Homemade Pumpkin Puree


Ceci the cat jumped up on her stool to check out the pumpkin action. I know that my grandmother is turning over in her grave because we let the cat sit on a stool and watch us cook. She (the cat) seems to enjoy it. Grandma would hate it!

Fall is in full swing here. The leaves are off the trees and we start most mornings with a fire.  Our spare fridge is full of enough local onions, garlic and potatoes to last until spring. The onion sets I planted to provide green onions through the winter are up and looking perky. Winter salad mix and arugula are flourishing under hoops covered with frost cloth. The kale is going to town on it’s own since freezing temps don’t bother it a bit. The produce shelves are filled with pumpkins, Brussels sprouts and winter squash. I love fall and the foods that it brings.

Salad mix is thriving under frost cloth. It's time to thin it!

Salad mix is thriving under frost cloth.

One pound of onion sets cost $1 at the old hardware store in Marshall. Those green onions will be delicious all winter.

One pound of onion sets cost $1 at the old hardware store in Marshall. Those green onions will be delicious all winter.

Russian kale is beautiful year round. Those little dots on the leaf are snow! It started while I was writing this post.

Russian kale is beautiful year round. Those little dots on the leaf are snow! It started while I was writing this post.

The mustard greens in my spring salad mix went to seed when the weather got hot. One of the seeds jumped the raised bed border and this cold-loving volunteer came up.

The mustard greens in my spring salad mix went to seed when the weather got hot. One of the seeds jumped the raised bed border and this cold-loving volunteer came up. We are set for greens this winter!

I didn’t grow pumpkins this year, but wanted to get a head start on Thanksgiving pie-making by preparing the puree now. I brought home a bunch of the Sugar Pie variety of pumpkins; perfect little pumpkins with great flavor for pies, cakes, breads or just eating roasted or pureed. They weigh 2-4 pounds, produce three to four cups of puree and are cute as a button. Of course you can get pumpkin puree in a can, but puree is an easy thing to make from scratch and is truly worth the small amount of effort required. You’ll want to eat the stuff with a spoon! I gave my husband a taste of the puree and he said it might need a little more sugar. It was so rich and flavorful that he thought I had already dolled it up for pie filling!

Roasted pumpkins ready to be scooped and pureed. You can see where I pricked with a fork to check for doneness.

Roasted pumpkins ready to be scooped and pureed. You can see where I pricked with a fork to check for doneness. Aren”t they gorgeous?


That caramelized edge is like candy.

That caramelized edge is like candy and the cook gets first dibs.

The flesh easily pulls away from the shell.

The flesh easily pulls away from the shell.


In the food processor.

Roasted Pumpkin Puree:  Preheat oven to 400F. Rinse and dry the pumpkin. Beware: pumpkins are slippery devils when wet, so dry before you attack with a sharp object! Using a sturdy knife or cleaver, cut off the stem and cut the pumpkin in half vertically. Scoop out the seeds and fibers and feed to your chickens or toast the seeds for a tasty snack. Put a piece of parchment paper in a rimmed baking dish or cookie sheet and oil the parchment with olive or vegetable oil. Place the pumpkin halves, cut side down, on the parchment. Bake for 30 minutes and check for doneness. A fork will go right through the skin and pulp when they’re ready. I usually let then go a few more minutes so that the flavor concentrates and the flesh starts to pull away from the skin.

Remove from the oven and scoop out the pumpkin flesh. You can let the pumpkin cool first if you’d like. The cook gets to consume as many of the caramelized brown edges as she wants to! Puree the flesh in a food processor or run through a food mill until smooth. It’s now ready to serve as a side at dinner or to bake into all kind of goodies. The puree will keep for days in the fridge and freezes beautifully. I freeze it in jars, leaving an inch or two of airspace at the top for expansion. You can use your favorite freezer container or a resealable freezer bag. The bags can be frozen flat on a cookie sheet and then stacked for compact storage.

