There is nothing like growing your own pumpkins and turning them into a festive pie that will keep everyone coming back for more. A couple of years ago, the bakery asked the farm if they would grow pumpkins for our seasonal pumpkin pies. They said YES! It was exciting to know that our pumpkin pies would be coming from the farm, and the farm was just as thrilled to be providing us with what we needed. No cans, only organic goodness.
It all starts with selecting the perfect pumpkin variety. That’s the farm’s job; they scour through seed catalogs during the winter months, figuring out the type, how many it will take to keep us in a comfortable supply, and then picking the perfect spot on the farm to plant. That’s the splendid part, knowing where your pumpkins come from and what kind of pumpkin (or technically, squash) it is. Like some of the big manufacturers, last year we picked the Dickinson variety for its size and flavor. Most of them weigh 40 pounds with light-colored skin and sweet orange high-quality flesh. They were great for our first year, but we found they were a bit heavy to handle for our small operation. This year, we picked a smaller variety with a tangerine color, leading to a much sweeter, genuine pie pumpkin. They weigh about 5 to 7 pounds, which should be easier to handle with a greater reward.
How we Process the Pumpkins
Once the pumpkins are harvested, we store them in a cool, dry place. This process brings up the sugar content and helps them dehydrate before they are brought to the bakery. When they get to the bakery, we wash them and let them air dry.
I’m sure most people think you have to peel the pumpkin and cook it on the stove. That isn’t true! We have found a simpler way to keep in all the flavor and reduce the water content, plus it won’t keep you in the kitchen all day chopping and stirring. The first step is to remove the woody stem, cut the pumpkins in half, then scoop out the seeds. The second step is to place the pumpkins cut side down on a baking sheet with a baking rack. Don’t forget to put a sheet of parchment paper on the baking sheet; this will help with the clean up later. We then place the prepared sheet into a 400° oven and bake the pumpkins for 45 minutes. Check for doneness by poking the pumpkin’s flesh with a fork; if there’s no resistance, then they are ready to come out of the oven. We let the pumpkins cool for about 10 minutes, then using a paring knife, we remove the skin and place the flesh in a bowl to cool completely. I must say that baking the pumpkins gives them the nuttiest taste, bringing out their full flavor profile and enhancing the sweetness. Yummy!
The next day, we drain the pumpkin flesh in a large colander. Once drained, we run the cooked pumpkin through a hand-cranked food mill. This process removes the coarse fiber and turns the rest into a smooth puree. Now, we’re ready to make the pies.
Making the Pumpkin Pie
Now that the hard work is over, the fun begins! It’s time to turn that beautiful, nutty pumpkin puree into an exquisite pie that will be the shining star of your holiday dinner. Before we start the pie filling, we’ll prepare the pie crust. At Wardensville Garden Market, we use our signature flaky butter crust. We roll it out fairly thin, about 1/6th of an inch, place it in a pie pan, crimp a fluted rim, and chill the shell in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Keeping the pie dough cold is key. The shell will need to be par-baked. Par-baking is a term meaning to partially bake the dough and then quickly freeze it. This is important; it will allow the crust to bake fully through the pie baking process. When par-baking, we weigh the pie shell down with a piece of parchment paper filled with dried peas; it only takes about 10 minutes.
Okay, the pie shell is chilling; now it’s time to make the pie filling. First and most important is to mise-en-place all the ingredients, keeping everything separate. Why, you say? Mise-en-place is a great practice of having all your ingredients measured out and in front of you. This helps take all the stress out of baking; all you have to do is combine the ingredients as you go. We start by whisking the spices together. Next, the organic eggs and organic brown sugar are mixed together at a medium speed using a KitchenAid mixer, then add the pumpkin puree to the egg mixture and stir. The spices are mixed next until no streaks remain. The last step is adding the cream, we have a special way, but that is a guarded secret. All I can tell you is that we use heavy cream, not canned milk. Now it’s time to fill the pie shell and bake until the pie’s center has slightly risen.
To Sum it Up
There is no greater reward than knowing what you’re eating is from a local farm to table, and seeing where it came from and how it was handled is a plus, but each ingredient being organic is the big bonus. A short story about my cooking experiences; many years ago, I was growing my own food, living off the land, and cooking on a cast-iron stove that was wood-fired. It was a simple way of life, and the food that came from that stove was the best I’ve ever eaten. Of course, it could have been that I worked so hard to have that food that it made it all the better, but I think it was the simplicity and the love that went into growing the food, being the one to prepare it, and firing the oven to the right temperature to make it so darn tasty. That’s what we want to bring to you; flavorful food made with love and devotion, from picking the perfect seed to harvesting and creating something that you can enjoy because you know that you are what you eat.
Hi, my name is Jackie. I love to bake! When I’m not baking you’ll see me behind a lens trying to capture a moment in time, or just out enjoying the natural world. I also enjoy playing with my beautiful black and white kitty, Mr. Felix.
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