Ma was going to make a mammoth pumpkin pie and the largest milkpan full of baked beans, to take to the New England Supper.
There was no school on Thanksgiving Day. There was no Thanksgiving dinner either. It was a queer, blank day, full of anxious watching of the pie and beans and of waiting for the evening.
Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
My sister and brother-in-law moved from Brisbane to Seattle about a year ago. I was instantly jealous. I'd wanted to visit this part of the world ever since my childhood obsession with Tom Hanks' house on the water in Sleepless in Seattle. However, apart from an uneventful stopover in LA, after an extraordinary trip through Mexico when I was 20, I hadn't seen any of the west coast of America until a couple of days ago. So, after recently leaving my job, I decided that a trip to see Lucy in Seattle would be a great way to spend November. I couldn't have timed it more perfectly - the Thanksgiving holiday this week means that she has plenty of time off for us to travel down to San Francisco and Portland. It also means pumpkin pie.
I took my first bite of pumpkin pie in 2011. An American friend of mine hosts, like many other ex-pats I know, an annual Thanksgiving dinner in the UK. One year, as he prepared to serve dinner for a table filled with close to 20 of us, he got in touch to ask if I could bring the pecan pie along. I loved making the new dish but, once in front of the dessert options, I was far more intrigued by the orange-hued beauty that sat beside it. I'm no stranger to sweets made from pumpkin, but this seems to happen at an almost otherworldly level in the States.
Lucy and I spoke to many of her American friends before making this pie and I've also mulled this over with a couple of pie obsessed ones back home. Almost everyone has laughed at our commitment to making the filling from a proper pumpkin, rather than the tins of puree that are so easy to come by in the States. But I've stood by it. I am sure many American readers already have their own 'not to be messed with' family recipes, but I wanted to honour Laura Ingalls Wilder's pumpkin pie, which certainly wouldn't have come from a tin*.
If you've not grown up with Wilder's semi-autobiographical Prairie series, then you have the joy ahead of you (as I did) of discovering it in adulthood. This week, as I spend quality time with my dear sister for the first time in a few years, the strong sibling relationships and valuing of family - and of food - in the book feel particularly resonant.
* I acknowledge the cheat here - I am using tinned evaporated milk. However, it's so perfect in this recipe that I can't not. You can substitute it for half cream/half milk if you like.
190g plain flour
100g unsalted butter
2tbsp icing sugar
3 egg yolks
Medium-sized pumpkin (try to get a variety that isn't watery)
125ml maple syrup
2 sticks cinnamon
3 allspice berries
150ml evaporated milk
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp freshly grated nutmeg
250ml double cream
Food processor or potato masher
Cheesecloth or muslin
23cm deep pie dish
1. Prepare your pumpkin the night before you'd like to eat your pie. Remove the hard stalk, then chop into wedges, about 2cm wide at the base. Lay on the baking tray and transfer to a 200C oven for about an hour. After this time, the pumpkin will be soft and cooked through. Remove it from the oven and allow it to cool a little.
2. Peel the pumpkin flesh away from the skin. Mash it in the bowl or blitz until smooth in the food processor. Put it all into the cheesecloth, then tie the top of the cheesecloth over a bowl (or balance it in a sieve) and allow the liquid to drain off.
3. The next day, make the pastry by rubbing the cold butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Mix the icing sugar through this, then add the egg yolks and mix the pastry together with your hand. You want the pastry to be crisp, so avoid overworking it; stop as soon as it comes together. Put it into the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
4. Weigh out 350g of the pumpkin puree for use in the pie. To ensure you don't lose any flavour, tip the liquid that has drained off into the small saucepan and bring to the boil over a low heat. Simmer until reduced by at least half, or about 50ml liquid. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, cloves and allspice, bring to the boil again, then set aside for ten minutes to infuse. Test this; if you can't taste the spices, then bring it back to the boil and cook for a little longer. Again, cool and taste.
5. Roll out the pastry into a circle that will fit into your pie dish and up the sides. Transfer into the dish, push the pastry into the corners and refrigerate for another 30 minutes. While it is in the fridge, preheat the oven to 200C.
6. Run a knife around the edge of the pastry crust. Lay a piece of greaseproof paper into the crust, fill it with baking beans and transfer into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for a further five minutes until golden.
7. Whisk together the pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, strained pumpkin and maple liquid and eggs. Add the ground ginger and nutmeg. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C. Pour the pumpkin filling into the pastry and return to the oven for 35 minutes.
8. Allow the pie to cool before topping with lightly whipped cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Serve in generous slices.