Monday, September 06, 2004

It Had a Certain "Pumpkin-esque" Quality

So on the way home from my HIV test (in order to get a visa to live here), I was riding in a car with Jen and Jaime (my two roommates) and our driver when we saw a sight that I'd not seen in my 1.25 years here in town - something that very much resembled a pumpkin or other orange-colored member of the squash/gourd family. Even though it meant turning around to go back to where we saw it (which is a chore on some roads due to medians that don't stop), we decided to investigate. We were happy to discover an 8.5 kg gem of a faux pumpkin which we bought for 1000ID/kg (~$0.65/kg). Not having time on Saturday to play with my new pumpkin-esque friend, he remained in our kitchen overnight.

After a time of waiting, he gladly gave himself to the cause of pumpkin-esque pies (among other things). Now, you may or may not know, but you can make a "pumpkin pie" from any type of squash. For instance, around the March 2004 time frame, I made a "pumkpin pie" from zuchinni (with the help of a little food coloring). Some of the WarEagle guys bravely tried it (most of them prior to discovering the main ingredient), and as true gentlemen, mostly said that it tasted good and that they wouldn't have noticed a difference had I not mentioned it to them. It didn't help that I was laughing as I was giving it to them. Anyway, the point of this paragraph is to say that "pumpkin pie" is all about the spices, not the squash used.

This particular faux pumpkin was very similar to a typical American pumpkin though, with just a few differences - it wasn't as juicy, it was denser, and it was thicker in spots. The denseness and thickness caused the first "issues." For one thing, it was a bear to cut open due to the thickness, but the real "issue" was in cooking. Part of the reason the cooking took so long was because it had to be done in two parts - half of the faux pumpkin first, followed by the second half. But the real "problem" was that, due to the thickness and density, it took _FOR-EV-ER_ to cook. I began the cutting/cleaning process shortly after my language tutor left at about 1:30 and didn't take the pies out of the oven until after 10PM. It cooked literally from about 2 until about 8. The good thing about the lack of juiciness though was that it didn't require much draining, which was good since I only had a tea-sized metal sieve (I could have sworn before we started that we had a larger one, but apparently I was wrong). I'd taken the time to drain the zuchinni back in the day, but I had a LOT of faux pumpkin.

Anyway, so after the cooking came the Foley Food Mill mashing which is always fun. Messy, but fun. Once that was accomplished, the crusts were made. The ladies here keep telling us that shortening is readily available in the markets in town, but we have yet to see any, and since our very limited supply of Crisco had finally run out, I had to use butter. It worked pretty well though, so I might end up switching to that for the time being since Crisco doesn't exactly grow on trees here.

After the crusts came the mixing of the spices. But first, a portion of the faux pumpkin mash was removed to save for a later experiment since there was _plenty_ for the two pies. Then I added the spices - salt, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a dash of cloves (all ground) - then a can of sweetened condensed milk. Now, usually you'd add evaporated milk and sugar, but evaporated milk only appears in stores on very rare occasions, so I just addded the sweetened condensed variety and decided to forego the sugar. After that, I put the mixture into the pie crusts...only to realize that I'd forgotten to add the eggs, which are a very necessary part of the pie (they make it stiff), so I scooped the filling back out, added the eggs, then put it back in.

After a little over an hour in the oven, they seemed mostly done. I brought one pie into the office today. Everyone gamely ate it, but no one appears to be going back for seconds, so I'm not sure if it was all that a pumpkin-esque pie could be. Not being a big fan of pumpkin pie myself, I've not tasted much, but what I have had tastes about "normal" to me, so I'm declaring my pies to be a success.

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