Cheap Eats:
Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

I think that Thanksgiving will have a different intensity this year. At least that's what I'm guessing as I write this, only a few days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Of course, I'm praying that everything will be over by Thanksgiving, but that doesn't seem likely. Still, I think America's response to these events—the kindness, bravery, love, and sacrifice that we're seeing on all hands—are good reminders that we have much for which we can be thankful.

I am reminded that it is the people who really make the difference in life. I keep hearing stories that make me cry, from brave firefighters lost in the wreckage to shopkeepers handing free tennis shoes to fleeing women in high heels to thousands lining up to give blood. I wept as I looked at photographs of the response around the world: the flowers, the prayers, the lighted candles, the American flags being waved or flown at half staff in so many other countries.

Freedom seems more important than ever. I'm overwhelmed at present with gratitude for what we have, and that we're still strong enough to protect it. I can only hope that other countries, who are not so strong, benefit from our determination to end terrorism. Then we will truly be thankful.

I hope you will all be somewhere that pleases you, and with people about whom you care, when Thanksgiving rolls around. I'm usually with family or friends, but this year I'll be traveling over Thanksgiving (Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand). But that's okay—last year I had two Thanksgivings (one in Canada, one in the US—they're celebrated about a month apart), so I've got one to spare.

When I was growing up, Thanksgivings were usually large, relative-saturated affairs that were, as family gatherings are for most people, mixed blessings, with elements of pleasure, stress, boredom, conflict, and love in varying measures. However, I was always delighted to see my cousins. I also looked forward to favorite dishes that only appeared at Thanksgiving. My list was headed by bashed neeps, onions in cheese sauce, and pumpkin chiffon pie.

My Scottish grandmother made the very traditional (for Scots) bashed neeps, which is the Scottish name for mashed rutabagas. Today, now that I know there is no real rule that limits them to holidays, I make them often during the fall and winter. Just cut off the outside (skin and, usually, a layer of wax, which keeps them from drying out) of the rutabagas, cut them into chunks, toss them into a pot with some water (not too much—you don't want to have to pour too much out, because you lose flavor and nutrients—rutabagas should be about half submerged), cover, and simmer until tender. Add butter, salt, and pepper, and pound mercilessly with whatever utensil you use for mashed potatoes. (Drain partially only if they are swimming in liquid. You need some of the cooking water to make them smooth. If you're uncertain, mash first, then add butter and seasoning later, so you're not pouring that off, too, when you drain the overage.)

The onion dish pretty much consists of a couple of jars of small onions (not pickled, just cooked), along with the oniony liquid, and about a half pound of grated, sharp cheddar. Heat and stir until the cheese melts. A little flour can be added to thicken the sauce, if necessary. This dish was always my great aunt's contribution. She died at 105, so it must be good for you.

My mom's contribution was the pie. I can hardly say how stunned I was the first time I had someone else's pumpkin pie. Pumpkin chiffon pie is this wonderful, airy, mousse-like dessert, and most "real" pumpkin pies are considerably heavier. I can enjoy them—but I still prefer mom's.

The use of the word chiffon in a culinary setting refers to something that is light and delicate in texture. It appears that the term was initially adopted to suggest the texture and airiness of the sheer, elegant fabric known as chiffon.

You could conceivably make this pie in a pre-baked graham cracker crumb crust, but mom always made the crust with vanilla-wafer crumbs, which tradition I have maintained. I think that the difference is considerable. (Graham cracker crumb crusts have their place, but this isn't it.) Put the Vanilla Wafers in a large zip-lock bag, then use a rolling pin to roll them into fine crumbs. If you have children, this part of the project is great for them. Otherwise, a blender or food processor may be faster.


Pumpkin Chiffon Pie


1½ cups vanilla wafer crumbs (it takes about 2 dozen vanilla wafers)

¼ cup sifted confectioners' sugar

6 Tbs. melted butter

Stir sugar and melted butter into crumbs until well blended. Press crumbs into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes. Cool before adding pie filling.

pumpkins pumpkins pumpkins


1 Tbs. gelatin

3 egg, separated

½ cup light brown sugar

1¼ cups canned pumpkin

½ cup milk

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. nutmeg

¼ tsp. ginger

½ cup white sugar

Soak gelatin in ¼ cup cold water.

Beat egg yolks slightly. Add brown sugar, pumpkin, milk, salt, and spices. Cook these ingredients over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thick. (Cooking this in the top of a double boiler, if available, offers greater protection against failure.) Add the gelatin and stir until dissolved. Chill until the mixture begins to set.

Whip egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Gradually stir white sugar into egg whites. Fold egg whites into pumpkin mixture. Fill pie crust, then chill for several hours to set. Serve garnished with whipped cream.

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