My friend Amelia Bedelia contacted me recently about a pumpkin pie recipe. She is currently living in Japan, so we communicate via an app called “Blip.me Walkie Talkie”, which is really just a cute voice messaging tool.
We giggle our heads off every time we “blip” each other, partly because we are horrified by what we say (you cannot edit before sending), and partly because we forget you only have 30 seconds to talk, and get cut off almost every time.
She wanted to know if it was a cop out to use canned pumpkin, and was hoping for a recipe. Some highlights of our chat:
AB: Louise! I need help! I really want to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, because I love pumpkin pie. I might cheat and use canned pumpkin. I know you’re looking for blog topics, and I bet you make a killer pie.
ME: Hey! I have good news for you. Pumpin pie should only be made with canned pumpkin. It’s too much work to make pumpkin puree on your own, and that is pretty much the consensus in the pastry world.
ME (Again): (Sounding grumpy and sleepy) The reason it could be a good blog topic is because everyone I know likes pumpkin fucking lattes, and pumpkin fucking beer, and pumpkin this and pumpkin that, and I keep saying to them the only time I want pumpkin is if it’s from an actual pumpkin…or in a pumpkin pie. I don’t want fucking pumpkin pie flavored scones. It’s just makes me so mad I don’t know why… (I get cut off – time runs out)
AB: (Laughing) I think you just wrote the intro to your blog post.
And then she finished her thoughts in two more messages, because 30 seconds was not enough space for her cheerful, supportive words. I can’t tell you how much I miss having these talks with her in person.
She and her husband left for Japan back in August. After she left, I meant to write a post about my friendship with her, and the joy she has brought to my life. But honestly, I was taken a back by how sad I was about her departure. I couldn’t write anything without sounding terribly sentimental and wistful about it.
The least I can do now is offer up my thanks for her friendship, and give her (and you) my favorite pumpkin pie recipe and advice. (The recipe is linked below, rather than typed out here.) A little late for the holiday – in fact, it’s already Thursday in Japan! But I suppose you could always print it out & save it for next year.
Dear Amelia Bedelia:
I think that comfort foods like this shouldn’t be tampered with too much. I mean, if you only have pumpkin pie once a year, you probably want something that does not stray far from tradition. I believe only slight variations should be made, and that you should aim only to make a better version of what you remember eating as a child. Unless what you had as a child was a homemade, memorable pumpkin pie. Get that recipe & make it, if that is the case.
If that is not the case (it wasn’t for me) the only alterations should be in the quality of the ingredients: a homemade, all butter crust, and the best eggs, butter, cream and spices you can find. I also make it in a tart pan, rather than a pie plate, because I prefer the ratio of pumpkin to crust this way.
As for your concerns about canned vs. fresh pumpkin: I always use canned. I love your enthusiasm, but homemade pumpkin puree is time consuming, labor intensive, and the outcome is no better (and sometimes worse). I’m sure there are those who would disagree, but as a former pastry chef I can assure you this is nearly the consensus in most culinary circles.
And you know me. I’m not afraid of extra effort. I’m no short-cut cook. If taking the extra hour or so to gut, peel and cook down a pumpkin made the best pie, I wouldn’t hesitate.
Pumpkin pie has never wowed me. At Thanksgiving, I usually have a small, obligatory slice, then go for whatever other pie looks the best, usually the homemade-looking one. I just don’t see the point of eating any dessert that isn’t really, really good. (Which is probably the only thing that is keeping me from being morbidly obese.) And I seldom come across a pumpkin pie that is really, really good.
This recipe though, I adore. It’s from The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I learned most of what I know about pastry from this tome, and have never not loved a recipe from it.
A few more things:
1. As much we insist on buying organic, Libby’s pumpkin puree is actually the best. (Can you get this in Japan?)
2. Don’t use spices that have been in your cupboard for years, go buy new ones.
And Bre*, if you are going to be purist about anything, have it be the pie crust. Just go for it and make it from scratch. Go slow. Read the recipe closely. Keep everything cold. Don’t be afraid to mess up. Make 2 (no, 4!) crusts at once in case one or two are too wet, or too doughy. If all 4 turn out well, freeze the ones you don’t use.** For me, a good crust is absolutely what separates the good pies from the great ones.
But if you don’t have time for a homemade crust, I understand. You have a whole country to explore, and your own blog to keep up with. Maybe you’ll write about what your first Thanksgiving in Japan was like? Must be surreal. I hope your not homesick!
I miss you. Happy Thanksgiving Bre. Give Tom a smooch for me. I’m so grateful for you both. x
More Food, Less Pain,
*Now you know her real name, oops! You’d find that out anyhow upon visiting her blog, Lady Seeking Adventure, about her travels in Japan. Read it!
**Roll out the dough almost all the way & fold it over once, then again, then freeze.