Everybody loves apple pie, and everybody at the very least has warm feelings about pumpkin pie, which is practically a symbol of the holidays.
Hey, why not combine them in one super-seasonal pie?
This edgy, avant-garde idea was already thought of 350 years ago. The leading English chef of the Restoration period, Robert May, gives a recipe for Pumpion Pie in his magnum opus “The Accomplisht Cook, or the Art & Mystery of Cookery.” It’s a wonderful pie, the apples giving perfume and juiciness to the pumpkin, and May’s pumpkin filling is nicely plush.
And it’s also exotic. It contains the usual pumpkin pie spices cinnamon, nutmeg and clove (plus pepper, which has a sweet aroma atop the pepperiness), but it’s also flavored with herbs: thyme, marjoram and rosemary. The herb flavoring works surprisingly well with pumpkin.
Or perhaps this is not so surprising. After all, winter squashes such as pumpkin are usually treated as vegetables, and herbs go well with them in a savory context, so why not in pie? I personally think rosemary is excellent in pumpkin pie, and if you ever have it at my house, there’s probably going to be some rosemary in it from now own.
But I’m also the kind of guy who likes to pump up the clove flavor by grinding cloves fresh. I recognize that a lot of people are reluctant to mess with the basic pumpkin pie recipe, which is practically set in stone because of its association with Thanksgiving.
Master the caudle
And the traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie tends to be very simple and straightforward because Thanksgiving spread around the country as a symbol of national unity after the Civil War. Pumpkin pie seemed a natural element in the great American feast because it seemed homespun and unpretentious, a symbol of sturdy Yankee self-reliance with no foreign frippery about it.
May’s recipe does admit the foreign frippery of currants, and it includes a typical 17th-century addition to pie, the caudle. This was a mixture of eggs and wine or other ingredients which was usually added to pie after it was baked, often through a hole poked in the crust. For this pie, you’re supposed to remove the whole top crust before pouring in the caudle.
I’m of two minds about this caudle business. It adds a pleasant bit of richness and a glamorous golden surface. On the other hand, it calls for six egg yolks, and this pie already contains 10 whole eggs. I’m thinking it may belong in the foreign frippery category.
An interesting thing about the filling is that May says to cook it before filling the pie. In fact, he calls on bakers to fry it “like a froise,” which was a sort of thick, eggy pancake, often containing bacon. This particular froise is so thick that it’s never going to turn into anything like a pancake because the bottom will burn before the top is ever done. You have to stir it like scrambled eggs (in effect it’s pumpkin scrambled eggs), which seems to give a pleasant crumbliness to the filling’s texture.
Robert May’s ‘Pumpion’ Pie
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the pie pan with the bottom crust.
- Put the pumpkin in a food processor. Add the thyme, rosemary, marjoram, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, cloves, eggs and sugar, and process to a smooth soupy consistency. Transfer this to a buttered medium frying pan and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until thickened.
- Pour the filling into the bottom crust in a pie bpan. Sprinkle the currants over the pie filling. Peel and core the apples, cut in thin slices and arrange on top. Spoon the melted butter over the apples, affix the top crust and bake the pie until the crust is turning tan and you can hear bubbling, 35 or 40 minutes.
- At this point you can let the pie cool for a couple of hours in the usual way, or you can apply the “caudle.” To do so, slice around the top of the pie and lift off the crust. Pour the egg yolks and wine over the apple slices and return the pie to the oven until the caudle sets, about 7 minutes. Return the crust and let cool.
Zester Daily contributor Charles Perry is a former rock ‘n’ roll journalist turned food historian who worked for the Los Angeles Times’ award-winning Food section, where he twice was a finalist for the James Beard award.
Photo: Apple pumpkin pie. Credit: Charles Perry