Since deciding to blog about my adventures with food, I’ve joined a whole host of food and recipe groups, mainly veggie, vegan and wholefoody, on Facebook. Over the recent months, not a day goes by without another ‘pumpkin spice’ recipe popping up on my newsfeed. Pumpkin spice tart, pumpkin spice loaf, pumpkin spice latte, pumpkin spice ice cream, pumpkin spice bars, pumpkin spice brownies, pumpkin spice muffins…. the list goes on. Now I believe, that this pumpkin spice obsession began with the afore mentioned latte from a well know high street coffee chain (One I tend to avoid for ethical reasons) which in turn took it’s lead from the all American traditional thanksgiving sweet pumpkin pie.
Now, here in the UK pumpkin traditionally has no such relationship with sweet spiced confection. Pumpkin, to me is a vegetable for roasting, currying, and blending into a soup. To be fair, the vegetable itself has very little to offer in the way of flavour, and is trumped by its sweeter, brighter, denser, more flavoursome squash cousins. Perhaps that is why this sweet ‘spice’ tag has been so indelibly attached to this large autumn squash, in order to create a flavour sensation, where very little exists. The pumpkin itself has a very cute and marketable image, it seems a shame to let its lack of flavour get in the way of a seasonal commercial frenzy. Although I have noticed, the one thing that many of these ‘pumpkin spice’ recipes have in common, is their distinct lack of any real pumpkin in the ingredients.
During autumn and winter pumpkin and squash is in abundance, so I have become quite adept at using these large and relatively cheap vegetables to my advantage, filling out stews, roasting in risottos, combining them with indian and thai flavours also works really well. Just this week I took a large vat of thai coconut squash soup to an autumn celebration, made with the dense dark orange flesh of a crown prince squash, lentils, coconut milk, garlic, lime and spices; the pot came home empty and very kindly washed up by the host.
Maybe this October I should jump on the sweet bandwagon… I have 3 pumpkins in my household right now. Mainly they will be used as lanterns this weekend, but there will be plenty of orange flesh scraped from within to create something seasonal, and most probably, passably American.
This is what happened…
I eventually decided to go the whole hog and make a full on traditional(ish) pumpkin pie, it also gave me a chance to practice, my often cursed, pastry making.
In my ongoing quest to live increasingly dairy free, I searched online for a vegan pie crust, preferably one that used coconut oil rather than palm oil as a base. I found this recipe, on Oh Lady Cakes blog, and not only loved the recipe itself, but recognised an affinity with the writer’s frustrations about ethical shopping and baking. Alternatively, most shop bought pastry is vegan, or if you’re happy with organic dairy I used to swear by Delia Smith’s easy flaky pastry recipe.
To match this attention to detail in the pastry, shamelessly stolen from someone with enough drive and energy to experiment (Thank you Oh Lady Cakes) I then researched the fundamentals of a pumpkin pie and quickly discovered that eggs and cream were pretty standard ingredients. I’m happy to retrieve a few eggs from my ladies in the back garden (indeed, what better way to use up the last few before they completely stop laying for the winter), and I immediately realised that coconut milk would probably make an excellent substitute for the cream.
This is what I did.
First I made the pastry to the recipe above (Well, nearly to the recipe above, I used 3 tbsp of coconut palm sugar to give a slightly sweeter crust) and left it on the worktop, wrapped in cling film to reach room temperature ready for rolling while I continued with the filling. (97p)
Ingredients for the filling:
500g of pumpkin flesh (I used the scrapings from inside the Halloween lanterns) (£1)
1/2 a grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp of ground ginger
3 whole cloves
3 lightly crushed cardamom pods
1 star anise (all spices, no more than 20p)
6 tbsp of maple syrup (£1.55)
3 large eggs (£1.12)
200ml of full fat coconut milk. (Half a can, make sure you get half the cream and half the water) (98p)
Put the pumpkin, in cubes, slices or scrapings, in a baking dish with the spices and 4 tbsp of the maple syrup. Either use a dish with a lid or cover the spiced pumpkin tightly with tinfoil. Bake at 200 degrees C for 40 minutes. While the pumpkin was in the oven, I rolled out the pastry and created the pie crust in an 8 inch diameter and 1 inch deep pie dish.
You’ll notice in the picture that my pie crust overlaps the side of the dish, this is so that it doesn’t shrink down the sides of the dish as it bakes, and also so that any caught edges can be scraped away as a finishing touch. I did not risk blind baking the crust properly, the pumpkin filling needs a long cooking time and pre-baking would risk burning the edges of the crust. However, I did brush the inside with beaten egg, and bake in the hot oven for just 2 minutes to seal the pastry and hopefully avoid the dreaded soggy bottom. The rest of the egg I saved to use in the filling.
Once the pumpkin is tender and can be broken up with a fork, take it out of the oven and remove the whole spices. (the star anise, the cardamom pods and the cloves) Pour the pumpkin into a food processor or blender. Add the coconut milk, the remaining 2 tbsp of maple syrup and the eggs (one of which should already be cracked and beaten and used to brush the pastry case) then blend the mixture for 30 seconds to create a smooth liquid filling.
Place the pastry case on the oven shelf and pour the filling mixture directly into the case, slide the shelf back into the oven carefully to avoid any spillage and bake at 180 degrees C for 45 minutes.
When the pie is done it should look puffy and slightly risen and should be an even dark golden colour on top. Once it is cooled the filling should sink back down to look level.This pie went down a storm this halloween evening, with it’s sweet spiciness, and aromatic coconut background flavour. I served it up with simple cashew cream, made from a cup of soaked cashew nuts, blended to gather with a splash of oat milk, and a dash of vanilla extract and maple syrup. Although not vegan, this autumn treat is completely dairy free.
With my English tastebuds, and my preference for nutmeg over cinnamon, this reminded me of a classic light egg custard, which, I’m reliably informed is exactly what pumpkin pie is supposed to be like, not the dense stodgy tart I was imagining at all.
I have always made as much use of our pumpkins as possible, the flesh scraped out of the inside of our halloween lanterns every year often goes on to make soup, we save some of the seeds to plant in the spring for next year’s harvest, and the chickens enjoy picking through the rest of the slimy seedy innards. Maybe now, the late October pumpkin ritual has a new element; something sweet to keep our energy up for trick or treating. This is my offering to the ‘pumpkin spice’ revolution, I hope I’m not too late to the Halloween party.
The organic ingredients for this whole pie came to £5.82. As the pie is quite deep, it should easily serve 10-12 people, which works out at around 58p per portion. Plenty to dish up to hungry little ghosts and ghouls on Halloween night.