Growing up in my Coal Region home during the 60’s and 70’s meant a house bursting at the seams with family on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters mingled in the cramped quarters of our “miner’s shack” in a tiny town of barely 300 residents.
I don’t know how my Mom Glennis, and Nana Thelma did it, but they prepared a meal for a crowd that was always perfect; the hot items were hot, the cold items cold, the beverages ready to flow — and all from our own kitchen — no “potluck” allowed. Their timing and talent matched any restaurant chef’s!
The guest list during those years varied little, but sometimes a familiar face was absent due to other plans. One constant at every holiday dinner, family celebration or milestone event in my life was my cousin, Ronnie. Although my first cousin, he was always “Uncle Ronnie” to me. I was well into adult-hood before I started addressing him as “Ron”.
My cousin Ron spent nearly every summer at our house throughout his boyhood. To this day he calls PA “home” when asked, “Where are you from?” Ron became the big brother I would never have. From my earliest childhood memories on, Ronnie is a part of the most cherished.
Seventeen years older than me, I can trace his journey through life from early childhood into the man he is today through the old, tattered, and sometimes faded photographs that I cling to.
There is a lot to love about my “Uncle Ronnie”; his distinctive laugh, his kind eyes, his rugged good looks, and his loving heart. But when I scroll through the memories of Ron and our cherished holiday celebrations, I find it amusing that the first thing that often comes to mind is Ron’s love of my Mom’s pumpkin pie. I suspect it may have been his favorite part of every holiday dinner.
Time marches on
Over the years, as we move on, so do the people we love. The nucleus of the beloved family gatherings so etched in my memory slowly broke apart, often fueled by the passing of those so near and dear. Ron’s parents were gone, then mine. Cousins grew up, married, and started their own family gatherings in distant states and towns.
Ron pursued his dreams which lead him half way across the country from that small Coal Region town around which life revolved for decades. That meant seeing him in person became a rare occurrence, something that was heartbreaking to say the least.
One of the last times I saw Ron in person was when my husband and I were still living in my old homestead in Schuylkill County. It was a Thanksgiving just before we left my beloved home and moved north to New Hampshire. Ron was briefly coming back East. The old family home would once again welcome him with open arms, as would I.
Determined to recreate holidays past in the only way I now could, I carefully planned the menu to honor my Mom’s traditional holiday meal – complete with her beloved pumpkin custard pie for Ron.
As I crimped the crust and stirred the pumpkin into the eggs, I saw my Mom with each step; the effortless way she had in making things come together. My fingers no longer belonged to me; each movement was once again hers.
Oh, how I miss you, Mom.
As three of us sat down to that Thanksgiving dinner, a melancholy mood engulfed me, and I struggled unsuccessfully to fight back tears. Gone were the days of the large joyous holiday family gatherings of our past in that house with parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins filling every nook and cranny.
Still, in our hearts, they were there. The walls of that “coal miner’s shack” contained memories too precious to ever fade. As we finished our Thanksgiving meal, I brought out my version of Mom’s pumpkin custard pie, so thrilled to be able to share it with “Uncle Ronnie” once again.
As we enjoyed the pie together that day, it was, in every way, the best pie ever.
A twist on tradition
This pumpkin pie is a “custard” version, meaning it is lighter in texture than traditional pumpkin pie fillings made with evaporated milk.
The traditional spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove are sprinkled on top, not added to the filling mix. Amounts given in the recipe are approximate – Mom used to just sprinkle them on right out of the canisters, eye-balling until she felt they were just right.
Mom also insisted on dolloping the top with three small pats of butter before sliding the pie into the oven to bake. I have no idea why. I never asked. But I do it, too, and always will.
Growing up knowing only this version of pumpkin pie, I disliked the first piece of the traditional recipe pumpkin pie I tried one time at a diner. Although, these days, I will eat and do enjoy many versions of pumpkin pie, Mom’s custard pumpkin pie remains my favorite.
I use a regular 9 inch pie pan for this, but I build up the edges of the crust by crimping. If you plan to use a commercially prepared frozen crust, choose a “deep dish” version, otherwise your filling might overflow.
The pie bakes at 400F degrees; covering the edges of the crust with strips or foil or a pie shield prior to baking helps minimize over-browning of the crust.
Pumpkin Custard PieCourse: Holidays, Pies, Recipes, Sweet ThingsDifficulty: Easy
This pumpkin pie is a custard version; lighter in texture that the traditional pumpkin pie filling. Makes 1 – 9 inch pie.
1 unbaked 9-inch pastry shell, recipe of your choice or pre-made
1 cup 100% pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
4 whole large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups whole milk
- For sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Couple pinches ground cloves
1 Tablespoon butter cut into 3 thin slices
- Prepare 9 inch pie shell. Build up edges with crimping or use a deep dish commercially prepared crust. Set aside.
- Pre-heat oven to 400F degrees.
- In a medium mixing bowl or 4 cup glass measuring cup, place the 1/2 cup granulated sugar and the 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour. Whisk together to blend in the flour and break up clumps. Add the 4 eggs and whisk together until fully blended and frothy. Add the 1 teaspoon vanilla and stir it in.
- Add the 1 cup pumpkin to the egg mixture and whisk well. Add the 2 cups milk and whisk together again making sure the mixture is very well blended.
- Pour the pumpkin filling gently into the unbaked pie shell. If you have a tiny bit left over to prevent over-filling, simply discard it.
- Sprinkle the top evenly with the ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. (adjust to your taste). Dot the top with the three thin slices of butter.
- OPTIONAL but recommended: Cover the edges of the pie crust with strips of foil or a pie shield to prevent over-browning while baking. Check and remove towards the end of baking, if needed.
- Bake in pre-heated 400F degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until center giggles lightly, but a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool completely or serve at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate leftovers.