My husband likes pumpkin pie. I do not. For more than twenty years we cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for a big group of people. But not pumpkin pie. Someone else always brought pumpkin pie. I baked a cake or cheesecake.
This year we’re having a nontraditional Thanksgiving dinner. No turkey, no stuffing, no mashed potatoes, no pumpkin pie. There will be four of us. We’re having a roast, baked potatoes, and green beans (not mixed with cream of mushroom soup). I’m making a chocolate peanut butter chip cake. My husband is happy to skip the turkey and other fixings, but he mentioned twice that he was going to miss the pumpkin pie. Yesterday, I decided to bake him a pumpkin pie before Thanksgiving.
I called Aunt Coralee. She bakes smack-down, grand-champion, blue-ribbon, best-of-show pies. I asked her how she makes pumpkin pie. She starts with a homemade crust. Her crusts are flakey, tender, rich and golden brown, and if her pie filling mysteriously evaporated, her crust could carry the day on its own. I told her that was an art form I did not have time to master. She told me to buy a premade crust at the store. All I had to do was unroll it and put it in the pie pan. No rolling pin required. I could do that. She told me to use canned pumpkin and follow the recipe on the back of the label. I could do that, too. Off to the store, I went.
My second call to Aunt Coralee was from the grocery store. “Do you bake your pie in a glass or tin pan?” I asked. She uses glass or ceramic. “Cool,” I said because I had a glass pie dish that I used for quiche.
“Don’t forget the whipped cream,” Aunt Coralee said.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I’d thought about whipped cream in produce, but breezed by the dairy cooler in pursuit of refrigerated pie crust. “If you want to see a grown man cry, just hand my husband a piece of pie without whipped cream,” I said. Aunt Coralee and I had a good laugh–everything’s funnier in a grocery store when you’re buying ingredients to bake a pie you’ve never made before.
Back home I unrolled the pie crust and placed it in the glass pie pan. I mixed the filling and poured it into the crust. Baking time: fifteen minutes at 425° then thirty to forty minutes at 350°. Thirty to forty minutes! That’s a big spread of time, like across a few time zones. The instructions said the pie would be done when a knife inserted into the center came out clean.
After thirty-five minutes at 350°, I did the knife test. It came out clean, except for three tiny, wee specks of pumpkin. That had to be considered clean, but the center of the pie was jiggly. I baked it another five minutes. Then tested again. Just a few tiny, wee specks of pumpkin, but still jiggly in the center. I was up to forty minutes but decided the pie needed five more minutes. When the timer binged, I pulled the pie from the oven and set it on the stove. The center was still a little jiggly. I called Aunt Coralee for a third time.
I worried the pie wasn’t done but also worried I’d cooked it too long. Aunt Coralee assured me it would be fine, that I couldn’t really overcook the pumpkin by adding an extra five minutes. But she explained the center of a custard pie will be jiggly when it’s done cooking and will set up as it cools. The pie did look lovely as it cooled and the center set up.
After work my husband discovered his pumpkin pie on the stove, he smiled, and stated the obvious, “You made me pumpkin pie. Thanks.” He kissed me on the cheek. Smart guy.
Next year I’m going to make him another pumpkin pie. I’ll stop baking it when the knife comes out clean, and I’ll remember the center will be jiggly. And even though I won’t eat a slice, I’ll admire it as it cools on the stove.
A new Thanksgiving tradition.