Now that wasn’t too hard, was it? You just won’t believe how good this stuff is!  Some of this batch of puree went into Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing. I made it for my pumpkin-loving niece and it was a hit with the whole family at Sunday dinner. The last sliver tasted pretty good breakfast too.

Happy fall to you. Now run out and get yourself a pumpkin!



Nestled in the freezer until pie-making time. The stale bread is for my favorite Italian soup. I'll share it soon.

Nestled in the freezer until pie-making time. The stale bread is for my favorite Italian soup. I’ll share it soon.


Sister’s Pie-panic Calmed by Onion & Lemon Sponge Pies!

Guyere, onion and mushroom pies

Guyere, onion and mushroom pies

Pie seems ever present in my life recently. All the pie chat moved my sister, Mary, to face her personal Pie-panic and she asked for my help. It takes a brave woman to face pie fear and I was confident that we could have a homemade-crust breakthrough!

We got together on a Saturday afternoon for the Pie-panic therapy session. She requested an onion, mushroom and gruyere savory pie. Lemon sponge pie seemed like a great idea for dessert. We made two of each single-crust pie so that we could feed our parents and spouses that night. The evening was a big hit and I expect we will do it again before too long. We just have to let the cholesterol clear a bit since there is a stick of butter in each single crust. Luckily, Mary brought some excellent red wines that may have offset some of it. And had large servings of a delightful green salad and served fresh berries on the lemon sponge pie to redeem ourselves.

photoThere were a couple of snafus along the way.  The first was leaving my student unsupervised. Somehow, in a matter of  minutes, an extra cup of flour ended up in the mix. Measuring distraction can happen to anyone, especially when you’re doubling a recipe, but since this dinner had a friendly audience, we decided to forge ahead. A little extra water and butter saved the day.  Then I realized that one of my four pie plates was at a friend’s house on the other side of town. While the dough chilled, I popped down to nearby Weaverville to get one. Mary sliced all the onions for the savory pies while I was gone. Here’s Sister’s take on the Pie-panic session and the onion slicing tips I gave her.

Our goal, bringing Pie-panic to the surface and then sinking it for good, was accomplished. The crust was much crisper and less flaky than usual but in spite of that, the resulting dinner was top-notch. As society columnists in small Southern newspapers used to say : “A good time was had by all.” I just love that phrase. Sums things up nicely doesn’t it?

So let’s get down to the recipes. My pie crust mantra is keep it cold, keep it cold, keep it cold!.  There’s a great basic crust that works for sweet or savory pie that I adapted slightly from the Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It’s simple, super flaky and easy to handle. It’s my go to crust. For the onion filling, I checked out a bunch of recipes. Some were too elaborate, some were too bland and none seemed perfect. So I just used my noggin and made one up. Lemon sponge pie recipes are everywhere. It’s an old-fashioned pie so lots have accumulated over the years. It tastes almost like lemon bars but creamier and a nice brown crust that develops on top as it bakes. Yum!  Don’t forget my pie crust tips.

Enjoy your pie dinner!

Dana’s Plate Go To Pie Crust (adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

(makes one double or two single crust pies)


2 1/2 cups of flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon table salt

2 sticks chilled unsalted butter (8 ounces or 1 cup)


  1. Cut the chilled butter into 1/2 inch cubes and place in the fridge for a few minutes. In a large, wide bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Retrieve the cold butter pieces and scatter over the dry mixture. Using a pastry blender or two table knives, cut the butter into the flour until the largest pieces are the size of small to medium peas.  Variation in size is a good thing.
  2. If the butter has warmed up, refrigerate for 10 minutes. Drizzle the ice water over the flour-butter mixture and uses a plastic or floured wood spatula to stir it together just until a ragged lump is formed. Then use your hands to knead the dough a few times, incorporating any loose bits as you go. Working quickly so that the dough stays cool, form the mass into a ball.
  3. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Flatten the wrapped dough into discs. Refrigerate for at least an hour and up to a week. To freeze, add another layer of wrap or place in a resealable plastic bag for up to two months. To use, defrost in the fridge for a day.
  4. Generously sprinkle flour over your counter or other rolling surface and the rolling pin. Unwrap a disc (leave the other in the fridge until you need it). Place it on the floured surface and sprinkle more flour on top. Instead of rolling out this very hard disc, whack it a dozen times with a floured rolling pin. Lift and rotate the dough after every couple of whacks. If the dough sticks, use a bench scraper or spatula to get the dough off the surface and sprinkle the surface with more flour. If the dough gets soft, scape it onto a cookie sheet or piece of plastic wrap and get it back into the fridge for up to 10 minutes. You’ll have a larger flat disc after the whacking. Flour the pin again and roll, lift and rotate the dough until it reaches the desired size and shape according to your recipe.


