Last weekend, I went to a Thanksgiving get together at a friend’s house. There were lots of people there, but I was the one who brought the pumpkin pie. Even a teenage boy who doesn’t make pies asked me what I did that made my pie so good. I am not longer on the mission field in a foreign country, but in America, and I have learned a lot from having to make substitutions for the ingredients because I lived where certain things weren’t available, and the things I have learned have made my pies even better since I am in America where I can get everything I need easily.
To begin with, I still don’t use canned pumpkin. It just doesn’t taste as good. We have also learned that if we don’t buy the real pumpkins in American grocery stores while they are available around Halloween, we can’t get real pumpkins. In Korea, we always used the small green pumpkins because they are cooking pumpkins, but sometimes, we can’t even get those in America, and the big orange ones work too. We cut the pumpkin in half, turn it upside down, and put it in a hot oven on a cookie sheet until it is soft. We take it out and scrape the seeds out, and then scrape the pumpkin out with a spoon and mash it, and then we put in away in the freezer for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Doing it like this really helps the taste of the pumpkin pie. My recipe calls for two cups of pumpkin.
Some more things I do for the filling are these: The recipe calls for sugar, I use one cup of brown sugar, and I used brown sugar. My recipe calls for a teaspoon of cinnamon as well as a total of a teaspoon of other spices, but the only spice I use is cinnamon, and I put two teaspoons of cinnamon, no nutmeg or ginger. It is so much better than with those other spices. Some recipes call for flour in the filling, but I just use two eggs. Everyone thinks you have to put special milk or cream into the filling, but I just use plain old milk from the store, usually 2%. When I was in Romania, we used to have to buy our milk either from the dairy or from a neighbor who had a cow, and I had to boil the milk and skim it myself to make it drinkable, and just using the plain milk works great.
For my crust, if I am only making one pie which is how much pie filling I have told you about, I use one and a half cups of flour. To that, I add one cup of lard, not shortening. When I was in Korea, there was neither shortening or lard in the stores, so I tried butter, but using just butter made the crust hard, so I added a couple of spoons of cooking oil to it, and it made the crust a bit flakier. However, I learned in Romania where there was no cooking oil, butter, shortening, or lard in the stores how to make lard. And, I learned that lard makes a wonderful pie crust, better than any other. In America, if you want to use lard, you look for a product on the shelf labeled “manteca.” That is “lard” in Spanish. I am using it in my pie crusts, and it makes them very flaky and wonderful. To the flour and lard, I add one quarter of a cup of cold water.
This next thing I do doesn’t change the taste, but it stops so much mess. After I mix the crust up, I mash it with my hands to make sure all the flour and lard are worked together completely. I don’t roll the dough out. I mash the dough into a big ball, and I put it in the middle of the pie pan. I start mashing it like you mash pizza dough when you make homemade pizza. I use my fingers and mash it little by little to the edges of the bottom of the pan, and try to leave extra dough at the edges. After that, I push that extra dough up the side of the pan all the way around. When the pan is completely lined, and the sides are finished, I crimp the edges. I don’t have a big flour mess to clean up on the cabinet, and I don’t have extra dough trying to figure out what to do with it because I used it all. I have learned this is perfect for a nine inch pie pan, and the filling is just the right amount for a nine inch pie pan too.
After the crust is finished, I pour the filling into it and put it in an oven that I have pre-heated to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. I let it bake for ten minutes, and then I turn the heat down to 325. I just let it bake not worrying about the time. It may take a good 45 minutes until the pie is done, but I wouldn’t just take 45 minutes and run with it. The milk you use, the oven you use, how quickly you preheated the oven, etc. can change the baking times. I just relax, but I don’t go to sleep. I keep an eye on what is in the oven. Every so often, I go look at it. If it is liquid at all, I know it still has a while to cook. After it has been in there for a while, I begin using a butter knife, and when I check it, I put the butter knife in the middle of the pie. If there is pumpkin filling on the knife when I pull it out, the pie is not done. I go back and check it again later until I can put the butter knife in the middle, and when I pull it out, the knife is clean.
Okay, this is why my pumpkin pies are so good. They are not exactly done like everyone else’s pumpkin pies. I had to make a lot of substitutions as I traveled around in my cooking out of necessity, and it turned out to be a great thing for my cooking. You may be like the teenage boy who asked me to tell him why my pies are better, and I was incredulous because he wanted the secret, but he said he had never made a pie. However, I told him anyway just in case some day he might decide to make a pumpkin pie. I consider these things to really be the key to a better taste and texture: the lard, the pumpkin done from a pumpkin and not from a can, the cinnamon, eggs, and not flour to thicken the batter, just plain milk, and the brown sugar. I hope this helps someone who is trying to make a special pumpkin pie.