Expat Adventures: What Pumpkin Makes the Best Pumpkin Pie?

Thanksgiving is coming around the bend again – and with it, turkey or tofurkey (if you can find either abroad!), cranberry sauce, and lots and lots of pie. (Thanks to Natalia Y., @foxfox for the header photo.)

This holiday is the undisputed best for American food, but it’s easy to feel sad as an expat. You may be far from your family, you can’t stream American football on the television, and you can’t find any of the ingredients you’d normally use to create a feast.

Here’s the good news: Pumpkins are grown on every continent except Antarctica. Which means there’s a good chance you can bake up a Thanksgiving favorite: pumpkin pie.

According to a 2017 survey, the majority of American adults (36%) say pumpkin pie is their favorite. And it’s no wonder, pumpkin and the warm spices included – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves – are the flavor of fall alongside the popularity of pumpkin spice drinks!

Here’s the thing though. I… okay, I have something to admit. I really, really don’t like pie crust. 😳

I know, I know, I’m an embarrassment.

(But I do make a fantastic key lime pie with a cookie crumb and date paste ‘crust’ 🙂

That’s why for my first time ever baking pumpkin pie, I looked out a crustless recipe that ended up having incredible results.

A personal pumpkin pie competition

My crustless recipe recommends using canned pumpkin puree, as many pumpkin pie recipes do. But while you may be able to find that in the “American” section of your supermarket, here’s the secret: You don’t need to spend an exorbitant amount on a 15oz can of Libby’s.

Whether you can’t find or don’t want to use it, you’re going to have to choose a pumpkin of your own.

For my pumpkin pie experiment, I chose to make two pies: one with hokkaido and one with butternut squash.

A few fun facts about pumpkins…

  • 🎃 They’re fruits, not veggies (and they have a ton of edible seeds!)
  • 🎃 While they now grow everywhere around the world, they originated in North America
  • 🎃 More than 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin are produced in the U.S. every year (more than 680 million kg)
  • 🎃 Despite this, the largest pumpkin ever grown was done by a Belgian horticulturist and weighed 2,624 pounds (1190 kg)

And the biggest shocker…

🎃 When you open your can of pumpkin puree, it may actually be butternut squash and not pumpkin at all!

But although it may be surprising, what does it actually mean? We use the word pumpkin to describe large, round and yellow/orange versions of this fruit. But there isn’t a huge difference between pumpkins and squash – and in fact, pumpkin is simply a type of squash that happens to be rounded and yellow-orange.

It’s all in the association, baby!

Either way, it’s super easy to puree your own pumpkin…

Here’s how to make your own pumpkin puree:

  • Set your oven to 300F / 150C.
  • Get a long, sharp knife and cut off both ends (the step and little hard button on the bottom) as well as any flaws.
  • Cut the pumpkin in half height-wise.
  • Use a spoon to clean out the seeds. Put them aside to roast – they’re super healthy and high in zinc!
  • Put olive oil on a baking tray and place pumpkin halves face down. You only need to make sure the parts touching the tray are coated in oil. While you can use a baking sheet, the juices will flow onto the tray anyway so it’s really a lost cause.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes.
  • Remove, let cool, place in a large circular bowl and mash with a fork. There may be some lumps you can’t get out – I don’t mind these, but if you do, you can use a food processor instead. It’s also quite easy to scoop out the pumpkin flesh from the rind if you haven’t overbaked it. This will be smoother and easier to mash.
  • Refrigerate for up to one week and use in your favorite dessert recipe.

For an average hokkaido or butternut squash, this will get you about 22 oz. or 3 cups of pumpkin puree – perfect for one pumpkin pie and a lil extra to add to yogurt or a smoothie, or a slightly larger pie than the recipe entails.

Making pumpkin pie with hokkaido pumpkin

Credit: Markus Winkler @markuswinkler

My first pumpkin pie was made with hokkaido. Baking and mashing went as planned: Hokkaido pumpkins are very easy to slice and scoop.

I followed the recipe exactly, which meant putting most of a full can of condensed milk and a half cup of maple syrup in it.

I greased the pan lightly before before putting it in the oven, and though it was possible to slice and serve, this version was less likely to hold together. (Read: way more fun to eat out of the glass dish if you’re eating on your couch. Not so much if you’re bringing to a gathering.)

Otherwise, the pie came out great – a little brown on the top, perfect texture.

But it was very sweet. I vowed to cut the sugar next time I tried it.

For the second experiment, keep in mind this is not a food blog and the pumpkin pie doesn’t have to look gorgeous to taste amazing 😉

Making pumpkin pie with butternut squash

Credit: Andie Kolbeck, @kolbecka

I returned to my trusty crustless recipe, eager to see if there would be a difference in taste.

Butternut squash is a bit tougher both to slice and scoop than hokkaido pumpkins. Their outsides tend to be harder, so be very careful and use a sharp knife.

I highly recommend scooping the flesh out of the butternut squash shell rather than mashing it. The shell is much harder and you will be pulling it out of your teeth if you leave it in (learn from my mistakes).

Since the first pie was very sweet, I cut the sugar by half in the second try. (This meant a little less than half of a can of evaporated milk and a quarter cup of maple syrup. Still a lot for non-American tastes, but much better than before 🙂 )

The problem was… my glass dish was taken.

So I had to improvise.

Thankfully, the tin did not influence the shape or taste, and despite being a little “free-formed,” the pie was still circular enough to resemble a pie and be sliced into typical pie shape 🙂

The consistency and texture was good and the pie held together well – perhaps because there were fewer liquids. It also came away easier from the tray than the hokkaido, but this is probably coincidence.

The less sweet version definitely wins out here. If you make this recipe, cut the sugar in half!

Which pumpkin makes the best pie?

Okay okay, but which one is better?

Honestly, in comparing the pumpkin pie made from hokkaido and from butternut squash, the main difference I noticed was in how much sugar you added. Both made excellent bases for pumpkin pie with little variation in color or taste – and this can explain why the canned puree fools you effortlessly!

Although it was a tie, I prefer hokkaido because it’s easier to cut and the seeds are bigger and meatier for roasting (less for the compost pile).

Now it’s your turn!

Get the recipe to bake your own delicious, crustless pumpkin pie.

The crustless pumpkin pie recipe was dreamed up by Dini, a fellow serial expat who grew up in New Zealand by way of Sri Lanka. She has also lived in Australia, the U.S., and Canada.

Holiday shopping as an expat…

We all know what follows Thanksgiving, right? Black Friday and a whole slew of other consumerism-fueled shopping days leading up to Christmas.

In Denmark, there isn’t just Black Friday – there is, apparently, Black November.

Whereas I used to love Christmas shopping as a kid (mainly cuz I got new clothes at steal prices), I’ve become aware in recent years just how environmentally unsustainable it is. There are better ways to spend these days, including packaging your leftovers; donating your time to a homeless shelter, senior home, or soup kitchen; or devising creative, package-free decorations and gifts.

If you are shopping this year, here are some tips you can use no matter where you live your expat life.

  • Buy local to reduce shipping fees, packaging waste and emissions,
  • Support good businesses that use renewable materials and reduce resource use and packaging waste,
  • Consider experience gift ideas that will stay with your recipient for much longer than any “stuff,”
  • Try zero waste gift wrapping for the eco-conscious.

Read More: How to Make Black Friday More Sustainable

Want to support creative expat content this holiday season? Consider a one-time donation that fuels my writing (and my pumpkin pie habit 😉

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