Creamy Pumpkin Pie — 1980

Creamy Pumpkin Pie — 1980

“Hurrah for the Pumpkin Pie!”

Lydia Maria Child 1844 — Novelist, Journalist, Poet

I remember Libby’s jingle from when I was a kid — If it says Libby’s, Libby’s, Libby’s on the label, label, label — You will like it, like it, like it on your table, table, table, and as Americans, we have loved Libby’s pumpkin pie on our Thanksgiving table for generations. Since the 1950s, home cooks, including my mother and grandmother, have been making pumpkin pies using the recipe printed on the back of the label. Calling for simple ingredients — Libby’s pumpkin, of course, granulated sugar, evaporated milk, spices, and a couple of eggs blended together and baked in a pastry lined-pan — pumpkin pie (with a dollop of whipped cream) is the perfect finishing touch to a Thanksgiving meal.

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Old Recipes Are New Again

Recently, after nearly seventy years of service, Libby’s classic pumpkin pie recipe underwent a makeover (recipe above). How did Libby’s update their recipe? Simply by changing the way the filling is sweetened. Instead of adding granulated sugar to the pie filling, the recipe calls for a can of sweetened condensed milk. (To adjust for the liquid in the condensed milk, the amount of evaporated milk had to be reduced.) That’s it. All the other ingredients stayed exactly the same. Did that make a difference in the flavor of the filling? Absolutely! Something about sweetened condensed milk adds a depth of rich, creamy, almost caramel-y flavor to whatever it’s in. It’s sort of like magic. As a matter of fact, adding sweetened condensed milk to pumpkin pie filling, was not a novel idea in 2019. Borden’s Eagle Brand Milk Company printed a cook booklet in 1952 with a recipe called Magic Pumpkin Pie (below) very similar to Libby’s new recipe. I guess it could be said that recipe developers in corporate test kitchens think alike.

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A Century of Sweeteners

Curious about the sweeteners traditionally used in pumpkin pie, I took to my twentieth-century cookbooks to see what the old recipes could tell me. Of course, many recipes simply called for granulated sugar. However, in the first half of the century, brown sugar was often the sweetener. Sometimes the brown sugar was paired with half granulated sugar, but frequently, it was accompanied by a little molasses or corn syrup — dark or light.

The Modern Family Cook Book 1953 offers two recipes for Pumpkin Pie — one calling for granulated sugar and the other for brown sugar. Recipe #1 also lets the home cook know what a perfect pumpkin pie should look like:

Perfectly baked pumpkin pie has no wrinkles or cracks on its surface. Long slow baking produces a smooth, shiny surface with the true golden pumpkin color.

Meta Givens, The Modern Family Cook Book 1953

A Lost Method

The instructions in recipe #2 are unique. Calling for canned pumpkin, it says to “turn the pumpkin into a saucepan and stir over direct heat (no heat setting is given) until pumpkin is somewhat dried out and has a slightly caramelized appearance.” Evidently this caramelization step has become “lost” as it was not found in any other twentieth-century cookbook. It would be interesting to know if the caramelization adds to the flavor of the pumpkin.

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Unusual Ingredients

Along with the typical eggs, milk, pumpkin, sugar and spices, several recipes included some unusual items in their ingredient list — baking soda, rose water, lemon juice, lemon zest, lemon extract, orange juice, brandy or rum, coconut and raisins. Mace and cardamom were each included in a recipe to go along with the traditional cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.

Mid-Century Chiffon Pie

The American Woman’s Cook Book 1966, introduces a new approach to pumpkin pie. Instead of baking the pie in the oven, the filling for Pumpkin Chiffon Pie is cooked on the stovetop and cooled, after which beaten egg whites are folded in. The filling is then poured into a gingersnap crumb crust and refrigerated until firm.

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A Lost Recipe

In a recipe book titled America’s Best Lost Recipes 2007 published by the editors of Cook’s Country, a charming story is shared of a young woman who submitted her grandmother’s Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie recipe — a Thanksgiving family favorite — for consideration as part of the publisher’s “lost” recipes project. Grandmother’s recipe made the cut, and after some America’s-Test-Kitchen adjustments, the recipe was included in the book. Sadly, what the reader gets is not grandma’s recipe, but the test kitchen version. Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon the original recipe.

