“How do you make pumpkin pie, Dad?”
Holidays offer us a chance to reconnect with our culture, no matter which one that is. Moon cakes, Christmas pudding, tsoureki, tusha shinni. Even without an accompanying holiday, there is a comfort food that’s connected to a memory from your childhood. We can all experience nostalgia when we eat.
My parents were not great cooks. Neither were my grandparents, though I do remember one grandmother making artichokes occasionally. We did have food traditions. My grandmothers did not get along with each other, so every Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’d have to travel out to Sunnyside, in Queens, spend a few hours with one for lunch, and then get back on the number seven train to Flushing, where the other one lived. Second grandma would usually take us out to a Chinese restaurant.
Despite the family politics, Thanksgiving became my favourite holiday. Maybe because there were never any disappointments or apologies associated with it. No presents, no expectation of any.
I’ve insisted on having a Thanksgiving celebration every year since I arrived in Australia. Anything from six people up to sixty at the peak. The biggest ones required planning, days of preparation, and multiple turkeys in oven, barbecue, and Weber on the day itself. Turkey is always accompanied by sweet potatoes, salads, corn, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.
I do not remember ever having eaten a homemade pumpkin pie before arriving in Australia. My family always bought them from a bakery. I do remember enjoying it. Bakeries do not make them in Australia. Nor can you easily buy “Libby’s Canned Pumpkin”. So I investigated and researched and trialled and adjusted. After a few iterations, I believe I’ve produced the best and easiest pumpkin pie recipe I can. We had a small celebration this year, just twelve people. I made three pumpkin pies.
We had one whole pie left after the day. My son ate it all over the following week, generally a piece at a time for breakfast. He’s been invited to a Christmas party and wants me to teach him to make one so that he can share it with his friends. He’s associating pumpkin pie with good feelings, with comfort, and with friendship. It is as it should be. We have a lot of family favourites in our house; staple meals we have for dinners at least once a month. Fajitas, green Thai curry, meatloaf, chili. My son taught himself to make karaage chicken. Pumpkin pie is the first dish he’s specifically asked me to teach him how to make.
What is it? The word ‘pie’ may be misleading. If you’ve never eaten it, it makes more sense to imagine a pumpkin-flavoured cheesecake with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger flavours. Try it.
2 cups of roasted pumpkin (Kent or Japala or Queensland Blue)
Roast it skin-on in a big chunk until soft and starting to caramelise
1 400 mL can of sweetened condensed milk
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
½ cup wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of custard powder
(This is the “Pumpkin Spice” Americans are obsessed with)
1 ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
The crumb crust
1 ‘sleeve’ or ‘tube’ of gingernut biscuits, crushed into powder
¼ cup butter, melted
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Put all ingredients except those for the crumb crust in a blender or food processor. You could also use a hand mixer. Blend until uniform and without lumps.
Mix the biscuit crumbs with the butter. The consistency should be like slightly wet sand and should just hold together if you squeeze it in your hands. Press the mixture into the bottom of a cake tin or (even easier) a foil cheesecake pan. Place this in the oven by for ten minutes to give the crumb mixture some colour. Coat the sides of the tin with spray oil, then pour the filling mixture into the tin. Bake for about 50 minutes. You may need to rotate it at the 30-minute point. The pie can have a tiny amount of wobble in the centre when you remove it. The filling will continue to set as it cools.