Carl Sagan says if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
At my family’s house, (or rather, our clan of houses all clustered together) that was pretty much true. I learned pie from my Great-Grandma, from apples we picked from her trees. As a little kid looking up at the generations above me, it did seem like the genesis of each apple was infinite, and the steps to bring them together were alchemical and ancient. The recipes were an oral tradition, a creation myth with room for individual interpretation but centered around some core beliefs.
These simple rules are not flexible but allow for infinite variation. So, to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, first invent the universe. Plant, tend, fertilize, water and harvest your pumpkin. Then bake until semi soft, slice in half, and bake some more cut side down until very soft.
While the baking is going down, make your crust.
Add your dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl. For me, this was about two cups (I have never measured, nor seen a family member measure) of Doug’s flour, grated Bay nuts for spice, and a pinch of salt. I used evaporated salt from a rice cooker because its texture is much finer than the larger sea salt we’ve gathered or made in bigger pots. For a non-local version, you can add sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg to your crust.
This is Clover Stornetta’s unsalted butter, which is processed in Sonoma County from cows raised in Mendocino and Sonoma. My folks live right next to Stornetta’s dairy, and I grew up riding bikes out on their cow paths, so while I’m visiting my folks this butter is Eat Mendocino legal.
The important thing about adding your fat, is it should be COLD. As firm as possible. Over working or warm fat makes pie dough super tough, which is extra challenging with our local, heirloom, real flour- it’s burlier and more prone to getting tough. Butter and lard work great, Crisco is the devil. Chop it into the flour with a pastry cutter if you have one, they rock- or a fork, but go for the bare minimum it takes for it to hold together.
This was my Great-Grandma’s trick- ice water. Apparently it’s a lot of other Grandma’s trick, too, and it really works. Use a spoon or fork to gently incorporate the smallest possible amount of water. Don’t overwork! Stop when dough holds together.
Make sure you flour your surfaces and pin (or wine bottle, whichever) more than you think you need to. Don’t stress about butter chunks in your crust. Ideally they’re small, maybe they’re not. It’s cool.
Time for little decorative pinches. Or just cram the edges down.
Poke some holes in the bottom of the crust, using a fork.
Pretty spiral patterns are bonus points, mine never come out that way.
Pre-bake your crust for 10-15 minutes. Some people cover with foil or part of the bake time, or weigh the crust with dry beans. I never have, and it’s been fine.
Time to wrangle pumpkin.
Slice off the skin, or scoop out the flesh if you’re using a thick skinned squash.
Cut up your squash and add it to a heavy stock pot.
In my family, the tradition is to make tiny tarts out of whatever dough is left over. When my cousins next door were little they would sneak over when my mom was making pie and make a big show of stealing the tarts, and my mom would recite the nursery rhyme and chase them around. The Knave of Hearts is now an official teenager with the beginnings of a mustache, but it’s still a fun thing to do with excess dough. You can also freeze it, it works just fine later.
Pie love .
This is my last pie in this house, and it feels really good. For Christmas, my mom gave me my Great-Grandma’s serving bowl, to take with me to our new home. I’m also going to pull a farmer trick and cut scions from the apple trees to graft to new rootstock, planting the fruit of my family in new soils, where they will bear for generations to come.