by Tamara Martfeld
Every year after Halloween I cook my Jack-Lantern and make pie – I call it Jack-O-Lantern Pie. It is easy to make, good to eat, and lots of fun to see the expressions on people’s faces as I tell them I had Jack-O-Lantern Pie with Thanksgiving Dinner!
A little advanced planning is required to make Jack-O-Lantern Pie. First of all you need to pick out your future Jack-O-Lantern knowing you will eat it. There are different varieties of pumpkins and they have different flavors. I find the ones typically in the grocery produce section have more flavor than those grown only for Jack-O-Lanterns. I suggest asking your grocer for a recommendation for the best eating pumpkin. Regardless of the variety purchased, it can be successfully cooked and eaten.
Second you need to decorate your Jack-O-Lantern while remembering that you will eventually eat it. This can be done in two ways: 1) paint the outside of your pumpkin with non-toxic paint to make the Jack-O-Lantern, or 2) cut your pumpkin the day before or day of Halloween and refrigerate it until it is time to decorate (plan and make sure there is room in the fridge ahead of time). I use option 2, carving my Jack-O-Lantern the night before and using a vanilla-scented candle, unscented candle, or tea light inside depending on what I have available. Other lighting methods are also available. At the end of the night I place the Jack-O-Lantern back in the fridge to be cooked within the next few days. Of course, once your pumpkin has been transformed into a Jack-O-Lantern it is no longer a pumpkin!
Very important: treat your Jack-O-Lantern as food if you plan to eat it. If you do not treat it as food it can make you sick just as any other food product improperly handled. I have never gotten sick from my Jack-O-Lantern, but as always, use your own judgment.
I know of two ways to cook Jack-O-Lantern:
1) Cut the Jack-O-Lantern in half and place it in a baking dish with about 1 inch of water. You can cut it smaller if you do not have a pan big enough for half a Jack-O-Lantern. My Jack-O-Lanterns are usually big and require the halves to be cooked in my turkey roaster one at a time with the stem part (Jack-O-Lantern’s hat) in one of the pans. Place the pan in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 30 to 50 minutes until the Jack-O-Lantern can be easily pierced with a fork. It is OK if the skin burns a little. Cool before removing the skin (skin can be removed when hot, but I don’t think it is worth burning the fingers). Cut into large pieces and place in a bowl in the fridge over night to allow some of the liquid to drain off. The pieces at the top of the bowl will make the best pie. Save the water for soup stock (see the article “Minestrone Soup for Saving Money”).
2) Peel the Jack-O-Lantern, cut it into chunks, and boil it in hot water until it is fork-tender (like one makes mashed potatoes from scratch). Place the pieces in a bowl in the fridge over night to allow some of the liquid to drain off. The pieces at the top of the bowl will make the best pie. Save the water for soup stock (see the article “Minestrone Soup for Saving Money”). Peeling the Jack-O-Lantern is not that easy. I highly recommend baking.
Regardless of the cooking method, keep the upper pieces separate from the other pieces. I use the pieces at the top because I have discovered that the pieces with less water work best in the pie. I have also discovered that draining the big pieces instead of smashing it right away provides a product with less water than mashing the pieces before draining the water off. Either way the Jack-O-Lantern Pie is not as firm as a traditional Pumpkin Pie made with canned pumpkin, but it is more fun to eat.
Take the upper pieces and mash them until you have enough for your pie recipe. A food processor also works. If you want to save some for future pies mash all the upper pieces and freeze what you do not need for the pie, marking them as pie filling. Jack-O-Lantern freezes quite well.
You can use a store-bought crust, but I think home-made is better. With any pie crust recipe work the crust as little as possible once the moisture is in it for a flakier crust and use the minimum of flour when rolling it out – just enough to prevent sticking. Stir and mix the dough until it is barely together. Push it together instead of kneading it. Roll it as little as possible, patching any holes instead of starting over. The pie crust recipe I use is from an old recipe book of my grandmother’s and is very easy:
1 and ½ cups flour
½ cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup ice water
Cut shortening into salted flour until finely mixed to a tiny pebbly stage with pastry mixer or two knives. With a table fork mix in the ice water until all is absorbed. Press dough together and divide into two parts. Roll out on lightly floured board (I use a tea towel). Place in pie tin and pinch edges or flute as desired. Cut off residue. Perforate sides and bottom of crust generously with fork if the shell is being cooked and chill for 20-30 minutes, then bake 15 minutes in 425 to 450 degree Fahrenheit oven.
For the Jack-O-Lantern Pie do not cook the crust. There will be left-over crust because the recipe is for a pie with an upper and bottom crust. Because I know there will be extra crust I use a little over half when rolling out to ensure I have enough for my pan without over-working the crust. A tasty way to use the left-over crust is to roll it out and place it on a cookie sheet in pieces – the pieces do not have to have a shape, but cookie cutters can be used. Sprinkle it with a little cinnamon and sugar and then bake until slightly brown around the edges.
Any pumpkin pie recipe will work. The recipe I use is below:
1 unbaked 9-inch deep-dish pie shell (4 cup volume)
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 and ¾ cups mashed Jack-O-Lantern
1 and ½ cups (12 fluid ounce can) Evaporated Milk
Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl (I use a large whisk and use it for the rest of the stirring). Add the sugar, salt cinnamon, ginger, and cloves and stir well. Stir in the Jack-O-Lantern. Gradually stir in the evaporated milk. Pour into pie shell.
Fold together 4-6 inch-wide strips of aluminum foil to make a piece large enough to surround your pie crust. Carefully place it around the edge of the pie crust to prevent burning. I add this step for those who are baking a pie for the first time and don’t know this trick. There are pie shields available from cooking supply sources for this purpose, but the aluminum foil works.
Preheat a 425 degree Fahrenheit oven. Bake the pie for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or chill. Refrigerate left-overs.
Making Jack-O-Lantern Pie is about having fun and saving money. To save money you do not want to throw Jack-O-Lantern not being used in the pie! What is not used in the pie can be served in chunks or mashed as a side dish with a little butter or maple syrup. I have been told molasses is also good, but I have not tried it. Some people like to mix in a little salt. The Jack-O-Lantern can also be made into a soup – check the internet for recipes for pumpkin or winter squash soup. I also add it to my Minestrone Soup. I freeze any I am not using immediately in serving sizes for a quick, healthy side dish.
I don’t have kids, but I would think that telling them they are eating Jack-O-Lantern might get them to eat a vegetable which is high in nutrients.
Quite honestly, many people have asked me what a Jack-O-Lantern Pie taste like. It is fun to watch their faces as I say, “Well, it taste a lot like Pumpkin Pie!” ; )
P.S. After I wrote this article someone suggested using the extra pie crust to make eyes, nose, and mouth of a Jack-O-Lantern on the pie. I have not tried it yet, but I do like the suggestion.