Some people don’t like pumpkin. I get it. Ha ha, no, I don’t actually get it because I love pumpkin.
That is, I love pumpkin when it’s mixed with other things, like butter and sugar and flour and spices. I will concede that plain pumpkin is as flavorless as a wet towel with a bland yet slightly earthy flavor reminiscent of soil and mushrooms and, when cooked, a texture that can only be described as smooshy. But put it in a pie or quick bread or simmer it in curry, and it’s all of a sudden magical.
If it were up to me, every single recipe I make in October and November would contain pumpkin in some sweet or savory form, like pumpkin pudding or turkey herder pie. But I would like to acknowledge the pumpkin-haters out there, or at least the pumpkin-neutral among us. In that vein, I have a recipe that is decidedly autumnal in flavor but contains not a jot of pumpkin. It’s apple butter pie, using basically the same ingredients as pumpkin pie but replacing the pumpkin puree with apple butter (or pear butter, cranberry butter, cherry butter, peach butter or whatever other kind of fruit butter causes your eyes to float heavenward in silent appreciation).
I know, I know — it’s genius! But I didn’t invent it. Quite a few recipes are floating around the internet on this subject. Some use whole milk, some use evaporated milk, and all use varying amounts of apple butter and sugar. My recipe combines cream and evaporated milk. Whatever you do, don’t use sweetened condensed milk, because that will make the pie far too sweet, what with the already intensely sweet flavor of the apple butter. Or, you know what? You should do whatever spins your pinwheel. If you want a tooth-bustingly sweet pie, you go right ahead. Dentists will love you.
And I should perhaps add, in the interests of truth in advertising and that sort of thing, that I did not use apple butter. I used pear butter made from the — and I don’t think I’m exaggerating, here — billions of pears that my father gleaned with permission from his neighbor. In truth, he handed over two packing boxes full of peeled, cored and sliced pears. I made two batches of spiced pear butter, cooking each batch for about 10 hours, which is what you need for really thick, caramely fruit butter. (You could also try this recipe for fig-apple butter, if you’re looking for something slightly more exotic.)
And now a word in praise of store-bought pie crust: Yes. Just say “yes” to store-bought, premade pie crust. It’s fine. You’re fine. Everything’s fine. No one, least of all me, will cast even the tiniest aspersion in your direction. I did make my crust from scratch for this particular pie, but I bitterly regretted it while I was trying to roll that thing out and it kept crackling and crumbling into a million pieces. Finally, I just slapped the whole mess into the pie dish and used my fingers to squish it into shape. Guess what? It still tasted fine. I realize that other people can make beautiful pie crusts. I have a range of skills but not that. In the wisdom of middle age, I’m going to let it go, along with any hope of finding my husband’s socks. Seriously, where do they go? They simply vanish at some point during the laundry cycle. It’s the darnedest thing. We have a sock ball the size of a small child made up of single socks that have lost their mates over the past 27 years. It’s substantial enough that, when we file our taxes, we’ll claim it as a dependent.
Anyhow, the apple butter pie recipe is simple. Parbake (or blind bake) your thawed store-bought crust in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. While the crust is baking, use a hand mixer to beat three extra large eggs or four regular eggs until they’re frothy in a medium-sized bowl. Add ¹/3 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 cup apple butter and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix on high for 1 minute, then add one 5-ounce can of evaporated milk and 1 cup of heavy cream and mix on high for another 2-3 minutes.
When the crust is done parbaking, remove it from the oven and pour the filling into the hot pie crust. Return to oven, raise temperature to 375 and bake for 60 to 65 minutes or until just set. The middle may still be all wiggly-jiggly but that’s fine as long as a knife in the center comes out clean. It will puff up like a souffle in the oven then slowly return to normal pie-size while it’s cooling. Don’t slice and serve the pie until it’s cooled completely because the pie continues to set as it cools. If you want, garnish the pie with a little whipped cream and a light dusting of cinnamon. As for me, I ate it plain. It’s a mellow custard pie with autumn flavors that make me think of warm fires and fuzzy socks.
Of course, I understand entirely if you still prefer pumpkin pie. It’s just refreshing to change things up occasionally and consider the feelings of the pumpkin pooh-poohers. On the other hand, there’s nothing stopping you from making both kinds of pie and having a slice of each. You might also want some pecan pie or chocolate cream pie or caramel apple pie. Blueberry pie and banana cream pie are also excellent. When it comes right down to it, why bother with turkey and stuffing at all? They’re merely obstacles to be overcome so that you can have your pie. (Don’t you wish you were coming to my house for Thanksgiving?)
Apple Butter Pie
Single-crust pie pastry (store-bought is fine)
4 eggs (or 3 extra-large eggs)
¼ to 1/3 cup sugar, depending on taste
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup apple butter or other fruit butter
One 5-ounce can evaporated milk
1 pint heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
Set oven to 350 degrees. Parbake pie crust (thaw to room temperature if frozen) for 15 minutes. While crust is baking, beat eggs until frothy in a medium size bowl with a hand-mixer. Add sugar, cornstarch and apple butter. Mix on high for 1 minute, then add milk and cream and mix on high for another 2-3 minutes. When the crust is done, remove from oven and pour filling into hot pie crust. Return to oven, raise temperature to 375 and bake for 60 to 65 minutes or until just set. The middle will still be jiggly but that’s fine as long as a knife in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before serving at room temperature. (The pie sets further as it cools.) Store any leftovers in the fridge. Serve with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.