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From My Window

Issue Date: November 21, 2018

Pumpkin Pie

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

I am making two Thanks-giving dinners this year " one on the actual holiday for a small group and again on Saturday for a larger group. So I have Thanksgiving food very much on my mind.

Most people have some sort of tradition for this holiday. For a lot of us, that means a messier version of the picture-perfect Norman Rockwell family, gathered around the perfectly set table all dressed up, and a massive, perfectly-browned bird being presented on an artfully decorated serving platter. In our real-life versions, maybe someone is grumpy, no one is dressed up, paper plates are in use, the kitchen is a disaster zone, the dog is lurking nearby ready to get illegal handouts and the turkey is pale and underdone.

At deer camp, it's a simpler meal, with everyone in orange and a TV blaring football in the background. For younger people far from home, it's a "friendsgiving," a gathering of those who aren't traveling, and aren't related, usually set up as a potluck and full of laughter and wine.

Some people go out to a fancy restaurant, or a homey diner and skip the cooking. And some take advantage of a community-hosted meal, provided for those in financial difficulties, who aren't able to undertake cooking a big meal, or simply are seeking the companionship of others. (I am proud that my new community of Mosinee does this, and the dinner is jointly hosted by several churches. This display of ecumenical hospitality and faith is a beautiful gesture. I admire those who will give up their own holiday to ensure the day is brighter for others.) If you will be alone on the holiday, check and see if your community or church has such a meal.

But nearly all Thanksgiving meals feature an iconic dessert " pumpkin pie. I can't think of a similarly "go- to" dessert for Easter or Christmas dinners.

I have to say, it is not one of my favorites. I rarely, if ever, make it except for the day before this holiday. Pumpkin (or more likely, squash,) "pie" might well have been served at the historical first Thanksgiving but don't picture pie the way ours look now. The local Native Americans did raise squash, and it is hard to be sure the Pilgrims had access to apples or other fruit for dessert that first celebration, since they were just putting down their own roots then. There were probably berries available for picking earlier in the season, but the Pilgrim's first months in the new world are described as a desperate race to construct buildings for shelter and accumulate firewood prior to winter's arrival. Pumpkin and squash keep well and have a naturally thick texture, so they are easy to work with. I can well imagine the Pilgrims making a basic dough, lining a heavy pot with it and adding a squash topping before putting the pot in a bed of hot coals to bake. This version probably lacked the sugar ours features. Sugar was a high value commodity in those early days, and maple syrup access would not possible until the spring, although honey may have been available.

One Thanksgiving many years ago, I resolved to make my pie from scratch. I got the pie pumpkin, washed it, peeled it, cubed it, cooked it, mashed it and seasoned it before filling my pie shell. With great expectations, I sampled it and was " underwhelmed. It tasted just like the pie I make from canned pumpkin, so I went back to the shortcut of the can.

There are numerous more "gourmet/upscale" versions of this classic dish for the ambitious. One year I made a pumpkin pie with a ganache chocolate topping. And a quick scan of on-line recipes turns up pies with names like "caramel pumpkin," various pumpkin mousse variants served in stemmed glasses, pumpkin bread pudding and pumpkin cheesecakes. I go with a classic version, but the tradition at my house is to pair a small slice of this pie with a small slice of my own family's favorite " Bahamas fudge pie. This is not a chocolate cream pie, like "Snow Ghost," but rather has a texture like a cross between a dense cake and fudge. I found this recipe years ago in a sailing magazine and it has been a smash hit. The pie is deeply, nearly fatally chocolate, and the mild spicy taste of the pumpkin pie complements it perfectly. That's right, we eat two small pieces of pie at the same time. And of course topped with real whipped cream as my mother would be appalled if I used anything from a tub or a spray can, and you never want to let your Mom down.

In case any of you would like to try it sometime (it's great at Christmas, too,) I've included the recipe at the end.

Nearly all of us have a lot to be thankful for. No matter how humble our circumstances, no matter that our family is not like that picture-perfect Norman Rockwell family, most of us are not suffering like the people in California who continue their search for missing relatives. We are not trapped in a war zone, afraid for our children's lives like those in Syria, and we are not watching our ancestral village and way of life slowly be lost to rising ocean waters like some of the indigenous Alaskans are.

The essence of this holiday is not pies or turkeys, or parades and football. It is pausing in our labors and tribulations to focus instead on the blessings we have, and offer thanks for them. Offering gratitude is a keystone tenant of nearly all faiths, and is a healthy exercise for those who observe no formal religious beliefs as well. So whether your pie came frozen from a grocery store, or came from the heart of the baker in your own kitchen, be sure it is accompanied by recognition of the good things in your life. I wish all of you a safe, warm and blessed Thanksgiving holiday, wherever and however you choose to observe it.

Bahamas Fudge Pie

12 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate

cup butter

cup of rum

cup packed brown sugar

2 t. instant coffee granules

3 eggs, beaten

cup of flour

cup of chopped nuts (optional)

9-inch pie shell, unbaked

Melt chocolate and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in rum, sugar, coffee, eggs and flour and mix until smooth. Do not boil. Add nuts if using. Pour into pie shell. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Cool before serving. Serves 6-8.

Note: the rum and the instant coffee granules give this pie its deep complex flavor, so try not to omit them. You could probably substitute some rum extract for the rum, but I have never tried that.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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