Favorite Pumpkin Pie

I am not exactly sure where the recipe for my family’s favorite pumpkin pie originated. I cut it out of a dusty spiral-bound souvenir cookbook I bought at a New England tourist site many years ago. I think it might have been Old Sturbridge Village. I do remember that the pwp_20161115_003umpkin pie was my husband’s favorite Thanksgiving dessert, and, when we first started hosting the holiday dinner at our home, I always included it on the menu. I tried several recipes for this old standard, but I always came back to the one that follows. I tweaked it a bit over the years, so I have come to consider it my own. In addition to the fact that the pie is spicy, but not overpowering, and has a velvety texture, it always holds it shape so that it is easy to slice on the buffet table. And of course the recipe has a story.

When our daughter first graduated from college with a degree in psychology, she began working at a school for secondary students with special needs. While they frequently tested her patience to the limits and sometimes broke her heart, they won her affection and taught her that a life of serving those whose needs are greatest was her chosen course.

Arguably the highlight of the school year came annually on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. The students, faculty, and staff came together to celebrate as a community with everyone contributing to the festive meal. During the first year of her tenure at the school, our fearless daughter volunteered to bring the pumpkin pie – enough to serve the entire group!  Without ever having baked a pie before, she copied my recipe and succeeded in making at least eight, as I recall, and transporting them safely to the school’s dining hall. Predictable recipe was the only one in the informal collection that I ever used, so I had no regrets about tossing the rest of the cookbook when it began showing its age.y, they were a great hit. She continued the tradition for several years –  until she moved on to another social service position – even when she lived in a tiny basement apartment with a galley kitchen.

I have lost count of the number of years that I have prepared the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Upwards of forty I think, but I won’t be baking this year. I will still be hosting, while the rest of the family insists on streamlining the menu and doing more, even though, to my mind, they have always contributed their fair share. There will be pumpkin pie, made according our favorite recipe, but our daughter will bring it to help me through and to remember her father, who loved the story of her feeding the whole school pumpkin pie  and who could never resist a second slice.

Favorite Pumpkin Pie

A 15 ounce can of pumpkin, 3 eggs, 2 Tbs. flour,  2 Tbs. melted butter, 1 cup  brown sugar, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. ground ginger, 1/4 tsp. allspice, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1 & 1/4 cups of evaporated milk or half and half.

Beat the eggs until frothy and thick. Add pumpkin and stir well. Then add flour, melted butter, brown sugar, spices, and milk. Stir until well combined and pour into an unbaked 9 or 10 inch pie shell. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 and cook for another 30 or 40 minutes. The filling should be slightly puffed, and a knife inserted into the center should indicate that it is firm and no longer liquid. Cool on a rack and chill well before serving.

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Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

When I look out my back window this time of year and marvel once again at nature’s stunning gifts that help sustain us as we brace for the inevitable frigid winds, icy roads, and snow packed driveways that lie ahead, I begin to think about making some old-fashioned dinners based on recipes from my mom’s varied repertoire – beef stew, fried chicken, stuffed pork chops, and mashed potatoes among them. Whenever my Graham cousins were coming for a visit, Mom would ask what they wanted for dinner. They always gave her the same answer: “Whatever you would like to make is fine, as long as you have your famous mashed potatoes.”

I am writing about the mashed potatoes on an early November day, because the dish is one that is nonnegotiable for the Thanksgiving menu, and this is the time that I begin to plan. I always roast the turkey, but the dinner is a cooperative effort. Our adult kids, my brother, and my sister-in-law contribute their specialities – onion tart appetizer, sausage dressing, pecan topped butternut squash, creamed onions, and pumpkin cheesecake are our current favorites. One year my nephew brought pumpkin soup, and my niece came with a vegan main dish, courtesy of her mom.

The stray childhood chums, boyfriends, and girlfriends who came and went over the years could be counted on to bring the wine. I often had to set up food and drink stations to accommodate all the contributions. Sitting in the living room with a cup of tea or a glass of wine before the final countdown, looking around the room and listening to all the voices chattering at once, truly gladdened my heart. It will be different this year, but we will pull together and try our best to make it a good day.

For many years, before poor health sapped her stamina, my  mom would come to our house the day before Thanksgiving to help me with the preparations. Despite a small kitchen, especially by today’s standards, we never seemed to get in each other’s way. One ritual I truly miss is her sitting at my kitchen table, cutting the raw vegetables  into uniform pieces for the appetizer tray and peeling the potatoes as we chatted. She would then supervise the preparation of the mashed potatoes, which involved a few careful techniques that accounted for their popularity.

The ingredients are pretty standard; the difference is in the details. They are best when the potatoes are cooked in their jackets, then peeled, mashed, and served on the spot, but, for convenience, Mom and I  took a few short cuts on Thanksgiving. No one noticed the difference.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes (to serve 6 – double for 12)

6 large potatoes all of the same variety

1 tsp of salt for the cooking water

1 cup of milk

2 tablespoons of butter

Salt, pepper, and paprika to taste

Peel the potatoes, and cut them into halves or uniform large chunks. Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Add the 1 tsp of salt and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Check by piercing with a fork after about 15 minutes and at 5 minute intervals thereafter until the potatoes are soft but still holding their shape.

Drain the potatoes, and, while they are still warm, press them through a ricer or mash with a potato masher. wp_20161104_001-copyHeat the milk and butter in a  microwave safe bowl or measuring cup until the butter is melted. Add about 1/4 cup of the mixture at a time to the riced potatoes, mixing in well with a wooden spoon after each addition. When they reach the consistency you desire, season with salt and pepper. Then smooth over the top with the wooden spoon and pour on a light coating of the remaining milk and butter mixture. Cover with foil and refrigerate until about 30 minutes before serving time. Reheat in a 350 degree oven until hot, remove the foil, and beat in the milk and butter coating to return the potatoes to a creamy consistency. Dust with paprika and serve.

If pressed for time or your oven is crammed, just remove the foil and reheat the mashed potatoes in the microwave. Then proceed to beat in the milk and butter as directed above.

Note: For variety, add two or more peeled garlic cloves to the cooking water and mash along with the potatoes.