We harvest 20-40 pumpkins from our Alpine garden every October, dry them for a month on the warm stones of the veranda to harden them off, then store them in a cool dark area for winter eating. We grow them at 1,100 metres altitude, on dirt mixed with a good dose of the neighboring farmer’s cow dung. These are happy pumpkins!
They are always lovely, lasting about three to four months, but the best is always the first one we cut and use in pumpkin pie. I made one for Scottish friends David and Evelyn from Geneva last weekend, and promised that rather than just sharing the instructions/recipe, I would post them here.
My recipe is an adaptation of my old recipes from the US, for Thanksgiving, but with Swiss ingredients and fresh pumpkin, something I never had access to when I lived in the States.
One small or half of a medium-sized pumpkin like those in the photo is needed for a pie. I use a cleaver to cut them into quarters and cook them in the pressure cooker, usually a couple hours before I need them. If you’re buying at the supermarket, you”ll need a couple good slices. Better: buy whole or slice pumpkin from a farmers market.
One of the secrets of a great pie is a perfect crust, which takes practice. This is why I try to bake pies regularly, to stay in practice. And because they are so delicious!
Pumpkin pie, using fresh or stored pumpkin
1 cup white flour (farine fleur)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening with some butter, Astra 10 is good as it is 10% butter
(note: this hardens in the refrigerator, where it should be stored once opened, so take it out 15 minutes before you need it. The Migros equivalent stays soft)
4-6 tablespoons cold water
If you’re already a dough pro, just read the words in bold. If you’re a novice, the details should help.
Stir salt into flour. Use a fork or pastry cutter to cut in the shortening until half the dough is the size of peas and the rest is larger balls.
Using a fork to toss the dough from underneath, sprinkle the water one tablespoon at a time to dampen the dough. It should be sticky enough to hold together without crumbling, but if you add too much water it becomes gooey.
Using your hands, form into a ball.
Sprinkle 1/4 cup of flour on the working surface, flatten the ball using the palm of your hands, not your fingers, until it is 1/2 inch or a couple centimetres thick. Roll out with a rolling pin, from the center, until the dough is about an inch or 2-3 cm larger than your pie pan. I run a large plastic spatula under the dough once or twice while rolling it out, to make sure it’s not sticking to the surface. Sprinkle flour on the work surface as needed to keep the dough from sticking.
Pick up the dough by draping half of it over the rolling pin, which makes it easier to transfer into the pie pan: place the rolling pin over the middle of the pan and your dough will be in the right place.
Mix, in order given:
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- 110 grams sugar, preferably light brown sugar but Muscado from Swiss supermarkets works
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon powdered ginger, or very finely slivered fresh ginger
- 340 grams freshly cooked pumpkin: 20 minutes in a pressure cooker or 30 minutes boiled in small amount of water
- 1-2/3 cups condensed milk: 2 tubes, available in Swiss supermarkets
Pour into pastry shell. Bake 15 minutes at 210C/425F. Reduce heat to 190C/350F and bake 25-30 minutes more. If the top or crust brown too quickly, lay a sheet of cooking foil loosely over the top.
Check for doneness by inserting a sharp knife into the center. It should come out clean.
Cool on a rack. Best served cold, accompanied by a light drizzle of cream or a spoonful of good quality plain yogurt.
Here’s a shortcut a wine grape grower’s wife shared with me, for topping and tailing gooseberries. We use them in jam and pies, both of which I love, but it’s always seemed unfair to me that you first get pricked by the thorns and then you have the tedious job of topping and tailing them.
The trick is to place them on a freezer tray for 2 hours immediately after picking them. The bits on the ends break off easily when frozen, and you’ll save about 20 minutes of work per pie. Better yet, you need slightly less sugar in the jam because freezing the berries concentrates their own sugar, in much the way cryoextraction is used to make sweet ice wines.
A word of caution: don’t refreeze! Use them right after topping and tailing.
My son just graduated from college, from UBC in Vancouver. What better way to celebrate his homecoming than with yet another pie, our standard way for the past four years of welcoming him home to Switzerland from abroad. The rhubarb in the garden turned out to be exactly right, and when I asked if that would be acceptable for a pie I had an enthusiastic yes!
Pie in our house means the slightly salty American variety, a crust made from scratch, rolled out by hand.
Notes on ingredients: I keep my shortning in the refrigerator. Migros brand shortning is softer and easier to use, but Astra 10, which I buy at the Coop, is 10% butter, which I prefer. I take it out to warm up slightly, 15-20 minutes before I need it. My brown sugar is the soft variety from the US or UK, which you can find in several specialty food shops. Cooking butter or beurre cuisine is clarified butter, easy to find in supermarkets.
Rhubarb straight from the garden
- cut it just before you use it, to avoid woodiness developing
- make sure the stalks you cut are all about the same thickness and choose the reddest ones
- cut them off at the base of the plant and lop off that giant leaf at the top, leaving it on the ground if your clump is in a hidden corner of the garden, as the leaves are rich in nutrients
- try to select stalks from different parts of the rhubarb clump so it gets more light and air
- if you see any stalks about to flower or that are flowering, cut them off – the plant will give you rhubarb all summer if you keep it from putting its energy into flowers.
Wash the rhubarb but don’t scrape off the strings if you’ve just picked it.
Cut into pieces about 1/2 inch or 1cm long.
Pumpkins love our garden and we love pumpkins: this weekend the season for cooking pumpkin kicked in seriously. We have some 60 small ones. The larger ones are fun when kids are little, but the small varieties tend to have more flavour and they are more manageable in the kitchen. I brought one in from the veranda, where they are drying: the shells harden, to protect them during 3-4 months storage.
We take a cleaver and chop them in half or quarters, scrape out the stringy bits, quite a lot of it, then give them 20 minutes in the pressure cooker, with the pumpkin left in the pot another 15 minutes. This gives me a wonderfully textured and delicious vegetable. I scrape the insides into a bowl and the outer bits go into the compost.
The easier solution is, of course, to buy it pre-sliced at the supermarket, but the taste is a pale shadow of what our garden pumpkins give us. Farmers markets sell whole pumpkins and the extra flavour makes them worth the trouble.
We bake them as open halves (often with a spoonful of homemade jam in the centre) or eat the pulp warmed with a little butter and salt and pepper, sometimes with a bit of creamy goat cheese added. The family favourite is pumpkin pie. A close second to pie is pumpkin bread, in this family.
Here’s the recipe, an American one for zucchini nut bread, adapted and with less sugar for European tastes, but with US measures. It’s quick and easy.
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup oil – I use colza/canola
- 3 eggs, but I sometimes use 2 and get a slightly denser loaf
- 1 tsp orange peel or candied orange (if the latter, I reduce the sugar slightly)
- 1-1/2 cups flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg; I love freshly grated nutmeg which has a stronger flavour so use a bit less
- 1 generous cup cooked and cooled pumpkin
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts, pecans or toasted almonds
Beat sugar and oil until blended. Add eggs, orange, mix well. Sift dry ingredients into a bowl into a bowl. Alternately add sifted mixture and pumpkin to sugar mixture. Mix well. Add nuts. Pour into 2 small greased loaf pans.
Bake at 195C in traditional oven for 40-45 minutes, testing that toothpick in centre comes clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then loosen around the edges and gently remove from pan.
Stores well, freezes well.
More pumpkin photos in GenevaLunch album: October 2009 pumpkin bonanza