Monday, June 20, 2011

Ruben's Pumpkin Pie

In Peace Corps you learn to do many things on your own and it is usually the long way of going about something. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I made a pumpkin pie with my friend Ruben. We didn’t go to the store to buy pie crust and canned pumpkin. We bought a whole pumpkin, cleaned it, boiled it, peeled it, mashed it, blended it then made the pie filling after making the crust from scratch. The week before last I bought another pumpkin from a small boy off the street whose mom is blind. The boy and his brother lead their mom around the neighborhood here and generally sell vegetables. I bought the pumpkin and then went grocery shopping. After grocery shopping I saw the family again, this time everyone had a small cup of gelato ice cream from the Greek bakery in the neighborhood. I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it, but in the end was happy the small boys would grow up knowing what ice cream would taste like, a treat that many of their age-mates in this country will never know. I asked the boy how his mom lost her eye sight, in the midst of a weird conversation it sounds like she was sick and then lost her eye sight. When I saw them the second time the mom and the brother all thanked me for buying a $1 pumpkin. It was sweet, just like their gelato.

The second pumpkin was made into a pie this weekend with a tweak to the crust. Little did you know, I come from a long line of phenomenal cooks. My Grandmother is a rock star in the kitchen and so is my mom. My Grandfather makes a seafood stew that will send you to your knees. His mom, my Great Grandmother made the best cinnamon rolls, pies, fudge, homemade noodles and well everything really. Having this artillery in my back pocket I asked my mom for a pie crust recipe that would give me a nice flakey crust. She sent me 3 using varying amounts of butter. In the interest of my weight loss regime I went for the crust with the least amount of butter. It was spot on. I would now like to share how it is we do everything from square one, with VERY few short cuts, here in the Peace Corps.

Homemade Pumpkin Pie from fresh Pumpkin:

Crust: curtsey

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup (1 stick) chilled, unsalted butter cut into ½-inch cubes

3 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Mix flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Add butter and cut in with a fork until coarse meal forms. Add 3 tablespoons ice water. Mix until moist clump forms (I found that the 3 tablespoons was plenty of water but if you need more then add by the ½ tablespoonfuls if the dough is too dry). The recipe suggested using a food processor, but it turned out awesome just using a fork. Gather dough into a ball then flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. Making this type of pie crust while I was in the village because of a lack of ice water and a refrigerator, this endeavor is definitely an activity that requires electricity. Don’t bake the crust.

Pie filling: curtsey of my dear friend Ruben, I am not sure where he got this recipe from though

2 cups of cooked pumpkin mash, pureed until smooth (if you have the fortune of having canned pumpkin this is equivalent of 1, 15oz can)

1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk

2 large eggs 1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ginger ½ teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 425◦ F. Wisk all ingredients until smooth. Pour filling into the uncooked pie crust. Bake for 15mins then reduce the oven temperature to 350◦F and bake 35 to 40 minutes until the knife comes out clean. The top should be a nice golden brown.

Tips for cooking pumpkin:

For pies use a smaller pumpkin, maybe around the size of a football (give or take). Cut in half and deseed. Clean the seeds for roasting. Cut the pumpkin halves into large pieces leaving the skin intact. Place into a large pot and add water about a quarter way up the pumpkin and cook covered on medium/ medium – high heat until soft. Let cool to be able to handle and peel off the skins. Put pumpkin flesh in a bowl and mash. Now you can freeze it or use it immediately. If you use immediately make sure the pumpkin has cooled to room temperate before blending otherwise it will explode all over your kitchen, trust me it happened to me when we made pumpkin soup!

As you can see nothing is easy in the Peace Corps even down to having a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. This is not a complaint, merely a fact of life and its good practice to do things the way our grandparents used to do things without all the convenience of today. When I was a small girl and my dad’s mom still lived at the farm house where my Grandpa had been born, 10 miles outside of the one horse town in northern Kansas, I remember watching Grandma make a pumpkin pie like this. I remember her throwing cubes of pumpkin into a large pot and boiling it and making a beautiful pie. At that age I had no clue how intense this endeavor was. To this day I cannot figure out how she got the pumpkin into cubes with no skin on them….that is damn hard work. But after making two of these bad boys I know what kind of love she put into them.

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