Pumpkin Pie

A child and his mother come in. Leaning down to him, she points out Halloween decorations. "Look, a skeleton!"

"Aaaa!" he shrieks, utterly unfazed. He knows, however, that Halloween things such as skeletons are scary (his mother keeps telling him so), and that when something is scary, one screams. He runs around the room, yelling in excitement, hoping that his melodrama will carry off somehow and become real.

"Can I touch the spider?" he asks me. His mother tries to soften the blunt question by explaining to him "that man is trying to work." I let him touch the spider, as if I have any choice in the matter.

"Is it real?" he asks.

As anyone who has bludgeoned oneself with epistemological questions in an academic setting would, I stammer. Then again my hemming and hawing is even more uncalled for than that because he seems not to be asking this question earnestly. Finally I say "no," laughing nervously. Having already said this, I tell myself that his mother seems dead-set on not just confirming but encouraging the childish delusions she presumes he has, and clearly this needs to be compensated for.

Because for some reason I always think that children are one step ahead of me, I'm overly pleased with myself for coming up with something vaguely clever to say, to smoke him out of his dishonest interest in the spider's authenticity: "Would you touch a spider that big if it were real?" I ask him.

"No."

For the record, the spider above my head is pretty cool. It hangs from a wire spring that's attached to a fishing line running through a hook in the ceiling back to some device across the room that occasionally reels the line in and lets it back out, causing the spider to move up and down unexpectedly. They've really gone all-out filling this place with elaborate Halloween plastic.

In other words, yes, it's late October. Fall and Halloween decorations are everywhere about town, and winter squash litter supermarket storefronts in a simultaneously half-assed and exaggerated display of The Harvest. Triggered by a motion sensor, this coffee shop's bathroom advises me to "get out while you still can!" in a garbled voice emanating from a plastic skeleton with green LED eyes.

It is also time to make pumpkin pie. Because that's what one does when the emaciated, struggling sun shines on yellow leaves. However, the large bins of winter squash in front of the Ashland Food Co-Op have run out of pie pumpkins. So I made squash pie. The trouble with winter squash is that, like apples, there are so many varieties and each one has vastly different properties. I can't keep track of them all. Every year I end up more or less blindly picking squash for pies and just to bake for eating with butter and brown sugar. I know that Acorn squash are good for the latter. Butternut squash (memorable for its beige color, it's pearish shape, and its enormity) I have a vague recollection of being horrible for pies, but used to good effect in ravioli and soup. I know have used Red Kuri and Green Kuri before, and that one of them has finely textured dry flesh and the other has more moist, slightly rougher texture, but I can't remember which is which. About the rest I know bugger all. So this time I decided to test two varieties I am unfamiliar with for their use in pie--Delicata and Buttercup (not to be confused with Butternut).

For the sake of science (err, if you can call it that) I tried to make the same pie with the two different squashes, so that the difference would be in the texture and flavor of the squashes, not in the moisture content, spices, or sweetness. This wasn't that easy, as Buttercup is drier and less sweet than Delicata, which I tried to compensate for by adding more sugar and coconut milk. I used coconut milk because I wanted my brother and my girlfriend to be able to eat them, neither of whom can eat dairy. For the same reason I made the crust from rolled oats, butter, and brown sugar (because neither of them can eat wheat, either). However (and maybe I've said this before), let us not poo-poo oat-butter-brown-sugar crust. Having grown up with it (because of my mother and brother's shared allergies), I even like it better than pastry crust sometimes.

Both squash I cut in half, scooped out the seeds and sticky bits, and baked open-face-down on a lightly oiled pan at 400 F. Delicata's flesh is yellow, Buttercup's orange. Here are the recipes I used:

Delicata:

  • 2 1/2 cups cooked squash flesh
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla Put all ingredients in a food processor and puree. Pour into a pie crust in a pie tin. (I used those little metal kind.)

Buttercup:

Ingredients and procedure are the same as above, but with the following differences:

  • 2/3 cups coconut milk
  • 2/3 cups white sugar

Crust:

  • 3 cups quick rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) softened butter Mix together all ingredients with a fork, making sure to incorporate the butter as thoroughly as possible. Put about 1 cup of the mixture into a pie tin and push it out into the sides of the tin to form a relatively cohesive wall around the circumference. Use as much as is necessary to cover up any gaps in the bottom of the tin.

Conclusion? The Delicata pie was way better. It was smooth, and not mealy like the Buttercup pie. Apparently I didn't compensate enough for the Buttercup's dryness and blandness, because the Buttercup pie was still drier and less sweet than the Delicata pie. But even if I had, the texture and flavor just doesn't work as well. With slices of the two pies on a plate together, I found myself avoiding the Buttercup pie.

On another note, some other kind of milk might be better for a non-dairy pie. The coconut milk lent a strong coconut flavor when the pie was cold (when just out of the oven, my girlfriend and I couldn't taste coconut at all), which I'm not sure is desirable. But I guess the nice thing in theory about coconut milk is that it adds its richness to the pie, whereas, say, almond milk, would not.

But while Delicata wins, I now read on the Internet that Hubbard squash is "perfect for pies." So now I have to try it, obviously.

This may induce eye-rolling, but did you know Libby's--that canned pumpkin brand that has set itself up as synonymous with pumpkin pie--is made from a variety of Cucurbita moschata squash (the same species as Butternut), not Cucurbita pepo (which includes pumpkins, zucchini, and Delicata squash)? My pies are not made from pumpkin or from Libby's, are set atop oats, and thinned with coconut milk. Are my pies real? What a silly question.

26 October 2011

Delicata

Buttercup

Delicata

Buttercup

Left: Buttercup, Right: Delicata

Left: Delicata, Right: Buttercup