My boys are wondering why I am still practicing pumpkin pie. They are of the opinion that there must be a ceiling here – a moment when it’s perfect and I no longer have to get out my notebook, review my notes from past years and reach out for advice. It’s quite possible that they have also hit their limit for taste testing. Last night I nearly chased one of my son’s friends down on his bike with a slice of pumpkin pie before I let him leave the yard. I could see the glare coming from my 14 year old as he silently begged me to stop forcing his friends to eat pie.
We all have that one dish that eludes us, particularly dishes that are traditions and might only be made once or twice a year. When they are traditions, they feel even more important because you have the pressure to do right by your audience and your ancestors. For my dad, his holiday albatross is the oyster dressing at Thanksgiving. To this day, there is massive recipe review, a look back at hand written notes from the year before and an intense kitchen showdown while executing that year’s chosen ratio of milk to crushed saltine crackers. He’s been making it for decades and it’s still not perfect.
Rather than trying to make something perfect, I like the more fluid concept of making something better. Perfection just feels so final and boring. This recipe I’m about to drop on you is darn near perfect, but I assure you, you’ll hear from me next fall and I’ll still be making adjustments.
I hope my boys can see the parallel between my approach to pie and my approach to them. When it comes to life in general, perfection will elude and exhaust us just like that darn oyster dressing. I want them to understand that they are not searching for some unrealistic endgame (perfect grades/job/house/partner). Rather, life is the perpetual motion of making something better.
I could use this reminder when it comes to the pandemic. I’ve been fighting its constraints the last few days and feeling at a bit of a low point. The dream of having some perfect ending where the fog is lifted and we hop on a plane to see our exchange students is just that. Building back a post-pandemic life is going to be the slow process of making things better a little bit at a time. It’s not like there’s the pandemic and then there’s life outside the window waiting for us. This IS life now, so I have to take my own advice and keep my eye on small ways to make things better. Collectively, I know that somewhere down the road, there will be a point where all the small things will add up to a big leap forward.
So anyway, about this pie…
The pandemic, for all of its faults (and there are many), has given me the gift of time. It has also given me the motivation to end 2020 on my own terms – by making and eating as much pie as I want to. A shout to my pie people on Instagram gave me some great tips on how to up my pumpkin pie game, including grating your own nutmeg and the holy grail of tricks – making your own pumpkin puree. Since the pie philosophy here is the more simple the better, I had sworn off ever roasting a single pumpkin. However, the accolades for a pie made this way got the best of my curiosity. I went all in and purchased some serious Vietnamese cinnamon, fresh pods of nutmeg and made a visit to the farmer’s market for some pie pumpkins.
Here’s what I have to say about this. I had one ramekin of filling and three slices (they were small!) last night. I baked another one this morning and intend to eat more without shame. It’s the best pumpkin pie I have ever had and it might be a while until I try to make it better.
How to make pumpkin puree:
Preheat oven to 375 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the stems off of the pumpkin, and then cut from top to bottom in half. Scoop out the seeds, scraping out as much of the strings as possible.
Place pumpkin halves face down (either way is totally fine) on the baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 45 – 50 minutes until skin is browned and very fork tender. Remove from oven and cool.
Peel skin leaving only the pumpkin meat behind. Using a food processor or blender (I used my Vitamix), blend mixture into a smooth puree. If it appears watery (there will be some liquid once the puree rests for a bit), use a strainer to eliminate some liquid.
For me, one medium sized pie pumpkin made about 20 ounces of filling (need 15 ounces for 1 pie). So, one pie per small/medium pumpkin. Filling can be made ahead of time and frozen by measuring out 15oz servings into freezer bags (press them flat, easy to stack).