Friday, November 8, 2013
My Mother's Pumpkin Parfait
My mother wrote this recipe down in her 4H club when she was just a girl, and she still has the recipe card, after all these years. It's travelled with her from girlhood to now, and for almost as long as I can remember she's been making it for Thanksgiving dessert. (I realize I missed Canadian Thanksgiving, but I suppose this post still makes it in time to be relevant to our southern neighbours. That still counts, right?)
Thanksgiving used to be the giant family gathering of the year. Our cousins would make the six hour drive to our home, often on a Friday night, arriving well after dark. Even as a little girl, I would stay up, eagerly waiting for them to arrive. When they finally staggered through the front door with suitcases and coolers crammed with food (because there can never be enough food, if my aunt has anything to do with it), we'd put the kettle on for tea and stay up a good hour past our bedtimes, catching up on everyone's news.
For us, and just about everyone else I know, the holiday was a family adventure in eating. Each day involved a concentrated group effort to produce as much food for consumption as was humanly possible. Each hour of the day seemed to be commemorated with a new snack or food item. My aunt used to bake entire rounds of brie in pie dough, which would then be sliced and served on crackers. To me, this was the most fucking phenomenal snack in the whole world. I probably ate an entire brie pie every Thanksgiving weekend following its introduction into my Thanksgiving snack lexicon.
Meanwhile, there was the almost constant dinner preparation that took over our kitchen for the entire weekend, because there was not one, no, but two Thanksgiving dinners. Saturday night was always the night of the glazed ham, studded with cloves, while Sunday was the night of turkey and presents. Yes, presents, because our Thanksgivings were the best. We all got birthday presents on Thanksgiving Sunday because my mother and her sister had the genius idea of just gifting everyone at once. It was like Christmas, except probably with more food.
After we'd all made it through the turkey feast and were spilling out of our seats, the bags of presents would come out, and shortly thereafter the table would be littered with newspaper (my mother, ever the economical present-wrapper) and all five of us children would be psyched to have new shit, while the adults were more sedate as they digested and drank more wine.
And then, to crown everything off, there would be dessert, because we each of us had by that point redefined the meaning of "full" and "too much." It was almost always this pumpkin parfait, which my mother would present in a clear glass bowl, a layered creation of beautiful deliciousness. As a kid, I thought it was fucking magical.
It's been years since I've spent Thanksgiving weekend with my family, but this past October almost all of us spent it together at my grandpa's camp, enjoying several days of sunshine and cooking in a temperamental oven (a fact that did not deter anyone from cooking even in the slightest). Throughout the years, my family's dedication to cooking feasts has remained as strong as ever.
Some of the traditions have changed. My brother and cousin did not play Goldeneye for the entire weekend, and the group-gifting has fallen out of practice, but on Sunday night my mother brought back the old tradition of pumpkin parfait.
While I couldn't rightly call it magical, it brought back delightful memories and was of course, in and of itself, delicious. I certainly ate my fill and then some. (In the name of tradition, of course.)
This dessert is an easy alternate to pumpkin pie. Like many dessert recipes from the 50s, it's sweet, rich, and uses humble ingredients (i.e. pudding mix) to make things easy. Did I mention it's also delicious?
Graham Crumb Layer:
3 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 cup graham crackers, coarsely crushed
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup milk
1 package (3 1/2 oz) butterscotch instant pudding
Whipped Cream Layer:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1. In a bowl, stir together melted butter and sugar. Stir in graham crumbs until evenly coated, then spread evenly over a baking sheet and place in the fridge or freezer.
2. In a separate bowl, stir together all of the ingredients for the pumpkin layer, whisking vigorously until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
3. In a bowl using electric beaters, or in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream until peaks form and hold their shape. Set aside.
4. Remove the graham crumbs from the fridge or freezer and break them up with a fork or spatula.
5. In a large bowl, or individual glasses, layer all of the fillings, beginning with the pumpkin filling, followed by the whipped cream, then the graham crumbs. Store in the fridge and let set before serving, about an hour. Any leftovers will keep well in the fridge if covered for up to several days.