American Classics 9

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Thomas Jefferson
              Benjamin Franklin
              Founding Father #3

    Greetings, American cooks. If you're a fan of this program, you know darned well that the big, beautiful Star-Spangled Banner behind me signifies an American Classics episode of Good Eats, wherein we attempt to save some poor, put-upon American dish [sounds of a men crying] from the mediocrity and obscurity that, like a cancer grows, when we slack off on our patriotic culinary duty. This personal failing of national character quite frankly, well, from the sound of it, has broken the hearts of your founding fathers.
Behold, Thomas Jefferson, bawling like a little girl.

BF: I hope you're proud of yourself.
TJ: It's like they don't even care.
FF3: And after all we did for you.
BF: He does this all the time. He'll be fine.
AB: Ah. Well, tell me, Mr. Franklin, perhaps you could help me by spinning this drum.
BF: Is this a game of chance of some type?
AB: Of some type, indeed it is. So give it a spin, Ben. [spins the drum]

    Now as usual, this drum has been loaded with cards, each of which bears the name of a classic dish in serious need of revolution or, at the very least, renovation. So let's see what fate has dealt us this day. Uh-huh. Ah. [shows it to Mr. Franklin]

BF: Yes, a favorite of mine from way back.

    You're in luck, America, because today, patriotic redemption comes on a plate, a pie plate. That's right, pumpkin pie, the most American of desserts.

TJ: But what about apple pie?
AB: Are you kidding? Apples are originally from Kazakhstan, don't you know?

    Pumpkins, on the other hand, 100% North American. Problem is, like so much edible Americana, we've allowed convenience to supplant flavor. 99.9% of pumpkin pies produced in this country come from a can. And we all know, cans aren't American. They're French.

TJ: But I like France.
FF3: Go strum your fiddle. Let the man get on with his ...

[Good Eats theme plays]

Pumpkin Patch

GUESTS: Patrons, picking pumpkins
              Headless Horseman
              Peter Pumpkin Eater

    The word "pumpkin" was morphed by early American colonists from the English pumpion, which was itself an adaptation of the French pompon, which came from the Greek pepon, meaning large melon. Which makes sense, since pumpkins, squash, and melons are all members of the cucurbit family, and as such, are fruits, that is, flesh-encased seed packets born of flowers.
    Pumpkins are highly nutritious, and due to their meaty flesh and tough skin, long-keeping, which is why they were valuable winter staples. In fact, once local natives taught the settlers to grow pumpkins, Governor Bradford of the Plymouth colony ordered the settlers to grow them to overt starvation. So crucial were pumpkins to life that one pilgrim penned these lines ...

PILGRIM: "For pottage and puddings and custards and pies, our parsnips and pumpkins are common supplies. Pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon, if it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon." [record needle scratches]
AB: Undoon? I'd work on that if I were you.

    There are many different varieties of pumpkins. Yet of the millions grown in the U.S. each year, most aren't worth eating. That's because as soon as Americans traded in their root cellars for refrigerators, these big old nutrition bombs were relegated to non-culinary duties. Including, but not limited to, accessorizing headless horsemen.

HEADLESS HORSEMEN: [tries on a pumpkin as a head]
AB: That's a good look.

    Transportation units, but only until midnight. And of course, domestic confinement.

PETER PUMPKIN EATER'S WIFE: [pushes a hole out of the side of a big pumpkin in which she is encased]

    Obviously, Peter Pumpkin Eater was in to growing giant pumpkins, a popular competition at state fairs these days. And speaking of competitions, if you have a few spare pumpkins, and maybe a siege engine, like a trebuchet or a catapult or an air cannon, you might want to enter into a local Punkin' Chunkin' competition.

LITTLE GIRL: [off camera] Incoming!
CROWD: [screams and runs away]

    Oh, yeah, that's going to be ... [pumpkin lands behind him, breaks] Um, you might be careful about your aim, though.
    Of course, most pumpkins these days are grown not for their flavor, but rather their ability to stand up to knife, saw, and candle, and all for one night of glory in late October. But that's another show.

Root Cellar

    If, however, taste is truly your goal, I strongly suggest you either grow or seek out a classic baking pumpkin. Now there are dozens of different varieties, but three float immediately to the top of my list. Say hello to the big old Dickinson. Now this is the pumpkin that's most often found in cans of pumpkin purée. Regrettably, I find that the canning process is not kind to the distinct flavor of the Dickinson. And let's face it, it's kind of big and unruly to work with at home.


    Now the Jarrahdale is a really nice choice. Its pale exterior conceals a bright orange flesh with a strong melon aroma, from New Zealand, of all places. Kind of hard to find.


    Which leads me to my favorite. This is the beautiful little sugar "pie" pumpkin, all right? It has a very smooth flesh, a very high concentration of sugar, and its size is perfect for the home culinarian.

