You’ve probably heard the saying, “As American as Apple Pie”. While Apple Pie has become a quintessentially American food, Pumpkin Pie is is another pie that can be probably be classified the same way. Pumpkin Pie is a classic American Thanksgiving tradition, probably for two reasons. For one, Thanks giving (and Halloween) are both celebrated at time of the year which coincides with pumpkin harvest season. The other probably has to do with the fact that when the first Pilgrims landed they realised they had to eat the pumpkins grown by the Native Americans to survive.
However, one of the earliest recipes for Pumpkin Pie came from “Le Vrai Cuisinier François” or The True French Cook written in 1651 (English ed. 1653) by a French chef called François Pierre de la Varenne.
The English, in those days, called the pumpkin a “Pumpion” and a 1670 cookbook by Hannah Wooley has a recipe for Pumpion Pie which goes, “Take a Pumpion, pare it, and cut it in thin slices, dip it in beaten Eggs and Herbs shred small, and fry it till it be enough, then lay it into a Pie with Butter, Raisins, Currans, Sugar and Sack, and in the bottom some sharp Apples, when it is baked, butter it and serve it in.”
Sack? In pie? I think sherry was referred to as “Sack” in the old days in England. Apparently, the first recipe for Pumpkin Pie in the US appeared only in 1796 and it was called a “Pomkin Pudding” but baked in a crust.
I’ve baked quite a few pies but I still haven’t ventured in the direction of Pumpkin Pie. Don’t ask me why, because I’m not sure I have answer. We use a lot of pumpkin in our cooking, and I buy it about once in 10 days. However, in my traditional style of cooking, pumpkin is always cooked as a savoury dish. So maybe that’s where my hesitation to turn pumpkin into something sweet starts.
Out here, I’ve seen three kinds of pumpkins. One is what we call “patcha matthan”which translates to “green (or raw)pumpkin” in English and it has a mottled green and yellowish skin and is light yellow-orange with a touch of pale green on the inside. The other kind is the pumpkin which is orange on the outside, and deep orange on the inside. Both these varieties are large though, the first kind tastes much better when cooked into savoury dishes, in my opinion. The third kind is also orange but much smaller and can comfortably be held in one’s hands. I found this variety referred to as “Disco” pumpkin in Kerala for some reason.
It’s Thanksgiving season in the US, and I’ve been seeing a lot of blogs and food sites showcasing all things pumpkin. I was looking for a dessert to make for the weekend, one that was easy enough, reasonably light on calories and didn’t require baking because my oven wasn’t working. Pumpkin seemed the way to go since I had a quarter of a pumpkin sitting in the refrigerator. A quarter of that was reserved for our Cocker spaniel Fudge (he loves pumpkin) and I decided to start my pumpkin dessert journey with a Pumpkin Pie style pudding instead.
I understand that the preferred way to make Pumpkin Pie or generally anything that involves the use of pumpkin purée is to use canned pumpkin version. In India, we get pumpkin the year round and there is a general preference in Indian kitchens to use fresh produce rather than preserved/ canned stuff, if you can even find it.
I also see references on blogs and in articles written by some Americans about pumpkins smelling funny and how they’re all stringy and watery and why it’s so much better to use the canned variety. I don’t know if the variety of pumpkin that we get here is different, but I’ve never seen stringy, watery or funny smelling pumpkin (unless it’s spoilt). So I made my own pumpkin purée, which isn’t all that difficult to do. We like just a hint of the spices, but if like them pronounced please adjust the amounts to suit your taste. If you don’t like walnuts, you can use almonds instead for the praline.
Pumpkin Pie Pudding is nothing but the pumpkin custard that goes into the pie crust to make Pumpkin Pie. So you could use this pudding as the filling in a pre-baked pie crust, and you would have a Pumpkin Pie which just needs refrigeration to set. This is a fuss-free pudding that can be ahead of time, so it’s a good dessert idea for when you have guests over.
Egg-free No-Bake Pumpkin Pie Pudding With Candied Nuts/ Praline
(Adapted from My Recipes)