Savory Onion and Gruyere Pie


1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 large onion halved root to stem end and thinly sliced in the same direction

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup wine (white, marsala or madeira)

One teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

salt and pepper

6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated coarsely

Pastry for a single crust pie


  1. Add olive oil and butter to a large skillet or wide dutch oven and melt the butter. Add all the onions and stir to coat with oil/butter mixture. Continue to cook over moderate heat, covered, for about ten minutes until the onions are softened. Stir a couple of times. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the onions are browned and very soft. Add a splash of water if the onions begin to stick. This will take 45-60 minutes. After 30 minutes, add the sliced mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Add the wine to the browned onion mixture and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat.
  3. Roll out your pie crust to 1/8 inch and transfer to a 9 1/2 inch glass pie pan. Trim crust overhang to one inch and turn under itself. Crimp or finish crust edge as desired. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork several times.
  4. Line the crust with foil and fill will dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes, remove the foil and weights and cook about five minutes longer. The crust should be golden brown. Cover the edge with foil or a crust guard if it starts to get too brown.
  5. Spread 2/3 of the Gruyere into the crust and cover with the onion mixture. Sprinkle the remaining Gruyere on top of the onions.
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and onions are sizzling. Let the pie cool for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.




Prize Winning Tourtiere (Quebecois Meat Pie) Recipe

Here’s the Tourtiere recipe adapted from Saveur Magazine’s 150 Best Recipes in their 150th issue. It’s this pie that won best in show at the Retro Pie Contest. I realize that there are accent marks in Tourtiere and Quebecois, but unless I can figure out how to insert them, there won’t be any this time! No disrespect intended. This is home cooking at its best.

I can’t wait until a cold day next winter to whip up this pie that is full of spices and cider. The buttery crust is really flaky and has a rustic look.  It’s a good make ahead recipe, keeps well and is excellent left over. This could become a Christmas Eve tradition at our house!





2½ cups flour
1½ tsp. dry mustard powder
½ tsp. lemon zest
½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
Juice of 1 lemon

1 egg, mixed with 2 tbsp. milk, for egg wash (optional)


1½ cups finely chopped russet potatoes
2 tbsp. canola oil
1½ lb. ground pork (or combination of pork and ground beef or turkey)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups apple cider or hard cider
3/4  tsp. celery seed
3/4  tsp. ground cloves
1/2  tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4  tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4  tsp. ground ginger
3 bay leaves
3/4 Freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp. kosher salt


1. Whisk together flour, mustard, zest, and salt in bowl; add butter, and using a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut mixture until pea-size crumbles form. Leave some bigger crumbles too for flakier crust. Add lemon juice and 7 tbsp. ice-cold water, and stir with a fork until dough just comes together. Don’t overwork. Transfer to a work surface, and form into a ball; divide into two halves and form each into a disk. Wrap disks tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of water to a boil; add potatoes, and cook until tender, about 6 minutes. Drain, and mash until mostly smooth; set aside. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add pork, and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, onions, and carrot, and cook, stirring, until soft and pork is well browned, about 20 minutes. Add cider, celery seed, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, bay leaves, and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until liquid evaporates. Remove from heat, and stir in mashed potatoes; let filling cool completely. IMG_2312



