Pumpkin for autumn. I bet you didn’t see that coming.
If I had to make a choice between pumpkin (and its fellow winter squashes) and every other vegetable that is in season right now, the others would not stand a chance. They’re great and all, but how many of them have pumpkin’s versatility? How many of them would work equally well in a curry and a cheesecake? How many of them are centrepieces for Hallowe’en and have American holidays that revolve around them? None, for in October, pumpkin is king.
In Britain, pumpkin pie is not something that many of us grew up eating, and is more a result of what some might call the ‘Americanisation’ of our culture. I remember seeing them in Thanksgiving episodes of my favourite sitcom, but they never made the transition from television to table. In our house, pies were beef and onion or chicken and mushroom; Mum’s homemade apple pie or Sara Lee lemon meringue on Sundays. In fact, forget pumpkin pie, I don’t think a pumpkin even crossed the threshold into my parents’ kitchen until long after all the kids were old enough to vote. By then, I’d left home, got my own kitchen and own set of cookbooks, and was fully in the throes of a pumpkin obsession that’s never quite ended.
My first pumpkin pie was for a pot-luck Thanksgiving dinner with some expat Americans living in London. My job was to make dessert. Should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, my advice to you would be this: don’t do it. Bow out gracefully, or exchange the task for another, washing up duties, perhaps, as making emotionally-charged nostalgic dishes for homesick expats creates a whole lot of trouble. The unsolicited input I received from said friends was enough to tip me over the edge; for they all wanted it to be just like the one they had at home. I felt like Monica from Friends in the episode where she has to accommodate everybody’s potato demands, instead I cobbled all the requests into one instead of making separate pies. It was no less a disaster.
I have, fortunately, had more success since, but am still yet to find a recipe that makes the pumpkin pie of my dreams. Every autumn I make a couple; some elaborate and experimental, some far more muted and simple. This recipe falls into the latter category and is probably the kind that I make most often: a pastry shell with a baked spiced pumpkin filling. My husband, who frequently proclaims his lack of sweet tooth, enjoys this one most of all: no unusual ingredients, no marshmallow toppings, no gingerbread crust; funnily enough, without anything that makes it even remotely American. For extra British points, we ate this with cups of tea whilst discussing how cold the weather has become.
It’s probably not the most authentic of recipes. Neither is it pretty enough to become a runaway Pinterest success; but it is a great way to use a pumpkin whilst they’re in season.
For the pastry:
225g plain flour
80g caster sugar
110g cold unsalted butter
For the filling:
1 large pumpkin, deseeded and cut into cubes
170g caster sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
225g cream cheese
60g butter, melted
Start by making the pastry. Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl and then rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Crack the egg into the bowl and work the mixture until you have a smooth dough. Add a drop of milk if the dough is too dry. Shape into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Note: If you have one, it is far easier to make the pastry in a food processor. Blitz together the flour, sugar and butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs then, with the motor running, crack in the egg and blitz until the dough comes together.
Preheat the oven to 180°c. Roll out the pastry and use to line a loose-bottomed tart tin that has been lightly greased with butter. Trim the edges and bake blind in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove the weights and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, steam the pumpkin until tender and purée with a hand blender. Set aside. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, salt, ground cinnamon, ground ginger and ground nutmeg. Beat in the cream cheese, pumpkin purée and melted butter until smooth. Finally, beat in the eggs.
Note: you can use canned pumpkin here if you can’t face the labour of peeling, de-seeding, chopping and steaming a pumpkin. Most large supermarkets now have it in their world foods aisle.
Reduce the oven temperature to 175°c. Scrape the filling into the cooled pastry case and return to the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pie half way through. Allow to cool completely before serving.
One year ago: Aubergine Sabich at Honey & Co.
Other pumpkin recipes on More than Just Toast:
Butternut squash falafel
Roast butternut squash and chickpea salad with tahini-lemon dressing
Warm pearl barley squash salad with balsamic-Dijon dressing