The Ritual of Making the Thanksgiving Meal and A Recipe for Pumpkin Chiffon Pie
Early every Thanksgiving morning, my grandmother, Geeg, got up at what felt like the crack of dawn, came into the kitchen and began the ritual of making the Thanksgiving meal. It was a ritual that started days before. I remember opening the fridge, to find inside our once a year guest in residence, Tom the Turkey. Did you know that turkeys originated in Mexico? That was news to me this morning when I was researching the age turkeys are when they are harvested; hens at 14-16 weeks and toms at 18-20 weeks; and like so much of what we eat, they descend from somewhere else, in this case “from the turkey raised in central Mexico that was subsequently imported into Europe by the Spanish in the 16th century.” (Source: Wikipedia) Maybe we should have called him Tomás.
Pies Pies Pies
The day always began with my grandmother’s pies. The big bird, Tom or Tomás, would be stuffed later and put in the oven for a slow roast, but it was always after the pies. Pies owned the kitchen at the beginning of the day, and they were the glorious finalé to our meal. On Thanksgiving day there would always be three for dessert; apple, lemon meringue, and pumpkin. That was our ritual. Geeg plopped some ice cubes in a glass of water, brought out the big blue can of Crisco, bag of Gold Medal flour, salt in the round blue Morton carton, a big bowl, two blunt tables knives, and a fork, and set to work making her doughs. As a little girl, that’s when I usually arrived in the kitchen. While Mom was getting my big brother and I breakfast of Rice Crispies or corn flakes, I watched fascinated as Geeg cut the shortening into the flour. I dragged a chair over the linoleum floor to stand on so I could see better. She told me that the water had to be ice cold, and that adding lots of shortening gave a light and flakey crust. She let me cut some of it in with the two knives. The shortening was so soft. She sprinkled water in to the bowl and mixed it into the flour with the fork. Then she finished the doughs off by hand.
After breakfast, Daddy would head to work next door, and join us later when everyone arrived for the annual afternoon and evening of gathering, eating, and watching football games on TV. Geeg and Mom talked about the temperature the turkey would cook, for how many hours, how often it would be basted, what should go into the jello salad molds, and when Uncle Bob and family would be showing up from their home a few hours south in Los Angeles.
I Rolled Too
I watched as Geeg rolled out the doughs and each year I remember getting to do a little bit more of that with her. She deftly slipped the doughs into waiting pie tins; hers were aluminum and I still have two of them. Apples were sliced, seasoned and sugared, and pumpkin pie filling, made from cans of condensed milk and Libby’s pumpkin purée, was mixed and carefully poured in to the waiting shell. Those two pies were set in the oven to bake and then she went on to making the lemon curd and meringue to top her showpiece Lemon Meringue pie.
For years, I made pumpkin pie like hers, dense and rich made with milk and egg. As a pie maker who likes to experiment, I started using unsweetened coconut milk as a wonderful alternative to canned condensed milk, giving a dreamy creamy smooth filling.
A New Recipe
Recently my friend, Shannon, shared a recipe for a pumpkin chiffon pie. She told me how light and refreshing it is, and how the first time she had what most of us think of as a traditional pumpkin pie (the one like Geeg used to make, and me, too), she said to her host “oh what a shame it didn’t turn out,” not realizing that the denser custard was how it was meant to be!
The next morning I was in the kitchen checking the recipe out. I always tend to tweak and adjust things in a recipe. Since I was missing a can of pumpkin purée, I used sweet potato purée. Seasonings were added and adjusted to my taste, plus I put in a splash of orange liqueur. Rum or bourbon would add a nice kick, too.
It’s a Winner
Shannon was right. This pie is a winner and I might have just become a convert to this refreshing alternative to the traditional pumpkin custard pie. In case you are looking for a lighter finish to your Thanksgiving meal, here’s the recipe. I hope you like it, too. Here’s be sure to check out the annual Pie-One-One Help for Thanksgiving page, too.
THANKSGIVING DAY PUMPKIN CHIFFON PIE
Makes one 9” Deep Dish Pie
- 1 pre-baked Graham Cracker Crumb Crust, Chocolate Cookie, or Ginger Snap Crumb Crust (see below)
- 3/4 cup (150 g) firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 envelope (7 g) unflavored gelatin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- Small knife tip or pinch of clove
- 3 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup (175 ml) half and half, milk, or canned unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) orange liqueur, rum, or bourbon (optional)
- 1 and 1/4 cup (about 300 g) canned puréed pumpkin or sweet potato
- 3 egg whites
- 1/3 cup (66 g) sugar
- Pre-bake the pie shell and set aside to cool.
- Place brown sugar, gelatin, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove in a saucepan and mix with a whisk or a fork.
- In a bowl, mix together the egg yolks, half and half or milk, and optional liqueur. Stir into the brown sugar mixture and let stand for a few minutes.
- Turn the heat to medium, and stir until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat.
- Stir in the pumpkin or sweet potato purée.
- Place in fridge and let chill for about an hour.
- Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Rain the sugar into the egg whites, beating until stiff peaks form.
- Remove the pumpkin or sweet potato mixture from the fridge and lightly fold in the egg whites, taking care to not to over mix. You may see some streaks in it but try to get it as homogenous looking as possible.
- Turn the chilled mixture into the pre-baked pie shell. Return to fridge and let set for at least three hours. Four is even better.
- Top with whipped cream or serve a la mode if you like.
GRAHAM CRACKER CRUMB CRUST
This is a very easy crust to make. Whirr up some honey grahams in a food processor until they are fine crumbs; mix in some extra sugar, and melted butter; press into a pie pan; and give a short bake.
For One 9” Deep Dish Pan
- 2 and 1/2 cups (300 grams) graham cracker crumbs
- 6 tablespoons (84 grams) butter, melted
- 3 tablespoons (37 grams) sugar
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Pour the graham cracker crumbs and sugar into a bowl, add melted butter, and distribute well with clean hands or a fork.
- Spread and press the mixture evenly into your pie plate or pan.
- Bake for 6 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Notes: For a gluten free crust, I use Pamela’s Honey Grahams.