Recipe: the Best Pumpkin Pie Ever

Yes, Thanksgiving is almost here.


This lightly edited version originally published on my blog, Brandon Eats, way back in 2006. I’m not hosting Thanksgiving this year, but I am attending one with 38 other family members. I plan on bringing pumpkin pie, and I think all of you should, too. In fact, I would go so far to say that it’s mandatory.

I don't have time for this. I can't write because the 27 members of my husband's immediate family (no aunts, cousins, grandparents, no, no, just the nuclear family with parents, wives, husbands and offspring) will arrive Thursday and that's only three days away.

So, in between finally finishing the kitchen, cleaning out a jam-packed trunk room so I can fit other, equally unnecessary stuff from all over the house into it, the Salvation Army has seen a spike in donations, and my curtains met water for the very first time. This is serious cleaning, my little poults and writing is a luxury.

However, I would be seriously remiss if I didn't share a few Thanksgiving secrets — you know, things like brine your turkey — a bucket on the back porch works great this time of year as temperatures plunge nightly, but make sure that you weight the lid so the urban wildlife doesn't help themselves to a midnight snack — I kept that particular secret to myself last year, make your own cranberry sauce, etc., etc.

Except that every other food magazine/cookbook/blog tells you to do all of those things, too — except for the animal part — that's gleaned exclusively from my particular experience. They don't, however, give you the perfect, the only, the ultimate pumpkin pie recipe to cherish and share.

It's not my recipe — no, no, no, I could never match the sheer subtlety of cookbook author Marion Cunningham's pie. Her recipe both lightens and intensifies the pumpkin-ness of the pie, enhancing it with just a feather-light sprinkle of traditional spices. I don't bake and puree my own pumpkins, never fear, my testy pilgrims — or Jamestown colonists who really had the first Thanksgiving thirteen years before those religious fanatics in Massachusetts — you Virginians know who you are.

I use Libby's, or actually, an organic canned pumpkin instead. Cunningham's genius is to add just a mere cup and a half of that canned pumpkin as opposed to the full 15 ounces the recipe on the back of the 15-ounce can calls for (hmmm . . . ). You have about half of a cup leftover, and so far I've found no use at all for it so you just throw it away. What! Yes, I still shudder and do it every Thanksgiving anyway.

Buy a pie from the store and compare this year, and you'll convert, like me, forever:

Marion Cunningham's Pumpkin Pie
(Invaluable tip: buy fresh spices every year for this pie and throw the old ones out, dammit, right this minute, before you even contemplate turning your oven on)

For the filling:
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
2/3 sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
2 eggs lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon table salt

For the pie crust: Everyone has their favorite. I’m partial to the one by “Cooks Illustrated” that uses vodka to moisten the dough. If you don’t have a subscription to its site, the Kitchn has detailed instructions about how to make one. And, of course, there is no shame in buying one frozen. This pie is all about the filling.

Instructions: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Make the dough according to instructions of your chosen recipe.

When that's done, roll it into a 12-inch round on a floured surface and then transfer (ha!) it to a 9-inch pie pan — don't use a not deep-dish one. Trim the edges, allowing a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold and crimp.

Fill the pie crust, carefully place it in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until the filling is just set — as Cunningham reminds us, pumpkin pie is a custard — 30 to 40 minutes. Cool completely and top with real whipped cream before serving.

Excerpted from “Lost Recipes” by Marion Cunningham. Copyright © 2003 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.