3. Heat oven to 400°. Place one dough disk on a lightly floured work surface. Give the disk 20 good whacks with a floured rolling pin, turning 1/4 turn every two or three whacks. Add more flour to work surface and pin as needed. Roll out with the rolling pin, turning periodically to prevent sticking, until ¼” thick. Transfer to a 9″ pie dish, and let excess hang over edge. Pour filling into pie dish, and smooth top. If filling has been chilled, stir over low heat to bring to room temp. Don’t heat more than that. Whack and roll remaining dough disk until ¼” thick, and place over filling. Trim dough sheets to within 1″ of edge of pie dish, fold edge underneath itself, and crimp with your fingers or a fork, if you like. Brush with egg wash if desired, and using a paring knife, cut four 2″ slits in the top of the pie. Bake until pastry is golden brown and filling is heated through, about 50 minutes.

NOTE: Tightly covered filling and tightly wrapped crust can refrigerated for 48 hours. Bring filling to room temp by stirring over low heat for a minute or two. Let filling cool to room temperature if it gets too hot. Pie slices keep well in the fridge for several days. In summer, it’s good at room temperature. To reheat a pie, bake in a 250 oven until warmed through.



A Prize-Winning Pie, Oh My!

I still can’t believe I won the 13th Annual Retro Pie Contest in Asheville! There were 78 pies entered and eight crust-only entries from serious bakers. From Slow Foodies to professional bakers, cookbook authors to enthusiastic junior bakers, there was tons of talent.  Lots of pie categories add to the fun: historic, locally sourced, heirloom recipe, children’s, men’s, first pie, fruit, meat, custard, chocolate, tarts, small pies, gluten-free, most creative, prettiest, best in show and a few more I can’t remember.  There are non-pie categories too like best retro outfit, best retro apron and so on. My favorite is at the end: thought-you-should-have-won-but-didn’t category. You can nominate yourself or someone else for this and it gets pretty funny. If you taste all 78 pies you get a prize too. And maybe a tummy ache!

IMG_2619The mood was festive with a cloudless Carolina blue sky, 80 degree temperatures, tents in a lovely garden setting and toddlers in retro aprons. There was a table full of prizes to admire and clothes lines hung with vintage aprons. In the freezer were a couple of pounds of Benton’s Bacon, the very special Smokey Mountain bacon from Tennessee that is always back-ordered, as top prizes. There were kegs of local beer, bottles of wine and the gallons of cold water. Tasting 78 pies is very thirsty business.

IMG_2625I entered the small pie category with my blueberry hand pies, and the meat category with a Tourtiere Quebecois, a highly spiced, mostly pork pie traditionally served on Christmas Eve in Quebec.  My crusts came out really flaky so I was feeling pretty good and entered the crust only category too.



My crust only entry.

My crust only entry.

How It Worked

Bakers registered, got numbers (the judging is blind) and a serving spoon and set up their entries at the table for their category. Talented hubby Paul painted adorable signs to go with my entries. He has a hollow leg, loves pie and really gets into the spirit. He tastes soooo many pies!  More than 100 attendees signed up to judge one or more categories. You must taste all the pies in a category to vote. Everyone votes for Best in Show, costumes, prettiest pie and most creative pie. The crust only contest is the most serious. The judges are real pie experts.

Once the ballots were in we took our spoons and little plates and tasted as many pies as we could stand. A few brave folks did taste all of them! I could manage only about three dozen bites. I have to admit , the last few were pushing it. Many revelers were in pie comas by the end. While the ballots were being counted, a bunch of us entertained the pie revelers with bluegrass and old-time music. Not an easy feat after all that tasting.

My tasting plate after more than 30 bites. Yes, there is a pea and a blueberry. The variety was endless.

My tasting plate after more than 30 bites. Jackson Pollock watch out!

Amazing Entries

Here are just a few of the incredible entries. Don’t you want to run to the kitchen and make a pie right now?  And eat it too of course.

The competition was tough in the small pie category!

The competition was tough in the small pie category!



Fruit entries.

Fruit entries.

