Real Pumpkin Pie

Will the real pumpkin pie please stand up? No seriously, not the raisin pumpkin pie or frou-frou cheesecake pumpkin pie or pumpkin mousse or crustless pumpkin pie – just pumpkin pie, please.

Pumpkin pie is one of my favorite dishes of November. I know this is normal, but what is abnormal might be my custom of eating it for breakfast. Or lunch. Or pretty much whenever.  It’s one of the great things about being an adult. I may not even use a plate. I eat it for just about anything except an after dinner dessert, which is how I think its makers intended it.

When I was in Britain one fall a few years ago, one of the ladies at the church I was staying with presented me with a large, misshapen pumpkin and politely asked if I would make them a pumpkin pie. They had heard so much about the grand American tradition of pumpkin pie that they wanted to experience it for themselves – and I was their chance! I tried to explain to them that I would be glad to make them a pie, but that in the U.S. we used canned pumpkin and that it would be an oddity to use real pumpkin. This didn’t deter them in the slightest from demanding a pie made from the large, knobby pumpkin they had presented me with. (“I’ve seen the inside of a pumpkin folks, and it’s like eating throw up with a fork,” I wanted to tell them.)

One lady wanted to know if the pie would taste like squash. They all gasped when I told them it is served with ice cream, as they thought for sure that it would be dinner. I slowly felt compelled to prove that Americans weren’t crazy for liking a dessert made out of a large, thick-shelled gourd. Knowing that this pie would bear the standard for living up to legends, I tried to find some canned pumpkin, but no luck – they don’t sell it in Britain.

Thanks to the internet, however, we somehow we found instructions on how to properly cook a pumpkin. (Scoop out the seeds, cube, boil and mash it, in case you are wondering.) My host then suggested making pumpkin soup to go along with it for dinner. I had a hard time explaining why this might be an odd dinner combination, so we did.

It turned out….OK. It wasn’t delicious, but wasn’t bad either. (Take that Martha Stewart.)

I’ve thought about that pie many times since then, how sad it must seem to be so accustomed to making something out of a can that you don’t remember how to make it from the real thing. Then again, isn’t that the American way? We get so used to the artificial, that it’s hard to remember the origin behind the stuff we cook, eat, wear, live in, etc.

The British might think we’re crazy, but it’s two Canadians who actually wrote an opera song – “Farewell O Fragrant Pumpkin Pie” in Leo, the Royal Cadet (1889):

Farewell, O fragrant pumpkin pie!
Dyspeptic pork, adieu!
Though to the college halls I hie.
On field of battle though I die, my latest sob, my latest sigh
shall wafted be to you!
And thou, O doughnut rare and rich and fried divinely brown!
Thy form shall fill a noble niche in memory’s chamber whilst I pitch
my tent beside the river which rolls on through Kingston town.
And my Love—my little Nell,
the apple of my eye to thee how can I say farewell?
I love thee more than I can tell;
I love thee more than anything—but—pie!

Pretty intense for folks who don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving.

If you really want to go old school, you can use this recipe from 1671, taken from The Compleat Cook:

Pumpion Pie – Take about halfe a pound of Pumpion and slice it, a handfull of Tyme, a little Rosemary, Parsley and sweet Marjoram slipped off the stalks, and chop them smal, then take Cinamon, Nutmeg, Pepper, and six Cloves, and beat them; take ten Eggs and beat them; then mix them, and beat them altogether, and put in as much Sugar as you think fit, then fry them like a froiz; after it is fryed, let it stand till it be cold, then fill your Pye, take sliced Apples thinne round wayes, and lay a row of the Froiz, and a layer of Apples with Currans betwixt the layer while your Pye is fitted, and put in a good deal of sweet butter before you close it; when the Pye is baked, take six yolks of Eggs, some white-wine or Verjuyce, & make a Caudle of this, but not too thick; cut up the Lid and put it in, stir them well together whilst the Eggs and Pumpions be not perceived, and so serve it up.

And while there’s something charming about making pumpkin pie in ye olde English, I think I’ll stick to plain, old Libby’s original recipe. Please hold the Vegan pumpkin pie, Coconut-almond pumpkin pie or double-layer pumpkin pie – I want the real thing.

Then again, maybe not that real.