Pie is wonderful any time of the year: savory spinach and cheese pie in late spring when spinach is bountiful, cinnamony apple pie after crisp autumn days of picking the sweet orbs from the trees. There’s blueberry pies in August, and blackberry pies in September. There’s great grandma’s rhubarb pie recipe, which you have at the ready, taste buds tingling, when the first rhubarb leaves burst through the soil in April.
But there’s something to be said about the special place pies hold this time of year. For Thanksgiving there’s pumpkin pie and maple pecan pie–must-haves at the family feast after the turkey and homemade cranberry sauce.
Putting the Pumpkin in Pumpkin Pie
We make our pumpkin pies starting with raw pumpkins grown in our garden. I remember when Kara and I were still just kids, Mom would involve us in making pumpkin pies from scratch.
We cut the sugar pie pumpkins in half with a big kitchen knife, scooped out the seeds and stringy parts, and baked them whole in the oven. Once cooled, the skins peel off easily, and the meaty flesh is diced and run through the trusty hand-cranked Foley Food Mill. The last step is to drain off excess water. Now the pumpkin is ready for freezing for later or mixing into the batter of a REAL pumpkin pie.
Did you know that most canned pumpkin is actually made from Hubbard squash? These blue-skinned winter squashes grow to massive proportions, with thick, dry flesh. If you’re not a fan of pumpkin pie, it’s probably because you haven’t had one that’s actually pumpkin!
We taught the trusty techniques for pumpkin roasting and processing to the culinary intern we had staying with us last year. Even though she’d been learning the finer points of omelet making and forming bubbles from sugary mixes, what seemed like basic food skills to a homesteader had not been covered: making jam and jelly, processing tomatoes, and making pie starting with a raw pumpkin.
This last week, we received a note from the intern triumphantly announcing she’d made pies starting from pumpkins and not a can, all by herself. Guess where she remembered soaking in that traditional food skill?
Pies for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, Too!
Over the years, we’ve tried some fun and delicious pies–Colorado peach, apple cranberry, mixed berry, and chocolate pecan. And that doesn’t even touch on the meat pies!
What to do with that leftover turkey? Make turkey pot pie! Or, for a more personal-sized pie-like-food, a hand-sized meat pasty. (The food “pasty” rhymes with the word “nasty,” just to clarify). A pasty is made in a clam-shell shape of pie crust and was traditional in mining communities.
It was easy for the miners to hold the outer crust ring in their dirty hands and eat without needing any utensils. When they were finished, the outer crust ring would be tossed aside, so the miner didn’t have to eat the dirt and heavy metals imparted by their working hands. It was warm, filling, and easy to handle in the days before fast foods.
A pot pie or a pasty has just about everything you need on a cold, wintry day: some kind of meat (beef, lamb, turkey, chicken, whatever is on hand), potatoes, carrots, onions, thyme and pepper. And it’s all wrapped up in a neat and tasty pastry package. Some of the really old-fashioned pasties from Cornwall were even baked with the meat and potatoes on one side and the fruit on the other, so you’d eat your way across the meal!
Or, if you’re not into pastry, there’s shepherd’s pie, which has the meat and carrots and herbs at the bottom and the potatoes all mashed and fluffy on the top. It’s technically only shepherd’s pie when it’s made with lamb, though (that’s what shepherds tend, right?), so if you prefer yours with beef, that’s called “country pie.”
Ah, and don’t forget breakfast pie, which is typically called quiche! All eggy and soft, it’s a great way to use up bits of vegetables, cheese, even sausage. A ham and potato quiche in the summertime never seems to last long on the brunch menu. I often find myself saying, “Now, there’s only two pieces left of the quiche, so no fighting please.” And it’s equally not uncommon that a party of six has to negotiate who gets those coveted final pieces.
For the Love of Pie
So what is it about pie that makes it so endearing, especially when we think about the foods to make for family gatherings? Is it the presentation? The warm memories of having pies made at Grandma’s house? The way the crust flakes under your fork and melts in your mouth?
They say that if you’re trying to sell your house, stick a pie in the oven during the showing. The warm, cozy smells will fill the space, turning it from just another house to look at to feeling like a home. All because of a pie? It seems so!
Perhaps pie is just one of those feel-good foods, all around (unless you’re still struggling with your less-than-friendly crust recipe). And there’s still that magical moment when that pie lands on the family gathering table, ready for slicing and serving onto little plates, dutifully passed down the long table. It’s hard to imagine life without pie, at least now and then.
No, no, I don’t even want to try to imagine life without pie. I like life with pie, so I’ll keep it that way. All this talk about pies makes it look like I’ll have to get into the kitchen and make one soon! See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453
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