Thursday, November 26, 2009

The First Thanksgiving
What's cooking? Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

This year, my son and daughter-in-law -to-be are hosting their first Thanksgiving. Her family will be joining them, but we’ll be in Texas, so I’m not there to help, which pains me, as I count group cooking as one of the most fun activities. Desperate to contribute, I sent cookies.

What cook doesn’t remember that maiden voyage? My first attempt was fraught with anxiety over the bird in particular, so more than anything that year, I was thankful for the turkeys with those little pop-up thermometers that tell you when the meat is done. And in that vein, I recommend to my DILTB (and to any other anxious cooks) the excellent op-ed piece in Sunday’s New York Times, “Thanksgiving Recipe: Just Chill,” which more elegantly elaborates on something I’ve told many of my friends over the years: Most people – especially those who cook regularly – are just happy to have a meal that someone else prepared. And as for doing it all yourself, you need to keep in mind that the people on Top Chef and its ilk have not only years of training but – and this is important – ASSISTANTS. Moreover, someone else went out and bought the ingredients. Think of Giada and Martha and Rachel and Mario (who I really feel I know on a first-name basis), and just imagine how many choppers and slicers and dicers they’ve got making ready in the studio. Now, don’t you feel better?

For me, one of the best parts of Thanksgiving – aside from the fact that you’re with friends or family or both – is the re-living over the years of the funny/stupid/amazing stories. The year our family cat got at the bird before we sat down, and the time many years later when the dog ate a tray of my friend Ellen’s dinner rolls as they were rising. Or the time I made my mom’s pecan pie in a tin pie plate and inadvertently poked holes in it as I was prebaking the crust, so that the filling ended up on the oven floor. And at the earliest Thanksgiving in my memory, I sat in my Uncle Frank’s lap and gave him the chicken pox.

When I was growing up, our family shared every major holiday with my mother’s sister’s family and my maternal grandmother. The kitchen was always a whirlwind of activity, with the three women fussing over the gravy or the potatoes, while my dad and my uncle would alternate with the carving and the blessing. It was better when my dad did the carving – not because he was a more skilled carver, but if he said the blessing... Let’s just say it wasn’t short. Dad took the blessing as an opportunity to update God as to our family’s various comings and goings, the things we were happy about and what we were still working on. Eventually, my uncle would come to the rescue, and interrupt with a sonorous “Amen,” and we’d dig into the food before my dad had the chance to object.

The most famous dish from my family’s holiday meals is my Aunt Marcy’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. It’s got all that wonderful pumpkin taste without the heaviness of the standard variety. And for the pie crust phobes among you, the ginger snap crust is, well, a snap to make, and adds real spice to the taste.

Aunt Marcy’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

The Crust: Mix together 1/3 c. melted butter with 1 1/2 c. ginger snap crumbs. [Kitchen Goddess note: If you use the large Nabisco ginger snaps – recommended – I find that 24 will make the right amount of crumbs. I used to take a rolling pin to the cookies to make the crumbs, but now use a food processor. Much easier.] Press into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan (Pyrex is best) and bake 10 min. at 325°. Allow to cool completely before pouring in the filling.

The Filling: Dissolve 1 Tbl gelatin in 1/4 c. cold water. Set aside.

In a saucepan, mix together:

3/4 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1 1/3 c mashed pumpkin (canned is fine)
3 large egg yolks
1/2 c milk

Cook on low heat until boiling, stirring occasionally. Boil 1 minute (stirring), then remove from heat. Stir in the dissolved gelatin mixture, and cool until it mounds slightly (partially set). Beat with a wisk until smooth.

Beat together 3 large egg whites, 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar, and 6 Tbl. sugar, until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the pumpkin mixture, and pour into a 9-in crumb crust. Chill a couple of hours – til set. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of chopped candied ginger.

This pie can easily be made the day before and kept (lightly covered) in the refrigerator. Also, the ginger snap crust is really better than a pastry crust for this recipe, though my Aunt Marcy was known to use a store-bought pastry crust in a pinch.

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