Sugar "Pie"

    Now let me say this. If you cannot find a good baking pumpkin, skip the jack-o'-lanterns altogether, and go with butternut squash. Easy to find, almost identical in flavor, and easy to work with in the home kitchen.

Butternut Squash

    Oh, and I should mention that if stored at an optimum 50 to 60 degrees at 50% to 70% humidity, most pumpkins will remain culinarily viable for up to three months.


    Ironically, the vary factors that render the pumpkin something of a symbolic anachronism, made it doubly valuable in the colonial kitchen. Consider, if you will, the only oven housed in the early American home. It was the hearth. What few pots the cook had access to would be placed either over the fire, in front of it, or down in the dying embers.
    Now a traditional pie, that is a crust in a pan with a filling, would have been, well, pretty much impossible here, but keep in mind that the crust of most early pies served only as a vessel. It wasn't typically intended for consumption. And that means, technically speaking, the only thing we need to do to a pumpkin to make it into a pie is fill it with something and park it by the fire. And that's exactly what the early colonists did.

The Kitchen

    Although a proto pumpkin pie could be made simply by hollowing this guy out and filling it with, say, cream, eggs, spices, and honey, which sounds pretty good, I actually like to take a slightly more savory approach. But either way, we must start with a quick bath. These things grow in the dirt, you know?

Pumpkins around the world:
Graseske – Netherlands
Kuebis – Germany
Tikba – Russia
Pumpa – Sweden
Calabaza - Spain

The Kitchen

GUEST: Lady of the Refrigerator

    Our early American pumpkin pie begins with an oven set to 375 degrees.
    Now as for the pumpkin itself, we've got to take off the top, kind of jack-o'-lantern-style. We could use a boning knife for the job, or even a standard serrated blade. A little clumsy, if you ask me. And that's why I like a wallboard saw, which costs between, I'd say, seven and 15 bucks at the local hardware store. And I wouldn't want to live or cook without it.

    So insert the blade with the teeth facing you, and kind of spin the pumpkin into it as you saw. There you go, nice and clean. 4-6 Pound Pie Or Baking

    Now time to remove the inner seeds, the guts, and for that, we reach for yet another multitasker. This is an old-fashioned spade ice cream scoop. I don't think it's very good for scooping ice cream, to be honest, but it's great for taking out pumpkin guts.

    When you finally have the seeds and fibers out, grab down a soufflé or a baking dish large enough to hold the pumpkin. Add a couple of teaspoons of oil, and then rub the pumpkin down. That's going to help to enhance heat absorption. 2 tsp. Vegetable Oil
    Now that the vessel has been properly prepped, it is time to load. And remember, I'm going with more of a savory approach here, but still, technically, a pumpkin pie it shall be. We begin with a tablespoon of unsalted butter, followed by aromatics: half a small yellow onion, diced, one clove of garlic, minced, one small baking or cooking apple, I like Braeburns, about four ounces, peeled, cored, and diced, a teaspoon of kosher salt, a cup of low-sodium chicken broth, and half a cup of cream. Heavy cream would be best. There. Now lid up. 1 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
½ Small Yellow Onion, Diced
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Small Apple, Peeled, Cored
    & Diced
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1  Cup Low-Sodium Chicken
½ Cub Heavy Cream

    [at the oven] Bake for one and a half hours. Now the really groovy thing about pumpkins is that the flesh can absorb and transfer a surprising amount of heat energy to the ingredients within, without losing structural stability.
    [at the refrigerator] The pumpkin, therefore, is an edible cooking vessel, and one packed with high-power nutrition. But of course, I don't like to speak of such things as nutrition without consulting a lady. I mean, of course, the Lady of the Refrigerator! The, the Lady of the... [a thud is heard. AB closes the refrigerator door, and turns around, to find a very large pumpkin in his kitchen]

    A pumpkin? [raps his knuckles on the pumpkin]

LADY OF THE REFRIGERATOR: [comes out from the top]

    Could it be? Oh! I declare, it is the Mistress of Chill.

AB: Tell me, my Lady, how comest thou into such a squash?
LOTR: Well, it seems wherever there is nutrition, there I must go.
AB: Why a pumpkin?
LOTR: Besides the vegetable protein and the fiber, the calcium, the potassium, the really big news here are the alpha and beta carotenes that break down the small intestine to make vitamin A.

    Ah, that means, of course, that both alpha and beta carotene are what we call vitamin A "precursors."