Found in The Busy Woman’s Cook Book 1971, the recipe for Frozen Pumpkin Pie (below) calls for a quart of softened vanilla ice cream, a cup of pumpkin puree, a little sugar (Cook’s Country suggests using brown sugar) and some spices. Once the filling is blended together and spooned into a baked pastry shell, it is frozen for several hour (or overnight) — so easy. Another suggestion from America’s Test Kitchen was the use of a graham cracker crumb crust as opposed to a pastry shell — even easier. This recipe is going into my “must try” file. I will report on my results.

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Creamy Pumpkin Pie

In the 1980s, I came across a recipe for Creamy Pumpkin Pie in an old church cookbook. I tried it and it has become our Thanksgiving family favorite. The amount of filling this recipe makes is a little too much for a traditional 9″ pie pan, so in the past I either baked the extra custard in a lightly oiled ramekin or reduced the amount of warm water to 3/4 cup. This year I tried using a 9″ deep-dish pie plate and it worked perfectly. In place of the pumpkin pie spice, I make my own combination using cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and allspice (measurements listed below). Enjoy!

Creamy Pumpkin Pie

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
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Ingredients

  • 1 (9 inch) deep-dish unbaked pastry shell

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice OR 1 rounded tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and a dash of allspice
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup warm water

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450*.
  2. In a two quart mixing bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer until light in color. Blend in pumpkin puree and sweetened condensed milk. Mix in pumpkin pie spice and salt. Stir in warm water. Pour filling into unbaked pastry shell.
  3. Bake pie on bottom rack for 15 minutes at 450*. Reduce heat to 325* and continue baking 40 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted off-center comes out clean.
  4. Cool completely before serving. Refrigerate left overs.

Recipe Compliments of Cookbooklady.com

Rhubarb’s Reign

Rhubarb’s Reign

The coronation of young Queen Victoria of England in 1837 was a time of national celebration. British subjects of every class wanted to have a piece of the event. Manufacturers, having anticipated the forthcoming fervor, produced everything from pins to dinnerware as souvenirs.  A horticultural commemorative was also announced at that time — a newly developed variety of rhubarb, dubbed Victoria Rhubarb in honor of the new queen herself. Said to be easy to grow,  sweet, tender and flavorful, gardeners and dessert makers went wild! As a result, rhubarb reigned supreme in English kitchens throughout Victoria’s lifetime and is still highly regarded.

America’s Pie Plant

rhubarb plant
Rhubarb aka Pie Plant

Meanwhile, as the British Victorians were adding rhubarb to every dish sweet or savory, Americans too were growing and cooking with rhubarb. The humble “pie plant”, a faithful perennial, has been growing  in America’s gardens for hundreds of years, spreading its broad green leaves in the spring sunshine shading slender red/green stalks beneath. One of the earliest “fruits” from the garden (packed with vitamin C), home cooks were glad to have something fresh to put on the table. Needing plenty of sugar to offset its tartness, rhubarb is most often associated with desserts — typically pie.

 In perusing the indexes of my twentieth-century cookbooks, I was astounded to discover that a number of books featured over one hundred variations of pie, including several types of rhubarb pie. It’s very apparent that Americans are fond of pie, but in order to have pie, one must also have good pastry, and it turns out there has been a British influence in our pastry making as well.

From Lard to Butter

For generations, home cooks, including my grandmothers, have used lard (rendered pig fat) — leaf lard to be specific (a higher quality of fat found near the kidneys) —  to make pastry. It is reputed to make the most tender and flaky pie crusts attainable, however, its apparent that lard has been falling out of favor as only one (Joy of Cooking 1985) of a dozen or so twentieth-century cookbooks listed lard as a fat option. Almost all the other pastry recipes called for shortening to be gently worked into the flour with the fingertips or to be cut in using a pastry cutter or two knives scissor-fashion. Several cookbooks included a pastry option made with vegetable oil as opposed to solid shortening. Joy of Cooking 1985 also offered a more modern take on pastry calling for butter in place of some of the shortening (using all butter in pastry is trending at the present time). A few other unusual pastry additions that I came across were lemon juice, vinegar, white wine, an egg, milk instead of water, boiling water instead of ice water and — most surprisingly — baking powder.

