My obsession with grocery costs knows no bounds. No matter how little I spend (usually around $500 a month), it seems like too much. Surely a family of four can feed itself for less. I know someone will suggest couponing but there never seem to be coupons for the packaged food we buy (natural frozen brands like Amy’s and Evol, whole wheat bread, organic frozen fruit.) I know I could make these things but I get trapped by the easy factor.
That’s why the idea of Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratchfascinates me. Jennifer Reese is doing the work for me; she breaks down the cost ratio of homemade vs store bought on foods from fried chicken to honey graham crackers. Her hassle factor adds her thoughts on the labor and irritation of cooking. I am still making my way through the book and haven’t yet attempted a recipe but here’s an except on the fall classic: pumpkin pie.
On Making Pumpkin Pie
Excerpted from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratch — Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods by Jennifer Reese. Copyright 2011 by Jennifer Reese. Published by Free Press
The very existence of Libby’s canned pumpkin throws Barbara Kingsolver into a tizzy. “Come on, people,” she laments in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. “Doesn’t anybody remember how to take a big old knife, whack open a pumpkin, scrape out the seeds, and bake it? We can carve a face onto it, but can’t draw and quarter it? Are we not a nation known worldwide for our cultural zest for blowing up flesh, on movie and video screen and/or armed conflict? Are we in actual fact too squeamish to stab a large knife into a pumpkin?”
I had always used canned pumpkin for pie, because it was what my mother and grandmother used. In my family, canned pumpkin is traditional. But I liked the idea of starting with a whole food rather than a can, and what if canned pumpkin turned out to be just as inferior as canned sweet potatoes and I just didn’t know better?
I baked two pies, identical except for the source of the pumpkin. Pie number one contained the flesh of a sugar pie pumpkin that I roasted for an hour, peeled, seeded, de-stringed, and forced through the food mill. Pie number two contained the flesh of a pumpkin that Libby’s had processed in a plant and I scooped out of the can.
Results: The canned pumpkin was (obviously) more convenient, and I did not have to wait for it to roast. It was also slightly more expensive—about $0.50 more than the whole pumpkin. But those were fifty cents well spent, because it made a superior pie—the flavor was bigger, rounder, more pumpkin-y. I have no idea how you get more pumpkin-y than an actual pumpkin. According to the label, Libby’s canned pumpkin contains nothing but pumpkin. Did I just have a dud pumpkin? Confusing.
My advice: When you’re standing at the supermarket the day before Thanksgiving pondering your pumpkin options, grab the can and get in the checkout line before it grows any longer. You’re not being squeamish, you’re being sensible. However, you should absolutely bake your own pie.