AB: Tell us more of this fascinating vitamin A.
LOTR: It keeps your skin and your mucus membranes healthy. It's a powerful antioxidant, and is known far and wide as a wrinkle fighter. Oh, maybe I will stay here a little bit longer.
AB: Oh, pshaw. A sweet, young nymph thing like you doesn't have to worry about that kind of thing.
LOTR: Oh, no, but it is also critical for eyesight, especially night vision. My night vision is so acute that I could probably creep into your room at night and watch you sleep without you even knowing it.
AB: [seems concerned] Okay. How does that work?
LOTR: It's complicated. Let's just call it a photochemical event and leave it at that.
AB: Okay, fine. So, is it possible to get too much of this fabulous good thing?
LOTR: Oh, why yes, you can. Overdosing is not recommended. In fact, polar bear livers are such concentrated sources of vitamin A that eating just one serving could kill you, dead.
AB: You know, you don't see a lot of polar bear liver down in the megamart, do you?
LOTR: Now you know why. Eat more pumpkin.
AB: Eat more pumpkin.
LOTR: [returns to inside the pumpkin which slides away]

    She's really gourd-gous. Gourd ...

    [at the oven] All right, it is time for the second addition of software here. So remove the lid from your pumpkin. Be careful. It could be steamy. And add two ounces of goat cheese. There we go. No need to stir. And, say, a loose teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves. There. Just slide this back in, and cook for another half-hour with the lid off. 2 Ounces Goat Cheese
1 tsp. Fresh Thyme Leaves

    All right, to serve, use your large spoon, or your spade again, to scrape off some of the inner tender meat off of the shell and into the liquid. Now simply hit the liquid with a stick blender until it is the desired consistency.

AB: [AB has served the pumpkin soup to the founding fathers] Hmm? Hmm? So what do you think?
FF3: That is delicious.
BF: That is delectable.
TJ: That's not pumpkin pie.
AB: Oh. Well, what do you know about food?
TJ: I invented macaroni and cheese. You might have heard of it.
AB: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And Catherine de Medici designed the first fork. Whatever.

    Look, I realize it's not what most of us would think of as a pie, but keep in mind that from a flavor and texture standpoint, it was probably as close to a pumpkin pie as the early colonists ever got.
    Now to make a pumpkin pie that modern Americans would, you know, actually recognize, well, that will require some pumpkin purée. And no, we're not going to open a can.

Pumpkins were so common in early America,
that Boston's port was known as Pumpkinshire.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Effects Guy

    Pumpkin purée is tasty and versatile stuff. And since it's stupid simple to fabricate and it freezes well, there's no excuse not to keep it on hand at all times.

    Now here we have a freshly scrubbed four to six-pound baking pumpkin. And the first thing that you want to do is remove the stem, and usually, that'll just twist or pull right off like that. 4-6 Pound Baking Pumpkin

    Now we need to split this bad boy, and although anything from a lawn mower blade to a machete to a chain saw to a hatchet would certainly do the job, there is a better tool, and one that most cooks would want to at least consider obtaining. And it just so happens that one of my crew members is an expert in this area. Please welcome Effects Guy.

AB: Come on in, Effects Guy.
EG: Mr. B.
AB: Effects Guy.

    Like most of my crew, Effects Guy here moonlights on other jobs when Good Eats is not in production, and he just wrapped a horror film called ...

AB: Great title. Tell 'em.
EG: "Bloody Arbor Day."
AB: "Bloody Arbor Day." I love that. And in the big finale of arbor day, Bloody Arbor Day, pits a rabid ax-wielding lumberjack against a lunch lady armed with ...
EG: ... a cleaver. Now the director wanted her to just, you know, split his melon right open at the end, and then all this stuff comes shooting out of the top of his skull, like blood ...
AB: Yeah, that's, that's, that's great. Now you say melon. Did you practice on melons?
EG: Pumpkins, actually. More like human skulls.
AB: And did you find that the cleaver is the appropriate device to ... [makes cutting sound] ... a pumpkin?
EG: Depends on the cleaver. Asian styles like this one have a thin blade, even back at the spine. Now the wide face makes it easier to deal with a lot of vegetation like you might cut up for a stir-fry.
AB: Yeah, this isn't really what you want to hack through a pumpkin.
EG: Or a human skull.
AB: No.
EG: For that, you want a meat cleaver.
AB: Hey!
EG: The back is wide, the blade angle pretty extreme, 20 to 22 degrees, in this case, and it's heavy.
AB: Yeah, this is a classic butcher's cleaver. It's really designed for hacking, and I do mean, like, hacking through joints and bones and ...
EG: [takes the cleaver and attacks the pumpkin]
AB: Hey, hey, hey.
EG: Yah! Yah! Yah! Now that's what I'm talking about.
AB: I was going to eat that.

    Cleavers usually have a hole right here. That's for storage, since they're typically too wide for a block, and too heavy for a magnetic strip.

AB: Would you mind if I tried, you know, maybe another one?
EG: Unh unh.
AB: I prefer a slightly more subtle approach. Let's say that we had another pumpkin like the one that you ruthlessly destroyed.

    Okay, now this is a wooden mallet. You get this at the hardware store. It's a fantastic multitasker.

EG: Nice.

