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The Cook in Me: The First Thanksgiving at the New In-Laws©
The first year I was married, we were spending Thanksgiving with my husband's family. I wanted to make a good impression since both my Mother-in-Law and her Mother were fabulous cooks, so I offered to make the pumpkin pies. They probably thought I couldn't mess that up too badly since the basic recipe is fairly easy--if you can get past the pie crust (which I figured I'd buy). The filling looked like it was do-able, so I was pretty confident that my first attempt would be an easy success. The recipe called for evaporated milk, and of course you had to have whipped cream for garnish. I didn't have evaporated milk like the recipe called for, and I didn't have whipped cream, so I sent my husband to the store the night before to pick up both for me. He came home with only half and half instead, thinking I could kill two birds with one stone. As little as I knew about cooking, he was not a cook at all--remember, this was the early 1970s and back then most men weren't comfortable in the kitchen unless they were firemen or chefs, at least in my limited experience. His domain was the grill, but that was about it. He would surprise me once in a while on Sunday mornings with bacon, potatoes and eggs which he cooked all in one pan. It was a surprise all right. He never drained the bacon grease from the pan before adding the eggs and potatoes. He covered the entire concoction with ketchup, so I don't think he noticed all the grease. (To this day, the man has about a zero-percent body fat ratio. Life is not fair!) Needless to say, it wasn't a real favorite of mine (but I never told him. I appreciated the fact that I didn't have to fix breakfast, and that he was at least trying to cook. I'm sure he granted me the same courtesy for some of the first meals I'd prepared).
Lest I digress and go on about newly married courtesies, or breakfast foods (I'll save that for another day), let me say that at first I was upset and worried that the pies wouldn't turn out. Back then, I had a very low anxiety trigger and I tried not to panic (reference the "Easter Eggs" post). I couldn't show up the next day without Pumpkin Pies. After all, what is Thanksgiving without the Pumpkin Pies? Well, all right, the turkey is pretty important, too. But what would we finish the meal with if we didn't have Pumpkin Pie? No dessert? On Thanksgiving? My mind raced through a whole scenario of possibilities. Jello wasn't going to cut it, and that's about all I had in my pantry. I knew I couldn't send my husband back to the store. It was too late and it was starting to snow. I wasn't too worried about the whipped cream because we could stop at the store the next day and pick some up on our way to the in-laws. I had to figure something out, and quick! I knew half and half wouldn't whip, BUT, I thought, maybe I could use it in the filling. At that time I wasn't really sure what evaporated milk was, but it always looked and smelled funny to me. it was kind of a yellowish color (not a real appealing shade for milk), and I remembered it smelled tinny and weird. I knew what half and half was. Remember, I had a grandmother that taught me to love all products made from cream [she buttered both sides of my toast, pancakes, french toast, etc. :-) ] . When I tasted the custard after adding the half and half, I knew it was probably better than it would have been with evaporated milk. It tasted fresh instead of having that tinny taste from the evaporated milk. And it was creamy (always a good thing). That pumpkin custard was good enough to pour in a glass and drink.
I've used half and half ever since (or sometimes whole cream when I'm in a very nostalgic mood and missing my grandma--don't tell anyone)! I think it makes a wonderful filling. And I've always made it with just brown sugar instead of half granulated and half brown; I think it gives it a fuller flavor. I've never used cloves like the recipe called for. For those first pies 40 years ago, I didn't have any cloves on my new bride's spice shelf. But I did have nutmeg, so I substituted nutmeg for the cloves, and because I liked the flavor so much, I've never even tried adding cloves. Fresh nutmeg definitely makes a difference, too. My husband's family loved the pies, and it was just assumed after that that I would make the pies for every Thanksgiving Dinner. In fact, my brother-in-law, who is a chef and has owned restaurants all over the country, included my reworked recipe on his menus under the offering, "Sis's Pumpkin Pie." After that first experience, I also started making my own pumpkin from pie pumpkins. (I obviously had a lot of time on my hands and I had visions of becoming a Martha Stewart. Of course, I didn't even know who Martha Stewart was back then.)
What started out as what I thought was going to be a disaster, taught me several very important lessons. I had good instincts about recipes and food. I could imagine what the substitutions would taste like. I didn't have to follow a recipe to the letter. I could create my own version. This is the only pumpkin pie I've made for 40 years. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to share the recipe. The praline bottom gives you the taste of pecan pie without all the sugar and richness of pecan pie. Because I believe that good recipes should be shared, I'm posting it here. You can either put in the praline bottom or not; it's wonderful either way. And don't think you have to put it in a crust. If you don't want the heaviness of pie crust, simply make the praline bottom in either a casserole dish or individual ramekins, top with the pumpkin custard and adjust the cooking time accordingly, I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine does!
©2012, 2013 by Kathy Striggow
This article may not be reproduced or reprinted in whole or in part without the express written permission of the author.
Praline Pumpkin Pie
- 1-9 or 10 inch pie crust, unbaked **
- 1/3 cup brown sugar,, firmly packed
- 1/3 cup pecans,, roughly chopped
- 2 Tbsp. softened butter,, not melted
- 2 jumbo or large eggs, (Make sure they're large. The last time I purchased "Large" eggs they were really medium-sized)
- 3/4 to 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg, (freshly grated is best)
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Heat oven to 425° F. For Praline Bottom: Mix together ground pecans and 1/3 c. brown sugar. Blend in softened butter. Gently press the praline mixture into the bottom of the pie crust. Place on middle rack of oven and Bake for 10 minutes or until the praline is bubbling but not hardened. Remove from oven and place on rack to cool slightly. Heat oven to 425° F. For Praline Bottom: Mix together ground pecans and brown sugar. Blend in softened butter. Gently press the praline mixture into the bottom of the pie crust. Place on middle rack of oven and Bake for 10 minutes or until the praline is bubbling but not hardened. Remove from oven and place on rack to cool slightly.
- While praline bottom is baking, beat eggs in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add remaining brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, nutmeg, and flour. Mix until sugar, and spices are incorporated into the eggs. Stir in the pumpkin. Gradually Add the half and half. Pour into the praline bottomed pie shell.
- BAKE in preheated 350°F oven for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream and/or pecans, if desired before serving. ENJOY!
- ** If you don’t want to make this recipe as a pie (for your gluten free friends), just follow the same directions except omit the crust and the flour in the filling. Bake in a casserole dish or individual ramekins. Baking time will be reduced to about 5-7 min. for the praline, and 20-25 min for the pumpkin custard in a casserole dish, 15 min if you bake it in ramekins.
- ©1972, 2012 Praline Bottom Pumpkin Pie by Kathy Striggow