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John Golden

John Golden writes about food and has a highly opinionated blog, The Golden Dish.

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Posted: November 25, 2014

The ultimate pumpkin pie: a Mainer’s old family recipe

Here is the traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie from a Maine farming family’s recipe that turned out to be a prize winner!

Written by: John Golden

I often get recipes from various farmers at the  markets, especially from Keith Boyle and Mike Farrell of Uncle’s Farm Stand (Portland Farmer’s Market) who run a 14-acre farm in Hollis. Mike’s wife, Pep, and Keith’s extended family have both been a treasured source for their old family recipes shared with me and which I’ve often shared here (such as the crabapple pie featured here recently).

Several weeks ago I asked Keith if he could dig through his family’s recipe book for pumpkin pie in time for Thanksgiving.

He came through in spades, with handwritten recipes from three generations of his family – his mother, Patty Boyle, his grandmother, Gladys Gilbert and his great grandmother, Oressa Kaulback. All the recipes are the essence of simplicity. Unfortunately I didn’t get them until this past Saturday, so you’re getting them at the last minute, too.

The recipes are fairly similar, with such differences as baking temperatures, amount of sugar, eggs, spices and the amount of milk used in the custard. Assembling a pumpkin pie is not difficult, but there are some steps you can take to make it special.

While canned pumpkin (often butternut squash puree) is okay, you can’t beat using fresh pumpkin. And long-pie pumpkins are ideal for pies, having a sweeter, creamier flesh than the typical round pumpkins.

Long-pie pumpkins prepared for baking

Long-pie pumpkins prepared for baking

To make pumpkin puree, cut the long pumpkins in half lengthwise, lightly oil the flesh, leaving the seeds on and lay face down on a baking sheet to bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes or until it’s soft when squeezed. Let the pumpkin cool slightly, scrape away the seeds and scoop out the flesh to measure 16 ounces as called for in the recipe. If you don’t have a scale, you’ll need 2 cups of pumpkin flesh. Beat the flesh with a hand-held mixer until fairly smooth. A 3 to 3 1/2 pound long pie pumpkin will yield 2 cups flesh, enough for the pie filling.

Boyle admitted to me that his mother’s pie was his favorite. And that’s the one that I made and offer here. What’s distinctive about this one is the filling. It has a small amount of molasses, which was used often in old recipes as the sweetener. The touch of ginger adds a kick of flavor, too.

The pie calls for evaporated milk, which was generally used years ago to replace  cream. I usually avoid using evaporated milk, most often found in old recipes, and I substitute light cream, half and half or I make my own, using equal parts milk and heavy cream. It adds great texture and pure flavor to the custard and you avoid using a processed ingredient.

That was one change I made to the recipe. The other was instead of using molasses, I used sorghum, the much purer form of molasses commonly found in the south. It adds a true flavor “whang” to anything it’s added to. It’s not readily available here, if at all, and most likely you won’t be able to buy it online in time for use in Thanksgiving recipes. The blackstrap molasses will be fine. But I think the sorghum added a distinctive sweet-spicy flavor instead of the stronger molasses and you might venture forth to find it (sources given below).

Patty Boyle's pumpkin pie

Patty Boyle’s pumpkin pie

I served the pie to friends and after the first bite we all were astounded. This was the best pumpkin pie any of us had ever tasted. The custard was gossamer light and creamy and the flavor profile was sweetly spicy from the sorghum and ginger, with modest amounts of nutmeg and cinnamon. Using the milk-cream mixture definitely added an elegant texture.

Since I didn’t test the other two recipes (I’m sure they’re great), I’m only giving you Patty Boyle’s simple masterpiece with my tweaks. The other two recipes will be published on Wednesday in my turkey tips post.

Patty Boyle’s Pumpkin Pie

Servings: 6 to 8

1 single crust 9-inch pastry dough, unbaked

16 ounces of fresh pumpkin, pureed or equivalent of canned pumpkin

2 eggs, beaten

1/8 cup molasses (or sorghum molasses)

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 12-ounce can evaporated milk or 6 ounces milk and 6 ounces heavy cream, mixed

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Prepare the pastry and line a 9-inch pie dish with it.  Chill until needed.

Into a large bowl sift the sugar, salt, cornstarch and spices, whisking together to mix.  Add the pureed pumpkin, eggs, melted butter, molasses (or sorghum) and either the evaporated milk or fresh milk-cream mixture. Stir thoroughly to blend.  Pour into the prepared pastry shell and bake for 15 minutes; lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for about 50 minutes or until the filling is nicely set.

Put on a rack to cool and serve at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream.

Local sources

Raw heavy cream, Misty Brook Farm, available at Rosemont Market and The Farm Stand

Unpasteurized milk, various farms, available at Rosemont, the Farm Stand and The Portland Food Co-op

Organic Sorghum, Sandhill Farm, Rutledge, MO 660-883-5543

Long-pie pumpkins, Rosemont Market

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