I love the Thanksgiving time of year. We didn’t keep Christmas when I was a kid, so Thanksgiving was the one time each year that I got to spend with all my other family members, no matter what our religious beliefs at the time. That one holiday was responsible for most of my memories of my cousins and uncles. And it’s the one day a year we stop and purposely, as a family, as an example to our children and as a nation, take time to be grateful. I know many don’t, but in our families, we take it very seriously. Perhaps because our American family roots, both mine and hubby’s, on all four of our parents’ sides, goes back well over 225 years.
There were many food traditions in my family during the fall and winter seasons, but one absolute must tradition every year (besides turkey) was to have pumpkin pie. Not sweet potato pie, not pecan pie (though that’s a must for my husband’s family) and not chocolate or apple or any other pie. Though many of those pies were always present too.
But pumpkin pie… This was a command performance every year.
If you don’t like pumpkin pie, then I’m going out on a limb and saying, it must be because the only kind you’ve tasted is store bought. Which is nearly flavorless. Pumpkin pie should have all the exquisite spices and in my opinion, that is mostly skimped on in commercially produced pies. And if you think you don’t like homemade pumpkin pie, I’m guessing it was made by someone who didn’t have long pumpkin pie traditions in their family to know how it should taste. Because pumpkin pie is an amazing custard dessert that easily doubles for a (mostly) nutritious breakfast, with coffee of course. And those holiday scents don’t hold a candle to the real thing!
There are a couple secrets to how it should be made, of course. And it doesn’t require growing your own pumpkin. In some ways, I’d like to think that my family’s long and deep cooking traditions might have some influence on even me today. They probably don’t, but it’s nice to think they might.
In either case, I do know that this is how my great-great grandmothers liked to make this pie. They also liked to substitute sweet potatoes when pumpkin wasn’t available or was too expensive to get, but it’s not nearly as good. Some people can’t tell the difference, but I most certainly can.
Trivia: Did you know that pumpkin custard was often baked not in a pie shell, but inside a pumpkin shell? And let me tell ya, it’s not the easiest to move around! (I helped my daughter make it once for a school project.) Pie shells = way easier. Pumpkin shells get soft and like to collapse.
This is one of my pies, after cutting into it to make sure the custard had set just right. See how dark the orange color is?
1) Don’t use white sugar. In fact, I don’t use light brown sugar either. I use dark brown sugar. Yep, get the flavorful stuff. And if you don’t have dark brown sugar, you can try substituting 1/4 cup molasses + 1 cup white sugar for each cup of dark brown sugar you need. (Mix it well.)
Pumpkin pie should not be a light color. It should look like a burnt pumpkin color thanks to all the flavor inside!
2) Pumpkin pie spices should include not only more than a dash of cinnamon, but also cloves, ginger and nutmeg. And sometimes a smidgen of allspice. If you have it.
Those two rules right there will go far in making your pie better than anything else you’ve had – providing of course, that you don’t have similar family recipes and already know what I’m talking about! Time and again, people are amazed how much they do like pumpkin pie when they try mine. I currently hold about a 90% win-over rate.
Want to take a stab at a delicious pumpkin pie?
2 deep-dish pie crusts (homemade is always tastier)
2 eggs, lightly beaten (larger the yolks, the better)
1 15oz can solid pack pumpkin
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (or sub 1/4 cup molasses + 1 cup white sugar, mix very well)
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (Watkins is the best brand)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves (no more – or it will over power the recipe)
2 dashes of nutmeg
1 dash of allspice (optional)
1 12oz can undiluted evaporated milk (or a 1 1/2 c. half & half)
Prepare pie crust dough according to recipe or package directions. Mix filling ingredients in order of listing above. Pour into pie crusts. Bake in preheated 425˚F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350˚F. Bake additional 45-55 minutes or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool before serving.
Note: When using a metal or foil pan, bake your pies on a cookie sheet.
Want to make this pumpkin pie gluten-free?
You can bake it like a crème brûlée custard! Ditch the pie shell and instead pour your mix into greased oven-proof ramekins or custard cups. Line a 9×13″ pan with a towel, carefully keeping all edges of the towel inside the pan. Place the custard cups inside the pan on the towel, then pour hot water around the custard cups and saturate the towel. (I use a teapot.) You want the water to come half-way up the side of the cups. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for the first 20 minutes. At this point, if you want to add a topping like pecans or streusel, this is the time to add it. Then bake it another 30-40 minutes or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Total cook time this way is 50-60 minutes (or until knife comes out clean).
And there you go. Pumpkin pie heaven!
Happy Thanksgiving preparation day, everyone! If you try my recipe, you must be sure to let me know!
PS :) You may share my recipe as long as you include my name (Julia M. Chambers) and a link to this post on my blog. Thanks!
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