This year will mark my third Thanksgiving in Colombia. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have a conveniently large group of North Americans to celebrate with. Every Thanksgiving, Volunteers and staff gather to eat food prepared with love, remember our heritage, and give thanks for everyone and everything we care about.
As the years have passed, however, my urge to share this holiday with my Colombian host family and friends has grown stronger. After all, they’ve been incredibly important people in my life for quite some time. Since giving thanks and showing love through food is universal, I’ve found that Thanksgiving is a wonderfully appropriate holiday to share cross-culturally.
That said, without the convenience of supermarkets littered with endless turkey mountains, stuffing boxes, chicken stock, cans of pumpkin and cranberry and whatever other fixings, recreating traditional Thanksgiving can be difficult to wrangle.
This year, I’m boiling Thanksgiving down to its essence (for me, anyway) and I’m making my Colombian friends and family pumpkin pie: Pumpkin Pie Thanksgiving has commenced!
For any of you who have celebrated Thanksgiving abroad, you’ll know that delicious pumpkin pie is not an international concept. However, if there’s a will, there’s a way! Libby’s canned pumpkin or no, tasty pumpkin pie can be had by all.
For all you folks abroad seeking to share Thanksgiving, here’s a how-to on creating your very own “Pumpkin Pie Thanksgiving” abroad.
Finding your ingredients can be the most intimidating part of this venture. But don’t despair! Pumpkin pie ingredients can be found just about anywhere, and the pie-making requires just a few simple steps.
1) Make your pumpkin puree
Life without Libby’s requires a little more elbow grease. Fortunately, Pumpkin puree is easy to make, and “Pumpkin” is just one name/variety of pie-appropriate orange squash. Fortunately, orange squash is grown all over the world! Look for squash whose outsides are deep-colored—either green or orange works.
Pro tip: ask your local grocer to slice the squash open for you to judge how orange the flesh is (and to make your kitchen work a little easier!). Choose deep orange flesh for the richest taste.
You can cook your squash using your stove or oven:
Oven-style puree: Slice your squash in half, scoop out the seeds, turn over, and roast face-down for an hour or two until soft. Scoop out the flesh and mash until smooth.
Stovetop puree: cut your squash into pieces small enough to fit into a pot. Steam them, skin-on, with a few inches of water at the bottom until tender enough to mash. (The taste isn’t as rich, but this method saves gas!)
It’s best to do step one the day before you make your pie, as it takes some time for your pumpkin to cool enough to use. Puree freezes just fine, so if you have a freezer, do this however far in advance you need!
2) Assemble your ingredients
Fortunately, a pumpkin pie requires few ingredients. The most difficult component is probably your pie crust. (If you’re terribly frightened of this, crush regular or graham crackers and mix with butter and line a pan with the mixture…it’s not flaky, but it does the job!) Otherwise, your crust requires flour, butter, and cold water.
Besides pumpkin, your pie filling ingredients include sugar, eggs, evaporated milk*, and spices. (For spices, use any combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, all-spice you can get your hands on. Add a touch of cayenne to amp up the spice factor if your baking spices lack kick).
*If cans of evaporated milk aren’t available, it’s easy to recreate: for one cup of evaporated milk, mix 2/3 cup dry milk with ¾ cup water. If you’re feeling decadent, you can use heavy cream instead.
In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Roll dough out to fit a 9 inch pie plate. Place crust in pie plate. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of the pie plate. (Don’t cook!)
2 cups orange squash pulp
1 ½ cup evaporated milk (can also use 1 ½ cup heavy cream)
1 cup sugar (light brown, packed, if it’s available)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon each of whatever spices you have: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom)
Preheat oven to 425 F, or 230 C. Mix sugars, salt and spices in a big bowl. Beat the eggs and add to the bowl. Stir in the pumpkin. Stir in the evaporated milk. Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake for fifteen minutes. Then, reduce the heat to 350 F, or 174 C. Bake another 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
Cool the pie for a few hours, and then eat or refrigerate!
Before I share my pie, I like to give a little background on the history of Thanksgiving, and also what it means to my family and me. Then, I tell everyone that before we eat the pie, we have to give thanks for something special in our life.
Pumpkin Pie Thanksgiving may not be “traditional,” but it provides a reminder that giving thanks is universal. The extra work to make the pumpkin pie makes it that much more special! Being away from family and friends in the US over the holidays can be difficult, but being able to share Thanksgiving love with people you care about in other cultures is a wonderful new thing to be thankful about.