Secret Ingredient

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Royal Baking Powder Cook Book (Publication Date Unknown)

In a cookbook pamphlet put out by the Royal Baking Powder Company, publication date unknown, I discovered a recipe for Plain Pastry (above) calling for one teaspoon of baking powder to be sifted in with the flour and salt. A paragraph at the top of the page (also above) explains why baking powder should be add to the pastry — “baking powder added to pastry will help to make it light and flaky”. Thinking that this was just a quirky idea put out by a baking powder company, I was quite surprised to find it again in my 1913 Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners Cook Book. I then discovered an English Pastry recipe in Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book 1950 that also calls for baking powder. Evidently the idea of using baking powder to make the perfect pie crust comes from across the pond. I don’t know if British home cooks still use it, but in America, I think baking powder in pastry is mostly “lost”.

Types of Rhubarb Pie

While researching, I categorized rhubarb pie into three general types: traditional Rhubarb Pie containing rhubarb cut in small pieces, sweetened with plenty of sugar, thickened with flour, cornstarch or tapioca, a pinch of salt and a pat of butter; secondly, Rhubarb Custard Pie containing the above ingredients, as well as, two or three eggs lightly beaten, a little milk or cream and a dash of nutmeg; and then thirdly — a combination Rhubarb Pie — similar to the traditional pie but filled with a mixture of rhubarb and another fruit such as strawberries, blueberries or pineapple. Yes, I found recipes with each of these combinations.

An Unusual Combination

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Rhubarb (Raisin) Pie with Cracker Crumbs

Speaking of combination pies, the most unusual Rhubarb Pie recipe appears in my grandmother’s The Household Searchlight Recipe Book 1944 (above). The recipe was sent in by a subscriber of Household Magazine and was included in their cookbook. It seems to be a combination of Rhubarb Pie and Raisin Pie. I like rhubarb and I like raisins, but combined? Not so much! And oddly, its thickened with cracker crumbs. Are we talking saltines here or graham cracker crumbs? I just don’t know. The other thing I wonder is why are there smudges on this page. My grandmother owned this cookbook her whole adult life so they would have happened in her kitchen. Did she try this rhubarb/raisin concoction?!  I wonder if my grandfather liked it. Would I like some? No, thank you.

Recipe Found

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Rhubarb Whipped Cream Pie

On the opposite end of the Rhubarb Pie spectrum is a recipe I am dying to try: Rhubarb Whipped Cream Pie (above) found in the newest of my old cookbooks — The American Woman’s Cook Book 1966. Not a typical baked two-crust pie, it is a sort of cream-pie-meets-ice-box pie with a crumb crust. To begin the filling, the recipe calls for stewed rhubarb which is simply chopped rhubarb and sugar simmered with a few tablespoons of water until the rhubarb is just tender. Unflavored gelatin is then added to lend stability to the filling. When the cooked mixture is cooled, the heavy cream is whipped and gently folded into the stewed rhubarb. The luscious mixture is spooned into a nine-inch crumb pie shell and refrigerated until firmly set. You will notice that the recipe calls for a Cereal Flake Pie Shell. This is simply crushed cornflakes made into a pie crust similar to a graham cracker crumb crust which could easily be substituted. It is really too bad that this recipe has become “lost” over the years. I plan to give it a try when my rhubarb comes on. I’ll get back to you. (I tried the recipe for Rhubarb Whipped Cream Pie! Here are my results).

I hope you have enjoyed our cookbook journey. Below is the Rhubarb Custard Pie recipe that I have used for nearly forty years. It is my husband’s favorite. Enjoy!

Rhubarb Custard Pie

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
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Ingredients

  • Pastry for a 9″ double crust pie

  • 4 cups rhubarb, cut in 1″ pieces

  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • Dash of salt

  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten

  • 1 Tbsp butter

Directions

  1. Adjust rack to lower half of oven and preheat to 400*.
  2. Prepare pastry for a  double crust pie. Line a 9″ pie plate with bottom pastry and roll out top crust; set aside.
  3. Wash rhubarb stalks, wipe dry and cut into 1″ pieces; set aside.
  4. In a medium-size bowl, combine sugar, flour, nutmeg and salt; stir to combine.
  5. In a small bowl, beat eggs lightly with a fork, add to dry mixture; stir to combine. Fold in prepared rhubarb pieces.
  6. Spoon rhubarb mixture into lined pie dish, dot with butter and adjust top crust, cutting slits for steam to escape. Trim, seal and crimp edges.
  7. Bake at 400* for 50 minutes. Cover pie with foil last 10 minutes if pastry browns too quickly.

Option: Before baking, lightly brush top pastry with a little milk and sprinkle with a pinch or two of sugar to add sparkle and crunch.

Recipe Compliments of cookbooklady.com