Expat Thanksgiving: how to make pie from pumpkins

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There are certain laments you hear amongst American expat communities the world over. “I miss peanut butter!” “Why is there no good Mexican food here?” “Where can I find canned pumpkin?” After several years out of the country, most of us learn to adapt to these grueling hardships one way or another. There are expats who lug giant suitcases full of ranch dressing and jello back from every visit to the US. There are those who just fill the peanut-butter-cup-shaped hole in their lives with exotic local sweets (Cadbury Egg, anyone?). And then there are those of us who use such deprivation as an excuse to expand our skill sets. Which is why I know how to make pumpkin pies without using canned pumpkin. (I know, you’re amazed.)

It all started several years ago when we were planning to drum up a traditional-ish Thanksgiving meal with some other expats in Zurich (or was it Munich? I can’t remember¬†for sure). Once I realized how easy it was (and how delicious the results), I started seeking out opportunities to celebrate expat Thanksgiving almost every year, just so I could have an excuse to make pie. Here’s the recipe I use, adapted from this one. It makes enough for two deep-dish pies.

3 1/2 cups mashed pumpkin
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
500g evaporated milk (in Germany this is the milk they put in coffee)
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 to 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated (use a microplane grater) (or just use ground ginger)
1/2 teaspoon salt

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Pumpkin (er, squash) ready for roasting

Obtaining the mashed pumpkin: start with a pumpkin or butternut squash (use two if they’re small). Slice in half, scoop out the pulp, place cut-side down in a pan, and roast in the oven until soft.

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Roasted and ready to come out of the oven

Let cool a bit, then scoop out the flesh and mash. You can use a potato ricer, or a hand mixer, or whatever other method you wish. Your goal is a uniform, smooth texture.

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Pulp scooped out into a bowl

If the flesh is watery when you scoop it out (hokkaido pumpkins sometimes have this problem), you might want to strain it a bit before or after you mash it. You can strain the mashed pulp in a cheesecloth-lined colander. The result you’re after isn’t as firm as canned pumpkin, but it should definitely have some body to it. Butternut squashes are my favorite to use, as they have very smooth flesh and tend to be the right consistency without needing to strain (and yes, they taste exactly like pumpkin). Do not use jack-o-lantern pumpkins if you can help it – their flesh is stringy and better suited to carving than eating.

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Mashed and ready to go into the recipe

Measure out 3 to 3.5 cups of the pumpkin puree (the proportions of this recipe are quite forgiving, so don’t worry about being exact), and combine with the other ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well (use a hand mixer, or just some vigorous spoon action). Pour into your pie crusts and bake.

A note on spices: Who can use a whole container of allspice in a year? I certainly can’t. If your spices are old, just put in a little more than the recipe calls for – this will make up for their diminished potency.

The reference recipe suggests baking at 425f/210c for 15 minutes and then 350f/175c for 45 to 60 minutes, but I’ve had wildly different results with this depending on location and oven quirkiness. Luckily pumpkin pies are relatively forgiving of oven variations, as long as you pay attention and test the consistency every so often. Stick a knife in the center of a pie, and if it comes out relatively clean (but doesn’t need to be totally clean), your pie is done. Serve with something creamy, like vanilla ice cream or squirty cream.

Pie crusts: You can use ready-made pie crusts, frozen pastry crust (easy to find in the UK and Germany), or make your own from scratch (have a google, there are plenty of easy recipes out there). Pumpkin pie is all about the filling, so no need to stress if you don’t know your grandmother’s award-winning recipe for perfect flakiness.

Pie pans: We now own two deep-dish pie pans that we brought over from the US, but there’s no harm in baking pies in other containers if you don’t have pie pans. In my experience, pumpkin pie tastes just as good out of a square glass baking pan.

The pumpkin puree can be prepared a day or so in advance (just store it in the fridge), or even farther ahead and frozen (one year I roasted a bunch of pumpkins at Thanksgiving, froze the extra, and defrosted it to use in Christmas pies later).

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Seeds spread onto a tray waiting to be roasted

If you’re using a pumpkin with edible seeds, roast them and eat them. So very yummy. Butternut squash seeds are very tasty, but hokkaido pumpkin seeds are too tough to eat.

I hear that Tesco and Waitrose both sell canned pumpkin now, as do some supermarkets in Germany. But these pumpkin pies from scratch are so yummy, I’m not going back.

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2 thoughts on “Expat Thanksgiving: how to make pie from pumpkins

    • Good to know! I was wondering if it would be worth the effort to try to extract the softer insides. Does he roast them first?

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