Vegetarian Everything in The Garden Pie.

Vegetarian Everything in The Garden Pie.



And the Winners Are…

Finally the winners were announced. Everyone pulled up chairs or stretched out on the grass to digest all that pie and hear the results. Winner of the small pie category was me! I selected a very nice vintage apron as my prize. Near the end of all the categories was the crust only announcement. I tied with a very seasoned baker for my savory flavored crust and came away with a bag of special Carolina Ground pastry flour. Carolina Ground is locally grown and milled wheat flour that bakes up like a dream. Excited to have won two cool prizes, I felt humbled in the company of so many great bakers!


Making the blueberry jelly that filled the hand pies.

Making the blueberry pepper jelly that filled the hand pies.


Cookbook author Ashley English won the tart category with her Peach plum tart with Mint Pesto. Delicious and beautiful.

Cookbook author Ashley English won the tart category with her Peach plum tart with Mint Pesto. Delicious and beautiful.


Prize winning berry margerita pie.

Prize winning berry margerita pie.


Annie Erbsen's gorgeous gluten-free lemon pie. She has got the gluten-free crust thing down! And she won the prize for best retro outfit too.

Annie Erbsen’s gorgeous gluten-free lemon pie. She has got the gluten-free crust thing down! Annie won the prize for best retro outfit too.


Historic winner, shrimp heads and all!

Historic winner, shrimp heads and all!

At last it was time for Best in Show. The prizes were a cookbook, A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies by Ashley English (autographed because Ashley, her husband and her adorable toddler were there!), and a pound of that excellent Benton’s Bacon. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I won for the Quebecois meat pie! It’s really fun to win when you don’t expect to at all!


One of my Best in Show Tourtiere practice pies.

The best in Show Ballot Box.

The best in Show Ballot Box.

Paul was as excited as I and we were still basking in the pie glow the next day. I ordered a new pie dish to celebrate. We had the last hand pies for breakfast and the last of the meat pie (it was my practice pie) for dinner with home-grown lettuce and Buttermilk Chive Dressing. Like a lot of stews and meat dishes, the flavor of the meat pie gets better overnight.

Paul and Mom having a big time!

Paul and Mom having a big time!


The wonderful hosts addressing the pie crowd.

The wonderful hosts addressing the pie crowd.

Thanks to Barbara Swell, contest founder, for getting me to bake that first pie a couple of years ago, and to my family who tasted all my practice pies this year when I got serious!  This year I will make pie often. I’m inspired to bake more and now have my eye on a home-made English Muffin recipe that was on one of my favorite blogs, Food52, last week.  If I can conquer pie crust, I can take on twice cooked yeast breads, right?

I’ll post the meat pie and hand pie recipes later this week.

In the meantime, here are pie crust tips from my recollections of watching my grandmother bake and from research that helped me become a pie maker.

Pie Crust Tips

  • Keep the pie dough cold. Chill the flour, butter and even the entire pie before baking. Handle the dough as little as possible since your hands are warm. Anytime it starts to feel soft, put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  • Use a pastry cutter with blades, not wires. The blades cut through the coldest butter. In lieu of a cutter, use two knives.  If crumbling the dough with your fingers, put it back in the fridge to chill half way through.
  • Most crust recipes call for pea-sized crumbles. Be sure to leave some larger and make some smaller for nicer texture.
  • Pound your dough disk with the rolling-pin 20-30 times before starting to roll. This makes the rolling time shorter and doesn’t melt the butter in the crust. Plus, it’s fun! Click here for a demo. 
  • After trimming the crusts, turn the dough under itself for a nice, high edge.
  • A silicon rolling mat and non-stick rolling-pin are invaluable, but rolling with a pin on waxed-paper or a stone (stone keeps the crust cold) counter top works too.
  • Keep your rolling-pin and rolling surface well floured. This seems basic but it’s essential.
  • In case I haven’t said it enough, keep the dough and rolled crusts cold!
  • HAVE FUN. If it’s not working, cover the dough or rolled crust with plastic wrap, put it in the fridge and take a break. It will keep.

