Heirloom Thanksgiving: My Mother’s Pumpkin Pie

Some of my food memories are so vivid: the scent of my grandmother’s potato pancakes cooking, the bratwurst my grandfather would saute with mustard and serve with breakfast, the meatball stroganoff that was my brother’s favorite dinner and the crunchy baked chicken that was mine. I did love all those foods, but I make them these days for the memories they stir up, and in order to feel a little closer to home.

If I had to pick one iconic recipe of my childhood, it would be this pie. My father always requested this pie for his birthday (my family isn’t all that into cake). We’d usually have it for Thanksgiving too, and carve off  slivers for days afterward. The texture improves and flavors deepen after a day or two in the fridge, which makes it the perfect dessert for those of us who like to start cooking for Thanksgiving a few days ahead.

This pie is dark with molasses and cloves, deeply spicy and smooth. I make it at least once every fall, sometimes for Matt’s birthday and otherwise just for me, a connection to home during a holiday I haven’t celebrated at my parents’ table out west for nine years now.

I called my mom to ask for a little more background on the recipe, and it turns out that she found it in a little cookbook assembled by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs in 1964. It was called  A Taste of the World, and it also included a recipe from a family friend of ours, Hope. Hope gave my mother the sweet little cookbook at my mother’s bridal shower in 1970, and this pie (along with Hope’s sesame chicken) has been a family favorite ever since. The cookbook is a bit of an old-fashioned affair—all I know about the contributor of this recipe is her husband’s name.

Addendum: a friend was kind enough to dig this up…a little info on Mrs. Demmy here—there’s even a Portland connection!

Pumpkin Pie
adapted from Mrs. Nicholas Demmy, A Taste of the World

1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin (NOT premixed pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup brown sugar
2 T molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp powdered cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg (I like freshly grated)
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 cups milk, scalded (whole is great, don’t use skim)
1 tsp vanilla or 1 tsp rum
one pie shell, unbaked, in a pie plate (I forgive myself for using storebought.)

Mix the ingredients in the order listed. Preheat oven to 425°F. Place pie plate on a cookie sheet to prevent spills. Carefully pour in filling, and bake about 45 minutes. If crust begins to get too dark, carefully tent the edges with strips of foil. Top with whipped cream if desired.

Depending how deep your pie crust is, you may have a bit of filling left over; I baked the extra in two little ramekins and it was pretty delicious.

In autumn, pie, pumpkin, thanksgiving

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