Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Megan's Pumpkin is Thicker Than Water Pumpkin Cream Pie

Today I sat in the surgery waiting room at Kaiser for what seemed like an eternity - but in actuality was something like three hours. I am all too familiar with this room and it's black and white floral prints, hard, pastel vinyl chairs and extensive selection of magazines. Five years ago, I sat in the very same room, possibly even in the same chairs, breathing the same sterile air as I waited only to learn that my Dad's cancer had spread. Today I anxiously awaited the "all clear" that my Mom's fairly routine surgery to repair a broken collarbone went just as expected, all the while trying to ignore the pessimistic little voice in my head repeating, "What if they find cancer? What if the news is terrible? What if you lose your only living parent?" 

Thank goodness, I did not sit alone. Sure, there were many visitors that day: my Mom's sisters, her best friend, even a couple of her high school friends. But in that crowded waiting room, I sat with my sister - and that made all the difference. 

You see, Megan gets it. Because of our family's history, I know there is a crazy little voice in her head, too. And because of that, she doesn't judge me when I begin a sentence with "I know this is crazy, but.." Because she has been there. She is safe. And she is my rock in times like these. 

Megan and I have had our ups and downs over the years, as I'm sure most sisters have. And our relationship is far from perfect. But, you know what? When the chips are down, I know Megan will always be there for me. Even though I may completely aggravate her with my opinions or at times not use the kindest, most gentle words in expressing those opinions. Or even though, sometimes, she may just not honestly like everything about me, I know she always loves me. And that means more to me than I could ever express in a silly little blog post. 

God just created Megan and I differently. Our entire lives, I have heard, "You're sisters? You don't look anything alike!" Whereas I have always been tall(ish), Meg is vertically challenged. I'm blonde (with a little help from my hairdresser) and she's brunette. I have blue eyes, her's are brown. I am generally shy and a bit of a homebody and she is and has always been the life of the party - busy with a million activities. Certainly these differences (well, primarily the character stuff, but still) have impacted our ability to relate to one another over the years. Yet, we do share several very important things in common: we both love Jesus, our husbands and our children. And we love each other. No matter what. 

Megan has been by my side for all of the important events in my life. She was the one who first introduced me to Jesus. She stood next to me as my Maid of Honor when I said "I do" to my best friend. She graciously hosted my baby shower when I was expecting my first child. She literally pulled me up from the floor on that terrible, dark evening that I cried out to God that he absolutely could not take Dad from us. And she stood by my hospital bed, holding each of my sons and telling me how beautiful they were on the days of their births. She has shared my tears, held my hand and prayed for me when life was just a little too much. She has always been by my side - literally since I was two years old. And there is not a friend alive, no matter how close, that I can say that of.

Megan's pie has been in the works for what seems like ages. In the first month or so of Bake Somebody Happy, I just knew I had to bake her a pumpkin pie. Megan's love for all things pumpkin runs deep. As soon as there is the slightest chill in the air, her house practically overflows with the scent of pumpkin - in both the candle and hand soap variety. And from September to December, she can often be found sipping on a frouffy pumpkin-flavored coffee drink. So, when it came to what kind of pie to make, the choice was obvious - pumpkin. 

But then there was that small matter of when to bake Megan's pie. It seems to me that baking seasonally and with locally-grown produce is ideal. And it doesn't get much more local than my own backyard.

Each Spring, we dedicate an entire corner of our yard to our very own pumpkin patch. Typically, with a bountiful harvest of several dozen pumpkins come Fall. But, last year was different. A combination of weeks of extreme heat and some good old fashioned bad luck resulted in just one lonely pumpkin. One pumpkin that had my sister's name on it.

But, to be completely honest, Megan and I had hit a rough patch (no pun intended). So, I cleaned up that pretty little pumpkin, baked and prepped it into a lovely orange puree and set it aside in my freezer until the timing was just right.
Well, it seems to me - with all the craziness and sisterly bonding that the last month has brought our way - the timing couldn't be better for sharing a comforting, cozy autumnal pie. So, without further adieu, I give you Megan's Pumpkin is Thicker Than Water Pumpkin Cream Pie. 

I began with my traditional crust, working a combination of butter and shortening into a bowlful of chilled flour and salt with my fingers. I then gradually added ice water to bring the dough together and placed the resulting disk into the fridge to chill. Once cooled, I rolled the dough out into a thin, even sheet and placed it gently into the pie tin - trimming, folding and crimping the edges before blind-baking the shell.
For the pumpkin cream filling, I made use of the remainder of my homemade vanilla pudding mix, whisking the prepped powder into a combination of whole milk and heavy whipping cream on the stovetop until thickened. To the pudding, I added vanilla extract, home-grown pumpkin puree and my own pumpkin pie spice.
Because my 1960's galley-style kitchen is greatly lacking in storage space, I try to be resourceful when it comes to purchasing infrequently used spices. So I whipped up my own pumpkin pie spice using a handful of ingredients already tying up space in my spice cabinet - ground cinnamon, ginger, clove and freshly grated nutmeg.
As the pumpkin cream chilled, I contemplated how best to "dress" this pie. In my opinion, cream pies always call for a generous layer of whipped cream. So I took inspiration from my previous experience with honey whipped cream and decided to substitute organic maple syrup as the sweetener. The result was perfectly reminiscent of the holidays.
The rich creaminess of this pie was just screaming for a bit of unexpected texture, so I settled on a pepita (or pumpkin seed) brittle. I brought granulated sugar, butter, light corn syrup and water to a boil until lightly golden, before adding sea salt and a pinch of baking soda. Then I folded in a generous amount of raw, untoasted pepitas and carefully poured the candied mixture onto a greased and parchment lined baking sheet, spreading it evenly. When cooled, I scattered a handful of brittle bits atop the pie, setting aside a few for me, of course. I see several more batches of pepita brittle in my future...
Our Dad was known to tell the same beloved stories from our childhood over and over. In one of his favorites, Megan and I (roughly ages two and four, I believe) were bickering and squabbling and being generally unpleasant to one another when Dad suggested that we might just leave Megan out with the trash if we couldn't manage to get along. And wouldn't you know it - the big sister in me rose to the occasion, putting my arm around her and assuring her that I would never let Mom and Dad throw her away.

I guess some things never change. Even thirty years later, we sometimes need that simple reminder not to let our sisterly squabbles get the best of us. My relationship with my sister is a gift and her role in my life just couldn't ever be replaced. Blood is indeed thicker than water.

"Produce great pumpkins, the pies will follow later." - Unknown