Pumpkins aren’t just for kids to carve on Halloween.
They can also learn to turn the orange orbs into delicious pies with an easy recipe, mashing mentors and help from professional pie people.
Recently, students at South Whidbey Elementary School completed a last step in a farm-to-plate culinary lesson. After planting the pumpkins, growing the pumpkins and picking the pumpkins from the school’s sprawling half-acre backyard garden, they learned how pumpkins turn into pies.
They got some help from Whidbey Pies, whose busiest season is underway.
“We roasted 150 pie pumpkins from Sherman Farms,” said Tawnya Penny, manager of Greenbank-based Whidbey Pies. “We decided to roast them all at one time. So all day, we roasted and scraped them out.”
As “pie season” revs into gear from mid-October to the end of December, pie makers prepare for pie mania.
“Staff will start coming in at 2 a.m. to make them fresh and keep up with the orders,” Penny said.
But the company that runs a pie kitchen and cafe out of Greenbank Farm wasn’t too busy to help out some beginning pie pupils. It donated 80 pie crusts to South Whidbey Elementary School’s farm, garden and culinary program.
Students mashed, mushed and smushed bright orange goop in blenders, added spices and carefully poured the ingredients into the pie shells.
“I made mashed potatoes at home after we made them here,” said sixth grader Kjersti Ringsrud. “Maybe I’ll try making a pie.”
Learning how to cook and learning how food is grown are two lessons of many imparted by the South Whidbey School District’s farm program the past several years.
One dozen fifth and six-graders volunteered to make several dishes for the school’s annual Harvest Feast, this year on Nov. 15. The traditional Thanksgiving dinner is served to students and staff and their families, and hundreds of people gather.
While school kitchen staff prepare turkey and trimming, kids are contributing mashed potatoes, pumpkin pies and a kale salad with raw root vegetables and apples.
All the produce is grown in the school’s garden so kids learn the true meaning of “from the garden to the plate,” said Tran Hong, school farm apprentice.
“We mashed 75 pounds of potatoes and just finished making 80 pumpkin pies,” Hong said. “It’s amazing the progress they’ve made. They’re like a mini catering team now.”
The South Whidbey Record asked cooks and kids for a few tips on mastering pies, particularly the seasonal favorite of the moment, pumpkin pie.
Tiny pumpkins called pie or sugar pumpkins are the ones to use for pies. While jack-o’-lanterns may look appealing, they’re very stringy, bland, and turn into watery mush when used in recipes, Penny explained.
“The big difference between using Sherman pie pumpkins and canned pumpkin is the pies from scratch are lighter,” said Penny. “I feel like using Libby’s or another canned pumpkin makes the pie more dense.”
Once upon a time, Crisco and butter comprised the crust of Whidbey Pies. “As we all know now, Crisco isn’t that great for you. Organic coconut oil and butter, I think that’s the key, now,” Penny said. She also recommends using pastry flour, which is much finer and lighter than regular flour.
Pumpkin pie also requires eggs, a sweetener, a mixture of spices and some kind of cream or milk. The recipe the school’s young cooks used comes from “Joy of Cooking,” a cookbook older than most of the students’ grandparents (first published in 1931.)
It calls for 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk or cream, heavy cream or evaporated milk.
Hong’s students kept to one task throughout the mixing in order to cut down on cross contamination.
“I’m in charge of breaking eggs,” said Wyatt Embleton working alongside Weston Klamm. The fifth-grade boys were the smallest team but developed a rhythm mixing eggs, cream, pumpkin puree and the sugar/spice mix before filling up pie crusts.
Hong coated the crusts with an egg wash and strips of aluminum foil to keep the crust crisp and shiny and prevent Cajun-style burnt crusts. It’s easy, she said, just beat one egg yolk. Paint the crust lightly using a pastry brush.
Another tip: Mix sugars and spices together in a separate bowl so the dry ingredients can be poured into the pumpkin puree at the same time. For a spicier pumpkin pie, Hong suggests adding one teaspoon grated fresh ginger, half-teaspoon ground cardamom and one-quarter ground cloves instead of allspice.
Pumpkins can be roasted three days ahead of time. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out seeds and stringy flesh. Cut in half again. Lay flat side down on baking sheet lined with foil. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven until tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. When cool, scoop out into a bowl, remove any removing seeds. Puree in blender or food processor.
South Whidbey Elementary 2018 Harvest Feast Pumpkin Pie
Filling for one 9-inch pie. Make a basic all-butter crust or use a store bought pie crust.
2 cups roasted pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Blend well into smooth mix. Pour into warm pie crust and bake at 375 degrees until the center just barely jiggles when it’s gently shaken, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cool completely on rack. Can be refrigerated for up to two days.