baking holidays recipe sweets

Making Pumpkin Pie from a Pumpkin

22 November 2011

So what happened was: I went to the store to get the fixings for a pumpkin pie — the evaporated milk, the canned puree — and left with a carton of Clover heavy cream and a small (organic) sugar pumpkin that I roasted last night and turned into my own puree. I can’t even explain myself — going rogue for the fun of it, maybe, or something else — but looking at the ingredients in the evaporated milk made me cringe a bit because I don’t know what they are exactly. And I thought that surely there was an way to do this that doesn’t involve pre-tinned squash and strange liquid (like — what is evaporated milk, right?). The early settlers didn’t cook with that stuff, so I figure I don’t need it either.

(Or is it that I just can’t really do anything the easy way (my coworker told me it’s a sickness, this need to cook everything with ingredients in their most basic state and maybe it is)? That I like to try new things? Or more so that I’ve been wanting to do a pumpkin pie from scratch for a long time? Whatever — apparently this year is the year.)

This is the extra effort it took: I cut the pumpkin in half, scooped out the seeds (then washed them, and they’re currently soaking in salt water to roast later) and the string-like stuff while my husband cringed in the other room. Then I placed it cut side down on a foil-lined baking pan and roasted it for about an hour until very soft. After I removed it from the oven and let it cool a little, I stripped out the flesh and used my stick blender to puree it smooth. To me that doesn’t seem like too much work, but then again I was also cooking dinner and baking a double batch of cornbread so roasting the pumpkin was sort of the the easy part of the evening …

I don’t know. I like to cook, is the thing. D asked me last night if it’s the act of cooking I like or rather the result that is so satisfying but the truth is that it’s both. I love projects and I like to make things and I like to see them tangibly; I like relying on myself to get things accomplished and creating something from not-too-much. Last night when I was scraping out the pumpkin, turning it in my hands and wrangling the slippery spoon to get out as much of the pulpy guts as I possibly could it just felt right. Perhaps that’s the best way to explain it: When I cook it just feels right.

So the pie. The pie the pie the pie. The recipe for it is a conglomeration of a few I obsessively sifted through came upon online, some of which called for creme fraiche or sour cream instead of the evaporated milk and some of which called for heavy cream. I decided to go with the heavy cream option as those eating it lean more toward having a penchant for the sweet rather than the tangy, plus o, delicious, cream helps lead the filling into the land of the custardy (which I like very much). I upped the brown sugar component because I like the deeper, darker note of sweetness it imparts and didn’t go overboard with the spices so they wouldn’t overwhelm that nice, mild pumpkin taste. And a tablespoon of cornstarch! Is genius.

I almost made the pie in a graham cracker crust but when I caught myself wondering if I could make the graham crackers from scratch — in the spirit of the whole from-scratch-no-really pie mania — I reigned myself in didn’t even look up a recipe (next time). So instead I went with my tried-and-true butter-and-flour crust because I didn’t want to bring in too much newness on this very traditional (well, sort of) of holidays (and also because I was afraid I would actually bake graham crackers myself and I’m cooking quite enough already).

The bits I liked best about this: roasting the pumpkin is so very easy especially if you’re already baking something (or cooking something else; you can simply fit it into your working culinary list of the moment). You can puree it with a stick blender, mash it, or force it through a sieve to get it as smooth as possible (my sister-in-law also recommends putting it in cheesecloth to drain overnight in the fridge) but if you use the recipe below, putting all the ingredients into a blender will take care of any lumpy pieces and soothe the anxieties of any loved ones who would prefer to not know from where their pumpkin puree came (if said loved one has an unholy disgust for orange colored squash because of some childhood gardening experience blah blah blah — ahem).

And it’s nice, you know? to not have more cans to toss in the recycling bin (just the skins and pulp to toss in the compost pail) plus you can avoid the weirdness that is evaporated milk if you so choose. But best of all it’s just really neat to be able to turn that pumpkin (above) into this (below).

Really, it just feels right. And I’ll leave it at that.

(I’ll definitely be doing this again.)


  • Amanda 29 November 2011 at 7:25 am

    I made your recipe for my Thanksgiving. I had a deep dish 9″ pie pan, so I made a batch and a half of batter, though at least a 1/4 of that batch probably went straight into my mouth as I kept “testing” it.
    In the oven, it souffled so high, then fell and developed a deep crack in center. I’m attributing this to using half&half instead of whole cream…never mind the appearance, it was perfect, custardy, flavorful in a way that canned pumpkin can never be. I think the 3rd egg was the trick. Thank you Nicole!

  • Camels & Chocolate 27 November 2011 at 5:08 pm

    AHHHH painful: This was the one key dish missing from my Thanksgiving dinner on the ship!

  • Bec 24 November 2011 at 7:51 am

    Oh this looks mighty good! (And I can’t believe you can buy canned pumpkin!)
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Jessica @ The Desert Abode 23 November 2011 at 7:13 am

    Congrats on your first real pumpkin pie! I’m convinced that once someone tries making a pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin, they’ll never go back to the canned stuff. I never thought about making it without evaporated milk, though (what’s in that stuff anyway?). I might have to modify my tried-and-true recipe and give this a try!

    Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  • Nicole Gamble 23 November 2011 at 2:34 am

    My mouth is watering now just looking at it! Super recipe!

  • loren 22 November 2011 at 3:13 pm

    thank you for this! we can’t buy tinned pumpkin in New Zealand so a ‘from real pumpkin’ recipe is great! we are almost in summer here but you can still get fresh pumpkin because we love to eat it here, normally roasted.