Every few years, I’ll bake a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. It’s not yet a tradition, but it may quickly become one. This year, I had the idea of baking one clearly in my sights, so when I stumbled upon a beautiful display of “baking” pumpkins this past weekend at my local farmer’s market, my interest piqued. Immediately, I imagined how awesome it would be to make my own pie from scratch with fresh pumpkins instead of the canned stuff. Not that I have anything against the canned stuff. I loved my previous pumpkin pies, but I’m sure I’ve never had fresh pumpkin pie from scratch, and I imagine few other people have. As soon as the canned stuff became available in grocery stores, that was probably the beginning of the end for fresh pumpkin pies. Add to that the convenience of premixed pumpkin pie spices, and it makes you wonder what did the old-school fresh pumpkin pies taste like? So, I inquired at the pumpkin stand, and the owner was not only pleasant, but contagiously excited about using fresh pumpkin. It makes sense, since she owns a pumpkin stand. She made roasting the pumpkins sound as easy as pie (you saw that one coming, right?), which was all that was needed to seal the deal. Her recommendation was to use a cheese pumpkin, and of course, I had to ask why it was called that (it’s because it looks like a wheel of cheese, duh). It’s a bit earlier than Thanksgiving, but waiting longer was not an option for my obsessive self. Now, please keep in mind that I am using a new recipe, have literally no real baking skills, and have never roasted a pumpkin before, so the odds are favoring disaster. Nevertheless, I must try.
Roasting the Pumpkin
I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, removed the stem by carving it out with a knife (I had tried knocking it off with a rolling pin but it broke near the base – totally worth the try, though), sliced it horizontally, and placed it on a jelly roll pan to roast 90 minutes. Fortunately, I chose a pan with a lipped edge, because the pumpkin oozed a LOT of water. When we pulled it out of the oven, the outer skin gave under pressure just like it was supposed to, so we knew it was done roasting. We let it sit for approximately one half-hour (feel free to scald your fingertips every few minutes like I did if you are too impatient to wait). We used an ice cream scoop to remove the pumpkin, which worked out great because we didn’t have to fuss with removing the peel. Then we blended the fresh pumpkin until it was smooth, strained the excess water, and refrigerated the fresh pumpkin puree overnight so it would be ready to make the actual pie the next day.
On a side note, the pumpkin stand owner assured me that the puree freezes well, so I could have bought and roasted two pumpkins at the same time and froze one batch until Thanksgiving. I probably should have done that – oh well, another lesson learned.
I chose a Cooks Illustrated Pumpkin Pie recipe for the filling and opted for a Pillsbury pre-made shell instead of making my own to save time. It was a tough call, because I originally wanted to make the pie entirely from scratch, but my available time for this was minimal and I can always upgrade to a homemade shell next time.
The pie filling was comprised of two cups pumpkin puree and one cup dark brown sugar, as well as the spices (ground cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and salt). I opted to use individual spices, but you can purchase premixed pie spices in one container to make it simple. Really, I don’t think it matters what recipe you use. Several recipes that I found list the fresh or canned pumpkin in equal amounts on the ingredient list, so I would just try your favorite recipe and swap out equal parts canned pumpkin with the fresh stuff.
All in all, this ended up being a great baking project. Working with pumpkins is always fun and puts you into the spirit of the holidays. As a bonus, the whole house smelled great while the pumpkin was roasting, and then again when we baked the pie. My wife and I were very happy with the finished product. My picky kids wouldn’t touch it, and I forgot to get cool whip, so it was a lost cause. The pie was much lighter and fluffier than those made using canned pie recipes, which seem awfully heavy in comparison. The ready-to-go pie shell tasted great which will surely dampen motivation to make my own on future attempts. All things considered, I would declare my fresh pumpkin pie project a success! Sure, roasting, blending, and straining the pumpkin is time consuming compared to the convenience of using canned, so in a pinch, the latter would be a better option. However, if you do have the time, give fresh pumpkin a try. We’re happy converts with a new Thanksgiving family tradition.