Around 20 years ago, a confluence of ideas and events led me to the conclusion that I should go vegan. I quietly conveyed this to my younger brother while we were standing in my kitchen, and he paused. He put his hand on my shoulder, gave me a deeply concerned look, and said “Oh, no, dude. You really don’t want to be one of… you know… those people.” But my mind was made up. And thus, my interesting in cooking launched — this was a long time ago, and if you wanted to be vegan in the Midwest, that meant that you were going to have to seriously learn how to make your own food.
A few months later, it was Thanksgiving time. I was still learning how to cook and bake halfway edible meals, and I wanted to approach a big Thanksgiving feast with enthusiasm — if you’re going to do the whole “meat-free” thing, Thanksgiving is the time to really prove to yourself that you can do it. So, I pulled together a bunch of recipes from various cookbooks and corners of the internet, putting together a menu of all the usual faves: garlicky mashed potatoes, a savory stuffing, some depressing, off-the-shelf substitute that is supposed to fill that turkey-leg-shaped void that you know you’re going to miss.
But what of dessert? For me, the definitive Thanksgiving dessert is pumpkin pie. Not that over-spiced, heartless, grocery store bakery puck that is baked with contempt by some guy in a hairnet with nicotine stains on his fingers, a crooked tribal tattoo on his throat, and hate in his heart. No, I’m talking the genuine article: homemade pumpkin pie, my friends. The kind that tastes better because it has grandma’s love baked right in.Vegan pumpkin pie — how hard can it be? Over the next many years, I found out: the perfect vegan pumpkin pie is freaking hard.
Everyone has their own favorite, whatever combination of spices and preparation that they grew up with. But every recipe I tried fell short. And not just a little short, but really not even close to what I was looking for. They all baked into weird goopy messes, or the balance of spices was way off, or the ingredients were a pain to find and, ultimately, still didn’t come together right. I nearly gave up.
But, I’m a man of determination. If I want a perfect pumpkin pie, I’ll travel to hell and back to get it, poking Satan right in his big dumb eyes like a Three Stooges short along the way if I have to. If you’ve ever had a really good pumpkin pie, you’ll understand.
So, each year, I started tweaking my recipes. They still came out… meh. But, I could start to identify changes that had a noticeable impact in the right direction. Some years, I’d bake as many as 6 or 7 pumpkin pies in November, making systematic variations across all of them, like a good scientist. I learned to intuit what changes would have what effects. I was becoming one with the pumpkin pie gods, each year taking another step up the mountain to the peak of Pumpkin Pie Olympus.
Until, finally, in 2016, I put all of the pieces together. I took a bit of this, and a bit of that — lessons that I had learned along the way — and synthesized them into a single unification. An idea. A pumpkin pie-dea.
And that, dear friends, is how I came to create what is — for me — the perfect vegan pumpkin pie. It might not be perfect for you, but it’s perfect for me. And, in there, I think, is actually a really, really important lesson for life.
Do what makes you happy. If the world isn’t providing you with a context that meets your needs then, ultimately, you have to do it yourself. Life is short — far too short to settle for pumpkin pie that doesn’t genuinely and truly make you happy.
With that, I share with all of you, my own, personal, pumpkin pie recipe, exactly as I wrote it back in 2016. It might not end up being for you, but it’s always going to be the one for me.
Pumpkin Pie Filling, Ingredients
2 cups canned pumpkin
1 cup evaporated soy milk*
3/4 cup granulated cane sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tablespoon dark molasses (to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground dry ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated or just some pre-ground bullshit
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice**
1/8 tsp ground cloves**
*If you can’t find evaporated soy milk, you can just take 3 cups of unsweeted, unflavored soy milk, put it on low heat and wait for it to evaporate down to one cup. You want it to simmer and steam, but NOT boil. Note that this can take many, many hours to complete.
**You can also use just 1/8 tsp of either allspice *or* cloves if you don’t have both. Definitely *do not* use 1/4 tsp of cloves to make up for missing the allspice; the taste is far too strong.
- Pre-heat oven to 425°F.
- Line a 9-inch pie pan with your dough of choice. Cover with plastic and chill in fridge until ready to use.
- To prepare the filling, mix all ingredients until smooth and blended. Definitely easiest when done in a food processor or blender, but you can work that shit manually too, impressing your friends and scaring small children in the process. Make sure that you mix/process it well enough to where it gets a bit “airy” — you don’t want to overwork it, but make sure that there’s some air in there so that it’s not too dense (unless you like it that way).
- Pour the filling into your prepared crust and smooth over the top. Make sure that you don’t goof up by leaving a little “hill” or “mound” in the middle — that’s some rookie shit right there. Make it actually flat the whole way across.
- Throw it in the oven, and bake 10 minutes. THEN reduce oven temperature to 350F and bake until filling is set, about 25 more minutes (OR LESS DEPENDING ON YOUR OVEN). DON’T open the oven when you drop the temperature down — just turn the temp down and leave it.
- About 10 or so minutes before the prescribed baking time is up, gently jiggle your pie. When the only part that moves is a 1-inch circle in the middle, it’s ready to pull out. The residual heat of the pie will finish the baking process.
- Leave the pie out to cool completely, might take a few hours. You don’t want to put it in the fridge right away, otherwise it’s going to be more likely to crack, and you’ll get condensation on the top that looks like you gave up and started crying on top of the pie. Not appetizing.
- For best results, let the pie cool completely, then put it in the fridge overnight to fully set up. Serve the next day with some non-dairy cool whip and amaze all of your smug vegan friends. So smug.