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  • Writer's pictureNelson Sigelman

A Slice of Pumpkin Pie

I’m not sure why I wanted to make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. My wife Norma and I are not what you’d call Thanksgiving traditionalists. On turkey day, we decided to have homemade crab cakes.

I had about a pound of succulent blue crab meat in the freezer we’d laboriously picked from a bushel of blue crabs harvested in Tisbury Great Pond in August. Netting crabs is lots of fun but getting the meat out of a crab is a lot of work, so we were looking forward to the reward — real crab cakes.

But back to the pie. My initial thought was to buy one. Easy. “You’re going to pay for a pie,” my friend Ned Casey said. He had a point. The average pie cost on Martha’s Vineyard would buy you dinner on the mainland.

But there was my recent venison meat pie disaster to consider. Instead of using a Pillsbury ready-made crust, as I’d done with excellent results, I decided to make a crust from scratch.

I made the meat filling. Then I made the crust following the minimal directions on the back of a can of Crisco shortening. As instructed, I wrapped the crust in plastic and put it in the refrigerator to chill. I planned to return home from deer hunting, roll out the crust and bake the pie. Easy.

But when I set to work, the crust didn’t roll out smoothly. It split. It adhered to the rolling pin. It vexed me. I swore. Norma, who has witnessed my cooking tantrums many times, just laughed. The dough was just too dry and beyond salvage.

I added a can of tomatoes to the meat filling for viscosity, and we had it on toast. I vowed to leave making crust to Pillsbury.

But I liked the idea of making a pumpkin pie. Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving, I did what I should've done earlier and turned to my cooking bible, The Best Recipes cookbook from America's Test Kitchen. I gathered all my ingredients and prepared ramekins. The first recipe step is to pulse flour, salt, and sugar in the food processor. Pulse. Pulse. Pulse.

I added the well-chilled butter and shortening. Oops, what's in that ramekin on the counter? The sugar and salt I thought I'd pulsed into the flour. I added it.

Next, I used a blue rubber spatula to scrape the flour from the food processor into a bowl. I added ice water. What were those blue specks in my dough?

Ah yes, the food processor blade is sharp, and I’d scraped the spatula rubber against it. I thought Norma and I are advanced in age, so what’s a little plastic? I picked the little blue specks out of the dough and threw away the spatula. I chilled the dough. Two hours later, I rolled out the dough.

But when I put the crust into the pie pan, I realized I didn't roll it out enough so it didn’t overhang the pie pan. I put the dough back on the counter and rolled it out some more (while thinking that couldn't be good).

I chilled the crust and froze it. Now to pre-bake. But I didn’t have pie weights. What to use as a substitute? Norma gathered pennies to lay on the tin foil I placed in the pan to keep the crust in form.

Meanwhile, I prepared the pumpkin pie filling. Luckily, I had the heavy cream called for in the custard-style recipe. Late Tuesday, there was not a pint of heavy cream in the two main markets nearest our house. When Norma went to Cronig’s she encountered a woman searching for the same thing. “There’s not any heavy cream or buttermilk on the Island,” the woman said, staring into the milk case. “How am I going to make my biscuits?”

Luckily, the Island’s last-minute pie and dessert makers had not thought of Vineyard Grocer, the Brazilian specialty market. That’s where I found heavy cream.

The pie crust came out of the oven, and the filling went into the crust. Twenty-five minutes later, my pumpkin pie emerged. I placed it on a cooling rack late Wednesday in anticipation of the big day.

Thanksgiving Day morning, I woke up before dawn to go deer hunting. What to have for breakfast? The answer was on the counter: Pumpkin Pie. What a great holiday.

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