The following is an excerpt from “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratch” by Jennifer Reese. Learn more about the book and listen to an interview with Jennifer Reese here.
The very existence of Libby’s canned pumpkin throws Barbara Kingsolver into a tizzy. “Come on, people,” she laments in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. “Doesn’t anybody remember how to take a big old knife, whack open a pumpkin, scrape out the seeds, and bake it? We can carve a face onto it, but can’t draw and quarter it? Are we not a nation known worldwide for our cultural zest for blowing up flesh, on movie and video screen and/or armed conflict? Are we in actual fact too squeamish to stab a large knife into a pumpkin?”
I had always used canned pumpkin for pie, because it was what my mother and grandmother used. In my family, canned pumpkin is traditional. But I liked the idea of starting with a whole food rather than a can, and what if canned pumpkin turned out to be just as inferior as canned sweet potatoes and I just didn’t know better?
I baked two pies, identical except for the source of the pumpkin. Pie number one contained the flesh of a sugar pie pumpkin that I roasted for an hour, peeled, seeded, de-stringed, and forced through the food mill. Pie number two contained the flesh of a pumpkin that Libby’s had processed in a plant and I scooped out of the can.
Results: The canned pumpkin was (obviously) more convenient, and I did not have to wait for it to roast. It was also slightly more expensive–about $0.50 more than the whole pumpkin. But those were fifty cents well spent, because it made a superior pie–the flavor was bigger, rounder, more pumpkin-y. I have no idea how you get more pumpkin-y than an actual pumpkin. According to the label, Libby’s canned pumpkin contains nothing but pumpkin. Did I just have a dud pumpkin? Confusing.
My advice: When you’re standing at the supermarket the day before Thanksgiving pondering your pumpkin options, grab the can and get in the checkout line before it grows any longer. You’re not being squeamish, you’re being sensible.
However, you should absolutely bake your own pie.
Make it or buy it? Make it.
Hassle: Once you have the crust, it’s just stir, pour, bake.
Cost comparison: Homemade: $3.68. Sara Lee frozen: $5.99. Safeway in-house
1Â¼ cups canned pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
â…“ cup granulated sugar
â…“ cup light brown sugar, packed
â…› teaspoon ground cinnamon
â…› teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
â…› teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup half-and-half
One 9-inch pie crust (page 153), partially baked
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a large bowl combine the pumpkin, eggs, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger,
and half-and-half and beat until smooth. Pour into the crust.
- Bake for 35 minutes. This is incredible served warm out of the oven, and almost
as good cold.
People are unnecessarily intimidated by pie crusts. Your first ten crusts may look like kindergarten art projects, but so long as the edges are presentable–so long as there are edges–no one who eats the pie will know or care. Many recipes are very specific about what type of fat to use. Cooks swear by all-butter crusts, Crisco crusts, lard crusts, even vegetable oil crusts. My favorite is this butter-lard crust, which has the most flavor and shatters when you bite into it. But use whatever fat you want; the crust will be better than anything you can buy. Homemade crust tasted against Safeway’s frozen shell was delicate and rich, as opposed to brittle and bland. Likewise, it outperformed Pillsbury roll-out dough, which is oversalted and contains suspected carcinogens BHA and BHT. Not that a trace amount will give you cancer. It’s the principle.
Make it or buy it? Make it.
Hassle: A pie crust can be mixed in 4 minutes, but you really do have to chill the
dough, especially this dough, which is more fragile than some. Also, rolling
takes practice and can be frustrating until you’ve done it twenty or thirty times.
Cost comparison: Homemade: just under a dollar. A Safeway-brand frozen pie
1â…“ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
Â½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
4 tablespoons (Â½ stick) cold butter, cut into bits
4 tablespoons cold lard (recipe follows), cut into bits (if you have time, freeze the lard bits)
Â¼ cup ice water
- Sift the flour, salt, and sugar into a large bowl or a food processor.
- Add butter and lard, a few bits at a time, blending with your fingers or pulsing
in the processor, until the mixture forms a coarse meal.
- Add the water, a tablespoon at a time (you probably won’t need all of it and
should use as little as you can get away with), and mix just until the dough begins
to form a ball. Shape it into a disk, wrap tightly, and refrigerate until very cold,
at least 3 hours.
- Flour the work surface and roll the dough into a rough circle, Â¼ inch thick or
less. The circle doesn’t have to be perfectly round–ragged edges are fine. This
recipe makes a little extra dough in case of mistakes. Lift the dough and place it
in a 9-inch pie plate. (If you fold the dough in half and then in half again, it’s easier
to place in the pan.) Don’t stretch the dough. You should have a lot of overhang.
Tuck the edges over and pinch decoratively. I like to squeeze the dough
between the side of my middle finger and my thumb to create a tall, fluted crust,
like a garland. It will collapse during baking, but the ruins of its beauty endure.
You can also crimp the pie crust by pressing it against the rim of the pie plate
with the tines of a fork. That’s easier, if not as pretty.
- To prebake pie crust: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place a piece of foil in the
shell and pour in enough rice, dried beans, or pie weights to keep it from puffing.
- Bake for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and foil and return the dough
to the oven. Bake 5 minutes more. Cool before filling. If you’re not using the
crust immediately, cover and store at room temperature for up to a day.
Makes one 9-inch crust
Excerpted from MAKE THE BREAD, BUY THE BUTTER: What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratch–Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods by Jennifer Reese. Copyright 2011 by Jennifer Reese. Published by Free Press