“For pottage and puddings and custard and pies, Our pumpkins and parsnip are common supplies: We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon, If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon”
– Pilgrim rhyme from the 1630s
Vandetta Williams usually serves three desserts at Thanksgiving: chocolate pie with graham cracker crust, coconut cream pie or cheesecake – “It’s one or the other” – and a thick, slightly sweet custard baked inside a whole pumpkin.
The baked whole pumpkin, grown in her Spokane garden, gets the place of honor. It’s a family favorite, first made as a conversation starter for the grandkids some 20 years ago.
They liked the fact that dessert was in an actual pumpkin. Williams, 80, liked the fact it’s easy to make.
She still does.
“There’s nothing to it, really,” she said. “Everybody thinks it’s terrific, and I don’t have to make a crust. I can’t make a crust. When I roll it out, I can never get it even for some reason.”
Williams, a retired waitress, found the recipe in a newspaper in the early 1990s. But it dates back to the colonial era and is said to have been a favorite of George Washington.
The recipe, an early version of what eventually became pumpkin pie as we know it, involves filling the shell of a sugar or pie pumpkin with heavy cream, eggs and spices, then topping the mixture with tiny pats of butter and baking. The filling is sweetened with brown sugar and molasses.
Williams’ recipe also uses ginger. Similar recipes online call for allspice instead. All of them also included cinnamon and nutmeg.
I added 1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice when I tried the recipe.
I was bit skeptical before my first bite. The filling, which started out off-white with swirls of copper-colored spice, had turned toffee-hued. The texture didn’t look as light as mousse nor as creamy as pudding.
Still, I was pleasantly surprised. The spiced custard wasn’t overly sweet, and complemented the pumpkin’s earthy flavor. Plus, the baked whole pumpkin made for an impressive presentation.
I added some leftover custard and cooked pumpkin to pancake batter for breakfast. The pancakes were extra moist and creamy and had a natural pumpkin flavor.
For dessert, serve the custard-filled pumpkin or pumpkins at the table, using long-stemmed spoons to scoop pieces of the pulpy squash along with the custard. A dollop of whipped cream flavored with a hint of pure maple syrup adds a little more creamy sweetness.
“They’re very cute,” said Williams, who recently shared her recipe with The Spokesman-Review, mailing a photocopy of her handwritten instructions along with a note.
It read: “This is a fun recipe for Thanksgiving. My family loves it. We will have it come Thanksgiving, and if we still have a nice pumpkin, maybe Christmas.”
Baked Whole Pumpkin, or Colonial Baked Whole Pumpkin “Pie”
From Vandetta Williams
1 pumpkin, 5 to 7 pounds
6 whole eggs
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
2 tablespoons butter, in tiny cubes
Wash, dry and cut the lid off the pumpkin just as you would for a jack-o’-lantern. Remove the seeds and save for toasting later. (See recipe below.)
In a mixing bowl, mix together the eggs, whipping cream, brown sugar, molasses, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger; fill the pumpkin with the custard mixture and dot with the butter. Cover with the pumpkin lid and place pumpkin in a baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the mixture has set like custard.
Serve from the pumpkin at your table, scraping some of the meat from the pumpkin with each serving.
Yield: 8 servings
Maple Cinnamon Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Beat the cream on high speed until it begins to thicken and get slightly stiff. Add the maple syrup, sugar, vanilla extract and cinnamon to the cream. Continue whipping the cream until it forms stiff peaks. This maple cinnamon whipped cream recipe makes enough whipped cream to cover 1 pie or to serve with 6 to 8 desserts.
Sweet and Salty Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
From Adriana Janovich
2 cups fresh pumpkin seeds, rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Heat oven to 300 degrees. Spread the seeds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until dry throughout, 50 to 60 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees. Mix seeds with butter, sugar, salt and spice in a large bowl, making sure to thoroughly coat seeds. Return seeds to the baking sheet and toast, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.