    And you just set the, you know, the blade calmly right here. No swinging, and you tap, using the wedge-like shape of the blade to just move right through. There.

AB: See? Nice and easy. I guess you would fill that full of ...
EG: Yeah. Red paint and squid meat.
AB: Yeah, I think so. Thank you. Good night to Effects Guy. Thank you very, very much. Off you go.

    So now I would simply take my ice cream spade and ...

AB: [to Effects Guy] yeah, we'll clean up.

... and scoop out the rest of this interior. Now when you get it all cleaned out, sprinkle on a little kosher salt. Why? Because we want the meat to soften, and the salt will pull some moisture out of the meat.

    [at the oven] Place the halves cut side down on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, and roast for 30 to 45 minutes at 400 degrees, or until ...

400 Degrees

    [30 to 45 minutes later] ... the flesh is easily pierced with a sharp paring knife. Yeah, that looks perfect.
    Remove the pan from the oven, and rest on a cooling rack for at least an hour, or you'll burn your finger scooping, that is for sure. And when the time comes, I suggest you get out the very same ice cream spade that you used before, and just scoop out the goodness. Notice I'm kind of turning the shell as I go. Just drop that into the work bowl of your favorite food processor. Mmm, looks like pie already. There.
    Now onto the machine, and process for three to four minutes, or until the flesh is smooth and thoroughly puréed. It should look pretty much like this.
    Now at this point, you could bag, tag, and refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze for up to six months. Or you could make pie right now, in which case you should turn your oven to 350 degrees. Nice.

    Now to make the crust, load six ounces of gingersnaps, along with a tablespoon of dark brown sugar and a teaspoon of ground ginger into your food processor. Spin that until it reaches a crumb consistency, and then pulse while drizzling in an ounce of melted butter. There. That is the consistency you're looking for. 6 Ounces Ginger Snaps
1 Tbs. Dark Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Ground Ginger

1 Ounces Unsalted Butter,

    Now just dump that into a nine-inch glass pie dish and kind of push it down into the corners, and then use a metal pie pan. Press down on top to form the crust shape. There, that's a nice trick.
    [at the oven] All right, center your pie dish on a sheet pan and blind bake, that is cook empty, for ten minutes.

Americans consume around 50 million pumpkin pies yearly, most between November and December.

The Kitchen

    Time to turn our attention to the pie filling. Bring a pound of pumpkin purée to a simmer just over medium heat, and let that cook for two to three minutes, or until it just slightly thickens up. Then work in a cup of Half-and-Half, one-half teaspoon of kosher salt, and half a teaspoon of nutmeg, and it needs to be freshly grated. I mean it. Stir, bring back to a simmer. Should take about a minute, then kill the heat, and let it cool for ten minutes. 1 Pound Pumpkin Puree
1 Cup Half and Half
½ tsp. Kosher Salt
½ tsp. Freshly Grated
    In the meantime, whisk together two large eggs and one egg yolk with three-quarters of a cup of dark brown sugar until it is very, very smooth, like that. Then retrieve the rest of the filling, which should be down to about 140 degrees now, and slowly incorporate, whisking continuously. 2 Large Eggs +
1 Egg Yolk
¾ Cup Dark Brown Sugar

    [at the oven] Now here's where things can get really messy. Leave the crust on the pan, and put it back on the oven rack. Then move the filling to a measuring cup, or something with a spout, and add thusly. Do not be surprised if you have some filling left over. I usually do. Don't fill beyond this point. Slowly move that into the oven and bake 45 to 60 minutes, or until the center is just jiggly. That's about 195 degrees in the center and 205 around the edges. That's just what you want to see.
    [at the countertop] Now let the pie cool for three hours before refrigerating or slicing for service. Me, I like just a little simple whipped cream on top.
    [at the refrigerator] Of course, if you were to bake your pie as five individual, that is five-inch round pies, by dropping the crust baking time to five minutes and the final baking time to 25 minutes, you might want to chill the final product and then brulée them.

    Just sprinkle each pie with, say, a teaspoon of light brown sugar, and then hit it with your propane torch, straight from the hardware store, just until it's melted. There. Now that's what I call cooking with gas. Now just let the pie sit for a couple of seconds so that the sugar will set before serving. 1 tsp. Light Brown Sugar

AB: Go on, dig in, fellas.
FOUNDING FATHERS: [rush in to eat]
AB: Hey, go, go easy. That'll stretch out your hose.

    Well, I hope that we have inspired you to take up your duty as Americans and embrace your own homemade pumpkin pies, free and clear of any canned products which are obviously a plot by the French.

TJ: I like the French.

    There's nothing wrong with the French, mind you. They did invent cooking and fire and some other useful things. But this is America, and we've got our own sense of, well, you know.
    As for other fine pumpkin purée applications, those will have to wait for another show. See you next time.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 09/30/2011