(The fat free, gluten free, soy free world, that is.)
The first Thanksgiving after my diagnosis of MS, back in 1996, I was well into a gluten free mostly dairy free and low fat way of eating, based on ELISA tests I had taken through a naturopath nine months earlier. As of yet, I had no idea about this way of eating and its definition of what low fat is. Alternative caregivers would say, yes, low fat is good, but none of them defined what that was or how to achieve that. In fact, “good oils” were encouraged: flax, olive, canola. I had also been told that the Swank Diet was one in which you “eat a lot of chicken and fish” (which I didn’t want to do—again, not being told much about what that actually meant or where to find that info in pre internet-at-home days), so I doggedly tried to eat some baked fish once a week. (Years later, another alternative health care practitioner suggested I might have methyl mercury poisoning going on. I stopped eating the fish, took my daffodil flower essence, and did my manual therapy homework religiously. The most obvious of those indications went away within weeks, astounding the concerned practitioner.)
But I digress. What I am remembering is the time I saw Lorna Sass’s pumpkin pie recipe in a Gold Mine Natural Foods catalogue. It didn’t use milk. It didn’t use eggs. The whole grain crust could be made with all oats and oat flour instead of wheat. So I gave it a try.
That pie has worked Thanksgiving magic every year since then with everyone who takes a bite, even the most dedicated omnivores or eaters of the standard American diet. And sometimes at other special occasions. The best compliment I ever received came on one of these. About six years ago, I sheltered a young family of activists who had fled from a fire in faulty wiring that burned the old farmhouse they were renting to the ground. They came for the night, and ended up living with me for about 6 months. A 20 something Mom, a 30 something Dad, the most delightful two year old I will ever know besides my own, and two dogs.
My town is on the threshold of some of the most beautiful wild places in the lower 48. So naturally it is also a place where environmental activists have organized to preserve those wild places. Activists like to nickname themselves, so for the purposes of this story, I will nickname them for you. The young mother we’ll call Running Girl, because she loved to run, and because she was in the running to get into law school. (She’s now kicking ass as a public defender back east.) The Dad we’ll call Amazing Dad, because he is. And the toddler we’ll call Magic Boy, because he is. The dog’s names, Snoopy and Homescratch, are just too great to change, so they’ll stay the same. Snoopy, bless her big giant heart, now rests in peace.)
The particular group of activists this family was involved with often did the work of feeding people in non-violent civil disobedience actions. I’ll introduce another member of this group, because he is key to my story: a forty-something, taciturn veteran organizer and cook, who mumbled when he talked, and coughed from all the cigarettes he smoked while reading the New York Times, or any other times during the day he had the chance. He’s been active for decades in anti-nuclear and environmental campaigns and was known around the country for his dedicated work. He had been a good friend to Running Girl when she was a teenager who came of age sitting in old growth trees to keep them from being cut down. Since Running Girl used to tease him with this name, we’ll call him Eeyore.
Eeyore and Running Girl had birthdays just days apart in October. Running Girl was about to turn 25. Her mother had died when she was 19, and her Dad, though pleasant, lived across the country, and was a bit of a child himself. So no parents would be sending her checks or presents or coming to visit. The fire had burned everything they owned up but half a baby shoe. Being 25 years her elder, I took on the gift of making a vegan birthday “treat.” Because, yes, in those days Running Girl was very much a dyed-in-the-not-wool vegan. And of course I wanted it to be a surprise her taste buds and conscience could enjoy. She had told me a few days before that sometimes she just wanted to go crawl in a hole and hide. And yet she had to finish classes and study for the LSAT, while Amazing Dad took loving care of Magic Boy (which he did unfailingly). So the mood was not the best birthday one. Nevertheless, I felt at least this pumpkin pie might entice. I made it while she was gone to school. And invited Eyeore over for the evening, since seeing him always cheered her up. I put candles on the pie and insisted we sing “happy birthday” to both of them. But I was nervous about Eeyore eating my pie. He isn’t one to trust cooking or baking he hasn’t done himself. He much prefers to be the chef.
