Pie Time

There are few things better than a Thanksgiving pie. But sometimes, going to the trouble of making crust isn’t what you want to do – here’s a recipe for those times.

I love pumpkin pie, but I hate making crust. And I will gladly spend more time not making a crust than I would have spent making it. This quirky aversion has led me to some delicious, non-crusty places I can’t wait to show you. But first, a reminder that pumpkin is just one type of winter squash, of which there are many types that make great pie. When I say “pumpkin” I mean pie squash. In fact, the “pumpkin” in most cans of pumpkin pie filling is actually a butternut squash variety called Dickinson.

As for that crust that we are most definitely not going to make, it turns out that history is on our side. At the alleged first Thanksgiving feast, nobody – immigrant or local alike – had access to flour, butter or an oven.

But while our nation’s inaugural harvest party was a crust-free affair, squash were a staple for the Wampanoag tribe that mixed with the Pilgrims and an important part of surviving winter. At that first supper of our nation, some historians speculate that a proto-pie, baked in an earthen pit, may have consisted of a hollowed-out pumpkin filled with a honey-sweetened egg custard.

I know from experience, however, that if you fill a whole pumpkin with custard and bake it, by the time all of that custard cooks and expands, the container will have become too soft to hold the filling. But half a squash, filled with custard and baked like a pie, cooks together in harmony with the filling. It’s a beautiful, decadent combination. The baked flesh has its own custard-like texture, pulls cleanly from the hard skin, and is easy to eat with the extra-rich filling.

But a friend, trying to be helpful, burst my bubble with a pragmatic question. “Does a soft pumpkin border truly impart the same satisfaction as a flaky, buttery crust?”

He had a point, which I addressed in a way that allowed me to retain my dignity and values. I’m not usually an Oreo guy, but I’m so much less of a crust guy I made an exception. I bought some Oreos, and used them to line the inside of a half-pumpkin. Then I added custard mix, and baked it.

The improvement was immediately obvious. The Oreos formed a pleasing, cakey layer between custard and squash, and their dark chocolate flavor complemented the pumpkin and custard. Because Oreos are so sweet, I skipped the sugar in the pie filling, and it worked perfectly.

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