We got a cute little organic sugarpie pumpkin at Whole Foods last weekend, after hearing from both a co-worker and my mother-in-law that pie made from real pumpkins wasn’t that difficult. My mom makes a delicious pie by doctoring up Libby’s every Thanksgiving and sometimes at Christmas, but I’d never had the non-canned version before. I was excited to try my hand at it after having a taste and realizing that it might not require a discouraging amount of effort.
I baked the pumpkin in the oven according to these directions, which took a little time but really wasn’t as tricky as I thought it would be. The stringy innards were not as slimy and messy as I’d imagined based on years of carving the bigger Jack o’ Lantern pumpkins. The skin fell off the squash easily after baking- no peeling or scraping required. While my sugarpie was in the oven, I had time to get into a hazelnut praline Lake Champlain dark chocolate bar we splurged on the other day at Whole Foods. It does have sugar, but it sure is good, with a soft, creamy layer of hazelnut butter in the middle.
Pie crust has been my major hang-up when it comes to these types of desserts. I feel like most of them are nutritionally void and made of things I try to avoid, like butter and refined flours. Was it too much to ask to find a crust I could feel relatively good about eating? Preferably one that didn’t require the perfect touch with a rolling pin? It seemed possible to healthify most pie fillings, but the matter of the crust kept holding me back. My Emile Henry pie dish sat in the cupboard undisturbed most of the time.
I considered several different relatively nutritious crusts made with nuts, vegan butters or oils, and unrefined sweeteners, but finally settled on this one. It was fantastic. In fact, it is my new favorite crust, the one I have been searching for since I first started seeking out healthy, nutritious foods. The crumb created by the oats and nuts is soft and lovely to work with. The crust turns out thick, rustic, hearty, a bit chewy, pleasantly sweet, but not too heavy (which has been a issue for me in previous attempts at nut crusts). I will probably use the basic recipe again and again, substituting different nuts for different pies.
In our first attempt, I followed the directions exactly and the crust turned out perfectly. Much better than the filling, in fact. Though the recipe cautioned against substitutions, in an ideal world I’d like to zap that 2 tablespoons of sugar. I didn’t have a dry unrefined sweetener on hand, so in our second attempt, I replaced the sugar with 1 tablespoon of brown rice syrup and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup. I added an extra 1/2 tablespoon oats (following the proportions outlined in The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions) to compensate for the additional liquid. In our second version I also used 1 cup of pecans and 1 cup of walnuts, to make the taste more complex. (I considered pairing hazelnuts with the pecans, but decided the walnut flavor was more what I was after.) The second crust was a bit stickier and more difficult to work with, but it baked up nicely and tasted delicious.
We used the filling from Millenium Restaurant’s recipe, because it has no refined sugar and tasted good when my mother-in-law made it for Thanksgiving. However, ours was dark brown and had a VERY overwhelming molasses flavor, even though we used 2 full cups of pumpkin. I’d recommend leaving the molasses out, cutting it down, or adding it to taste depending on how strong yours is. I’d also recommend backing off on the spices and ginger a bit, or using powdered ginger in place of fresh. The combination as written is flavorful, but seemed to leave an unpleasant aftertaste. In our second pie we omitted the molasses and added 1 tablespoon of bourbon and an extra tablespoon of maple syrup. It was better, but the balance of spices still wasn’t perfect. Next time I’ll start with the spice proportions on the Libby’s can and add more to taste. I should have plenty of opportunities to get this right…. ’tis the season, after all.