Nevertheless, he showed up. And when he said in his gravelly, dead-pan way, “This is the best vegan pumpkin pie I’ve ever had.” it was like hitting a home run in a game that had been a no-hitter thus far. He didn’t smile, but he gave the compliment. And I did the smiling (even though at the time my face hurt like hell to do it.)
Since then, the recipe has gotten further makeovers. I no longer use the canola oil in the crust. Instead I use homemade pear sauce. And I no longer use soy milk. Now I use almond. This year I’m toying with subbing the maple syrup out for date syrup, and maybe making some pecan milk to use in the filling. So here it is. A pumpkin pie for those of us who have to be oil free, dairy free, egg free, gluten free, soy free and granulated sugar free. The Free World never tasted so good.
Moonwatcher’s Free World Pumpkin Pie
(adapted from the Lorna Sass recipe in The New Soy Cookbook)
1 ½ cups of gluten free oats (or 1 ¼ cups and ¼ cup ground amaranth)
½ cup lightly toasted pecans (they wrok fine not toasted, too, if you forget, as I have, many times, to toast them slightly in the oven)
3 tablespoons of date syrup or maple syrup
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
¼ cup pear or apple sauce
Place oats, cinnamon and pecans in food processor and process until the consistency of coarse grain. Put in a bowl with date or maple syrup and pear sauce and mix until all is moistened. Press into a pie plate. (Moistening your fingers lightly with cold water helps this process along. You can also prick the crust with a fork so it doesn’t puff up a little. But if you forget, just as I initially forgot to write this tip in, it’s no big deal. The pie will still turn out fine. I know this from experience.)
Bake at 375 for 10 minutes. Cool on a rack completely before adding the filling.
1 ½ cups canned pumpkin puree (1 can) or cooked pureed winter squash of your choice, any kind that tastes sweet will do)
½ cup maple or date syrup
1 cup of almond or pecan milk (Straight Up Food can show you how)
¼ cup arrowroot starch
1 tbs fresh grated ginger root
½ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 ½ tsp of cinnamon
½ tsp of cloves
Combine the almond milk and arrowroot in the food processor and whir up until combined, about 15 seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until smooth, wiping down the walls with a spatula as needed. Pour into the pie crust. Bake at 375 for 35 minutes, until the outer inch of the filling has set. (The rest will set as it cools if it hasn’t already. Mine has always set while baking, at least son the top, even if it’s very liquid when it goes into the oven.) Cool completely on rack. Chill for at least 3 hours before serving.
Notes: If you want to venture away from the canned pumpkin puree, the easy way to cook a winter squash for pie filling is to place it whole on a baking sheet (under parchment if you like for easier clean-up), stab it several time with a knife like you would a baked potato, and then bake it whole in the oven at 375 or 400 until it’s soft enough for the rind to dent at the touch of your finger. This takes about an hour, sometimes a little longer, depending on your oven. Then you just let it stand a few minutes, split it in half, scoop out the seeds, then scoop out the flesh into a bowl and puree in batches in your food processor. It freezes quite well.
One thing I wouldn’t skimp on in this recipe is the grated fresh ginger. It really makes the spicing sing. Also wonderful if you can grate your nutmeg fresh too.
I haven’t tried it yet in this particular recipe, but if you can’t find date syrup ready made (or you can’t afford it, or your inner cheap skate doesn’t want to shell out the coins for it, I know mine doesn’t always), you can make your own by pitting a handful of dates, covering them with water, and letting them simmer for a while on the stove, about half an hour. Pour the whole mixture into a blender and whir it up. The sweetness isn’t quite as concentrated as the commercially made syrup, but it’s very good in many recipes, and probably would be good here, too. I just haven’t gotten around to this version yet. And maple syrup works just great, too.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!