Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pontificating on Pumpkin Pie

I used to make pumpkin pie from scratch every Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day. Well, all right, maybe not from scratch scratch—it wasn’t as if I shot an actual pumpkin and hauled it home on a sled; nor did I make the crust, raise the chickens who laid the eggs, or milk the cow that produced the evaporated milk. I used canned pumpkin and ready-made deep dish frozen crusts.

After mixing all the required ingredients in a large bowl, I’d ladle the pumpkin batter into the pie crusts. I always made two. It was a lot of fun trying to slide a flimsy cookie sheet (they always want to flex at just the wrong moment) laden with two pumpkin pies into the oven without the soupy batter sloshing out. Yes, I’m sure I was doing it the hard way, but the hard way is how I do things. The pies usually turned out well, though occasionally they stubbornly retained liquid centers. But I always loved the smell of baking pumpkin.

That was years ago in the era B.B.B. (Before Baby Bear). Once he grew into a curious toddler, the kitchen became his favorite toy box, and he wandered off with my measuring cups and spoons, my beaters and whisks, everything I needed for creative cookery. If I wanted to bake a pie or cake or cookies, I’d have to go into his room and rummage through his less favorite toy box or under his bed for the utensils I needed. Which brings me to another one of my happy homemaker tips:

Dust bunnies clinging to beaters add interesting flavor and texture to cakes, pies, and cookies!

Mind you, we still keep the knives wrapped and buried high in the cupboard, except for the duller butter knives that also constantly disappear, because Mr. Lucky can never find a flathead screwdriver when he needs one. But will he take my advice to search Bear's room for the screwdriver? Of course not! He's convinced an expedition into that kid's room is fraught with all the perils of the cave in the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The day eventually came when I could no longer find any of the utensils, so we resorted to frozen, ready-to-bake pies. We could still enjoy the smell of baking pumpkin the day before Thanksgiving.

Then last week we went shopping at Wal-Mart for Thanksgiving groceries, and found something decidedly different and downright disturbing about the brand of pie we’d been buying all these years.

It’s noticeably smaller this year.

I’ve heard a lot about this on the news recently, that manufacturers are downsizing their products while keeping prices the same to avoid raising them. The idea is that consumers would rather pay the same for less than pay more for the same. Whereas tuna used to come in 6 ounce cans, it’s now 5 ounces. Yet the directions for Tuna Helper still call for the 6 ounce can, which I’ve never thought was enough for my own taste.

Tuna is one thing, but pumpkin pie is another. At Thanksgiving, we demand big deep dish pies, not tarts. Mr. Lucky and I agreed the smaller pies were unacceptable.

Lately Mr. Lucky talks a lot about making everything from scratch to save money. He clams up when I tell him that if I have to start churning butter, then he’ll have to give up cable TV and start playing the fiddle every evening like Pa Ingalls.

This still didn’t prevent him from suggesting I go back to making pumpkin pies the way I did B.B.B. I had to warn him of the start-up costs: We’d need a new mixer. And since I haven’t baked in years, we no longer have those old Tupperware canisters that I bought at my very first Tupperware party long before we were married, for the flour and sugar. (Who uses the ones for coffee and tea, anyway?) Oh, we’ve bought flour since losing the canisters, but once opened you can’t keep it in the original bag; no matter how big a clip you put on it the stuff insists on leaking out everywhere, and their reusable seals simply aren’t. If we’re to have flour and sugar in the house, then I want a nice set of canisters to put them in. And nice canisters cost money.

We shuffled off to the bakery section of Wal-Mart, where we found the large, deep-dish pumpkin pies we wanted already baked and ready to eat. We brought home two. We only need to keep them frozen till this Wednesday, then thaw and eat Thursday.

If for some reason we don’t care for these pies, then we have a whole year to rebuild our arsenal of cooking utensils, piece by piece.

I think they make air freshener with the scent of pumpkin pie. I know they make candles, but we dare not light candles with Bear on the prowl. I may have to find some, because I fear this Wednesday just won’t be the same without that wonderful smell of baking pumpkin in my house.


JulieLeto said...

Karen, our family went to Kobe Steakhouse last week and the portions were decidedly smaller...yet the prices remained the same. It was the first time I'd ever left without a take-out container and thinking I could probably have gone for the fried ice cream dessert. We ordered nothing more than we normally if that was their plan--to get more in appetizers and desserts--bad plan.

I, personally, would rather pay more for the same. It just seems more honest.

I've never baked a pumpkin pie, but I did get a recipe from Paula Deen's show for pumpkin cake, with cream cheese icing. Now, if only I could find the time to bake...I have all the utensils! (And then some...I'm dangerous at Pampered Chef parties.)

Phyllis J. Towzey said...

I always bake pumpkin pies for Christmas (we go out of town every year for Thanksgiving week) and I've always used the canned pumpkin. I make my own crust though -- I am very picky about crust and the premade shells aren't flaky enough for me. Recently on Diana's blog I saw a recipe for REALLY making pumpkin pie from scratch -- using actual pumpkins! I'm going to try that this Christmas. I make apple pies from scratch too with Granny Smith apples piled high -- can't stand the canned apple pie filling -- and I use raisins, not premade filling, for my raisin pies. But I admit to resorting to canned cherry pie filling, lol. Christmas is total pie time at my house.

As far as baking and aroma for you, why don't you buy one token small ready-to-bake pumpkin pie to provide the scent, and have a couple of the defrost-and-eat variety on hand as well for the sake of quantity? That would give you the best of both worlds, it seems.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

Karen Lingefelt said...

Julie: I too have noticed smaller portions in restaurants, most recently at the one where the TARA Board has dinner before the meeting. Any Board member will tell you I always order the petite sirloin, but it's less than petite now--it's more what I call a "two bit" sirloin, and by that I don't mean it costs a quarter. Two bites and it's gone.

Phyllis: I still can't find Bear-safe pumpkin pie air freshener, so I may take your advice. Even if it's smaller, we can never enough pie!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!