together into a beautiful orangy swirl.
4. Exercise all the self-restraint you can muster, and pour it into your pie shell.
5. Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees to brown the edges of your crust, then turn your oven down to 350. Continue baking it for 40 to 50 minutes, depending on your oven, or until the center of the pie isn't jiggly anymore.
6. Serve warm, with plenty of fresh whipped cream.

If step six confounds you (and before you reach for that pus-oozing bottle of spray-foam Redi-Whip, you unbelievable lazy slack-ass) here is how you make whipped cream. In the milk section, your grocer has pints of "heavy cream" or "whipping cream." Throw that in your mixer. (You can't do this by hand, unless you are Iron Man and have ion thrusters on your elbows.) Turn your mixer on high and watch what happens. While you are watching all that delicious milk curd up into cream, throw in some confectioner's sugar and some vanilla. This is totally to taste. Start with a few tablespoons of the sugar, and then taste until it's at the level that tastes yummy to you. Some people like a really sweet cream; some people (because they are deranged and wrong, or English) prefer something less sweet. Throw in about a teaspoon of vanilla, or more if you want a stronger taste. When you have a soft mountain of cream (but before the cream starts to get hard and buttery) turn off your mixer and pour over your pie!

You can tell this is not actually a picture of my pie, because of the ludicrously tiny dollop of cream on this. That is about the appropriate amount of cream for bite one. 
This differs from generic recipes in two respects: it doubles the amount of spice (I like the spiciness to war with the sweetness), and it uses sweetened condensed milk instead of the more common evaporated milk. The latter produces a lighter texture and more pleasing color, it's true. My pie will be a bit darker and heavier - but also richer, smoother, and sweeter, so take that. Basically, this is just a standard recipe with both the sweet and the spicy dial turned up, but I've never known it to go wrong, and it could not be easier to make. And you people out there who like to put liquor in your pumpkin pie (you know who you are), save it for the pecan pie, because that shit is wrong. Eat your pumpkin pie like God meant you to, after you've finished your pear salad. 

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of doubling the spices. I'll have to try that on my hubby who LOVES pumpkin pie.