It’s common in the JET Program for the person before you to leave things behind. When my fiancé transferred down here, he acquired a sofa, a large kotatsu, and a cupboard full of dishes. He was also left with quite a lot of food. We went through everything, threw some things away, but kept a lot of it – mostly spices and teas, a few sauces from the fridge. There’s one item, though, that we’ve been coveting, the crown gem: one dusty can of Libby’s Pumpkin.
In general, I’m a big proponent of making things from scratch, but there are a handful of exceptions. Refried beans, for example. I love refried beans. I love them so much that (warning: graphic imagery) I have been known to eat them straight out of the can, using a tortilla like a spoon. Because I love them so much, and I also love to cook, I like the idea of homemade refried beans. Unfortunately, none of my many attempts have yielded anything that lived up to my expectations. Last time I almost had the flavor right, but they smelled awful. Anyway, until someone gives me lessons, it’s refried beans from the can for me.
After refried beans, next on the “might as well buy it in a can” list is the pumpkin puree. I came to this conclusion when I was in elementary school, and my mom brought home a giant orange pumpkin, her mind made up to attempt a pie from scratch. I was pretty little, but if my memory serves me, the experience ended like this; after the better part of the day, during which blood, sweat and tears poured in no small quantity, we had a pumpkin pie. We deemed said pumpkin pie to be indistinguishable from the canned pumpkin variety – if anything, it might have been a little dry. I took this lesson to heart: some things just aren’t worth the effort. And from that day on, I have not hesitated to use canned pumpkin.
So before I continue, let’s go back to that can of Libby’s pumpkin puree that was sitting in Michael’s apartment. You have to understand that we’ve been starting at this can of pumpkin for months. No other year have I so looked forward to pie season.The picture on the can was calling to me. Many times we considered cracking it open, only to think better of it. Pumpkin pie cannot fully be appreciated until after Halloween.
Last weekend, though, it was finally November, and I was mostly over my bout of pneumonia. we finally deemed it to be Pie Time.
It was only then that we looked at the label, and discovered that the can of pumpkin we had been coveting since August, 2011 had expired in April, 2010.
We searched Kaldi, the nearby import store, to no avail. Crestfallen, we stood near the garish display of cardboard advent calendars in silence.
“We could always…” I offered, dreading to voice what we both knew was the only option open to us.
“No. It’s not worth it,” said Michael, looking dismal. “It’ll take too much work, and in the end, it won’t be as good as the canned stuff, anyway.”
Though his were my own words, that smooth pumpkin filling I’d been fantasizing about for months hung vivid in my mind. I couldn’t let it go. “No. Challenge ACCEPTED!” I took my comrade by the hand. “Come. We’re going to the grocery store.”
And so it was that we set out to disprove the canned pumpkin theory.
We made it home with about 600 grams of raw kabocha squash. Steaming and pureeing the squash definitely did increase the overall cooking time for this pie. Taste-wise, though, how did it hold up? Anticipation may have influenced the flavor, but I think it was one of the better pumpkin pies I’ve ever had. Not at all too dry. Sweet, aromatic, and a beautiful shade of orange that doesn’t come from a can, it was everything a pumpkin pie should be.
Fresh Kabocha Pie
- 110 grams butter
- 1 (U.S.) cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- about 1/4 cup ice water
- 600 grams whole kabocha squash (with seeds, etc)
- 2 cups soymilk
- 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
- Start with the crust. Cut the butter into pieces and move to a large bowl. Add flour and salt. Using a pair of butter knives or a pastry blender (if you have one – I don’t). The idea here is to combine the butter and flour until the mixture is reduced to uniformly pea-sized balls. Resist the urge to squish it with your hands – that will make the crust hard and oily instead of light and flaky.
- Once combined, prepare ice water. Add water slowly, mixing after each addition. Continue to add water until the dough begins to form a loose ball. Once it sticks together, use your hands to form it together into two round balls of equal size. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator until you’re ready to roll them out.
- On to the filling. Start by de-seeding and peeling hte kabocha. The latter is facilitated by sticking the squash in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Cut peeled kabocha into pieces.
- Steam kabocha until very soft, about 10 minutes.
- Next, puree the kabocha. Use a blender or food processor, adding milk or soymilk as needed to facilitate blending, working in batches if necessary. Blend until completely smooth.
- Combine kabocha with eggs, condensed milk, sugar and spices. Set filling aside.
- Preheat oven to 220 degrees.
- Remove pie crust from refrigerator. On a clean, well floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll each ball of dough into a thin, circular sheet.
- Transfer dough to two 9 inch pie pans. Roll edges under. Working in a circle, pinch crust between your fingers into a fluted pattern.
- Pour filling into pie crusts. Bake at 220 degrees for ten minutes, then reduce heat to 180 for 30-40 minutes, or until set. A knife, inserted into the center of the pie, should come out clean.