I hope you’re inspired to bake a pie, bring friends together to eat it and even host a pie cook-off of your own. You’ll love it!

The Pie Contest Looms

These wonderful friends of mine, Barb and Wayne, are pie people.  Barb is a master pie maker, teaches pie classes, has written a pie cookbook and can bake a perfect pie in a wood stove. She believes that pies bring people together. I think she’s right! Their adult daughters dress in retro housewife dresses and make fabulous pies. Their friends make pies. Wayne loves pies, eats lots of pies and helps stage their giant pie contest each year. He also has his musician friends (Paul and I are in this category) play old-time and bluegrass music for the pie crowd while the ballots are being tabulated. This takes a while since there are multiple categories, about 100 entries and lots of judges (every guest tastes and judges).


I had never been a pie maker. Cobbler, cake, cookies, icebox pies and rustic tarts yes, but not real baked pies with scratch crusts. When I got the urge to do something with seasonal fruit or at holidays, I purchased a convenient pie crust from the dairy section that come ready to unroll. I remember watching my grandmother make pies and even cute little hand pies for us kids too. I like the hand pies best because there is a higher ratio of flaky crust to filling.  Sometimes too much fruit filling can overwhelm me! We called the little pies tarts. Other people must have too because along came these store bought hand pies with a strange chemical taste in the background, called Pop Tarts! As I child I was fascinated by them but never related them to grandma’s tarts. Of course Pop Tarts and ready made crust are never even mentioned by the serious pie people, so let’s pretend I never brought it up.

images-2With some nudging from Barb, I entered the contest. It’s a wacky, friendly kind of contest with super bakers and novices competing. Two years ago, I took a whack at pie crust the morning of the party. I think it got too warm. It had to be pressed into a tart pan and I can’t remember what I filled it with. It was good, but not a pie. In hindsight, I should never have used that recipe from Cooks Illustrated. It had all these extra ingredients, like vodka, and pages of directions that took the fun out of it and made me feel distressed. Last year, I enjoyed making a regular old butter pie crust with a lemon sponge filling that was good but not great and not quite beautiful either.

This year, for some reason, I’m really into it.  I’ve decided to master, pie crusts, pizza dough and several other types of baked goods that I have avoided in the past. I think I had pastry and yeast dough phobias. I’m good at eating them, but afraid to make them! The truth is that once you make these things 8 or 10 times, the walls come down and it starts to feel natural. I’m getting to that point with pie crust. Baking is part of my heritage and it’s time I put my pie on the table!

imagesAt the pies contest/party there are always way more sweet than savory pies. My husband goes nuts over the savory ones so he asked that I make one this year.  Savory pies are especially good when you’ve already tasted 50 sweet pies and can’t face any more sugar!  I tested a few last month and settled on one. I can’t reveal what it is yet, but it’s delish! I also started thinking about my grandma’s little hand pie tarts and how much I liked those.  Then came a post from one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, on hand pies and I had to give them a try. I’m using the Smitten Kitchen recipe as a base and improvising from there. Aren’t I brave and creative to have two entries?  I served the savory pie last week and my husband and parents couldn’t stop eating. The doughs and fillings are ready  so that I can do a dry run on both entries tomorrow. We’ll have the results of my test drive for supper.

images-1I just wish I’d had Barb’s pie cookbook on my shelf a long time ago. Then I’d be a real pie queen by now instead of just a novice pie princess! Her book is The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy by Barbara Swell. The recipes really work and the tips are great! You’ll find it at Amazon in case you want to jump on the pie bandwagon.

The contest is Saturday afternoon and I’ll have dough for both kinds of crusts in fridge before my head hits the pillow Friday night.  On Saturday morning I will remove those smooth discs of buttery dough from the refrigerator and I will roll, fill and bake with aplomb.  Stay tuned for all the details and the recipes next week.  Wish me luck!1940s My-T-Fine Pudding & Pie Mix Filling vintage advertisement illustration