A fresh approach to pumpkin pie
The other day, I called up Lenny Russo, chef/owner of Heartland in St. Paul with a Thanksgiving question: “How would you describe the differences between pies made with canned versus fresh pumpkin,” I asked. “I can’t,” Russo replied. “I’ve never used canned pumpkin—I’ve always used fresh. We make our own mustard here, so last thing we’re going to do is crack open a can of pumpkin.” Heartland, the locavore’s scratch-cooking paradise, buys pie or “sugar” pumpkins (they’re smaller and sweeter than the varieties used for carving) from several area farms each fall and incorporates them in whole-grain risotto, soup, muffins, ice cream, and, of course, pies. Heartland’s pastry chef, Jack Fulton, sweetens puréed pumpkin with white sugar and sorghum, and then adds a blend of warm spices along with a nip of port. Baked in a flaky crust that’s flavored with a whisper of juniper, the average pie eater probably won’t notice much of a difference between the fresh pumpkin and canned. (One of our tasters described the flavor as “a little fresher…squashier.”) But even if Garrison Keillor was right—“The best pumpkin pie you ever had is not all that different from the worst. And it is all just an excuse to use nutmeg.”—we still like knowing where and how our pumpkin was grown.