What makes the dessert iconically American, a recent episode of the podcast The Splendid Table asked of its listeners. “It’s kind of like the classic quote about porn: ‘You’ll know it when you see it'” proffered the pastry chef, Stella Parks, in response. On one level, a dessert’s icon status is simply instinctual – take your chocolate chip cookie, for example. But when it comes to others, certain desserts loom larger in the collective consciousness, thanks in no small part to the space they occupy within the pantheon of pop culture – the pumpkin pie being one such example, a dessert that has carved out a niche synonymous with the autumnal months and two holidays in particular: Halloween and Thanksgiving. If the proliferation of inventive costumes weren’t telling enough, we’re currently in the grips of the former holiday, so what better time than now than to consider the pumpkin pie and its cultural cache?
“Pumpkins are native to North America, but the custard element of this famous open-crust pie likely evolved from French and English pie traditions and came back across the Atlantic with 17th- and 18th-century settlers,” writes Gabrielle Langholtz in America: The Cookbook (out now from the book’s publisher, Phaidon). Billed as the first book to comprehensively document and celebrate the remarkable diversity of American cuisine, America explores in remarkable depth (it’s nearly 800 pages long) the relatively nascent culinary culture of an extraordinarily diverse nation, one steeped as much in the history, tradition and the influence of foreign cultures as the one it has made its own.
“Today, traditional pumpkin pie spices— cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves—are a ubiquitous symbol of autumn and are labeled collectively as ‘pumpkin pie spice,'” writes Langholtz. Herewith, the author shares with GRAZIA a failsafe recipe for the classic pumpkin pie, perfect for Halloween. All treat, and no tricks.
1 parbaked pie shell
1 can (15-oz/425 g) pumpkin purée
1½ cups (355 ml) heavy (whipping) cream
3 eggs, beaten
½ cup (95 g) packed light brown sugar
¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch each of salt and finely ground black pepper
Parbake the pie shell (pastry case) as directed then reduce the oven temperature to 190°C (375°F/Gas Mark 5).
In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin purée, cream, eggs, both sugars, and spices.
Pour the mixture into the pie shell (pastry case) and bake until the centre is just set, 35–40 minutes. Let the pie cool completely before slicing.
This recipe has been extracted from America: The Cookbook by Gabrielle Langholtz, available now through Phaidon.
Tile image: Courtesy of Phaidon
Cover image: Ian Forsyth/Stringer via Getty Images