Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie

Two years ago I would have given anything for the last couple days.

I was living in Kenya then, discovering a new country and trying to find myself. Those six months in Nairobi were an unforgettable and oh-so-important time in my life, but they were also very lonely. I didn't know many people and I spent much of my days in quiet solitude, writing. I spent the rest of them baking.

One of the very few cookbooks I brought with me was Rebecca Reilly’s Gluten-Free Baking. I swear that cookbook saved my life. Or my sanity, to be exact. There’s only so much self-reflection one can take before starting to go a little nuts around the edges. And so, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I found myself in the kitchen.

I spent practically every day of those six months writing in the morning and baking in the afternoon. By 3pm, if you happened to drop by, you would find me covered in some sort of gluten-free flour, dancing (probably to the beat of Mamamia!), and baking anything from muffins to scones to biscotti...to, of course, pie.

It was in the late afternoon light of that African kitchen that I discovered my first truly delicious gluten-free crust. Straight from Rebecca Reilly's book, this crust is an all-around winner, working beautifully with both sweet and savory dishes. I once made a quiche with this crust and was told by someone who didn't know it was gluten-free that it was the best crust he'd ever had. I'm not kidding. If you don't have Rebecca Reilly's book, you should get it. The woman knows what she's talking about.

I loved those long hours spent in that white-tiled kitchen, hands covered in butter and flour, lost in my own little world. I loved the creativity, the experimenting, and the discoveries that came from trying new things. I loved it all.

Except when the holidays rolled around.

The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays have always been particularly special to me. Not because of all the food and presents (although those are wonderful too), but because of the time spent with family. Growing up, Mom always worked relentlessly to make the holidays special. And to her, that meant everyone working together. On Thanksgiving morning, she would gather the whole family in the kitchen and start handing out tasks and potato peelers. We would sit around the kitchen table, listening to music, talking, teasing, and laughing as we prepped and cooked together. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we would spend entire weekends baking together, filling the house with the intoxicating smell of cinnamon and cloves.

And so, two years ago, thousands of miles away alone in my kitchen in Kenya, this time of year was difficult, to say the least. I would have given anything to be in the kitchen cooking and baking, my mother next to me. Which is why I would have given anything for the last couple of days.

This Thanksgiving morning found me and my family in the kitchen, coffee in hand, ready for the day. Side by side, we sang to music and laughed as we worked, preparing mountains of food to share with each other and close friends. It was a day of warmth, joy, and love.

It was exactly what the holidays are all about.

I'm thankful to be home.

Gluten-Free Crust, from Gluten-Free Baking by Rebecca Reilly

1 cup Basic Gluten-Free Mix (see recipe below)
2 tablespoons sweet rice flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (omit if using crust for savory foods)
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice or cider vinegar

Mix the gluten-free mix, the sweet rice flour, the sugar, and the salt in a bowl. Cut up the butter into little chunks and work them into the dry ingredients with your hands to form a coarse meal. Make a well in the center of the bowl and break the egg into it. Add the lemon juice to the egg and work both into the dry ingredients with a fork until well combined. Form the dough into a ball or flat cake at the bottom of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes (or up to a couple hours if you want to prepare the dough in advance) until it is hard enough to work with (if the dough is too warm, it will be soft and difficult to roll out).

Roll the dough out between two sheets of wax paper. Once rolled out, peel off the top sheet and flip the dough into a greased 9-inch pie pan. Peel off the other layer of wax paper, and form the dough into a pie crust, fluting the edges.

To prebake the crust, preheat the oven to 400ºF. Poke holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Makes one 9-inch pie crust.

Basic Gluten-Free Mix

2 cups brown rice flour
2/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca starch

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.

Makes about 3 cups flour.

Pumpkin Pie Filling

I made this pie with pie pumpkins (pictured above), but it is just as delicious with canned pumpkin. If using pumpkin that you cooked yourself, you may need to add an additional egg than what the recipe calls for. Mine was more liquid than usual, so I added another egg and it did the trick.

1 1/3 cup mashed pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups milk
3 eggs
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Mix all ingredients together with a whisk until well blended. Pour into pie crust and bake for 45-55 minutes. This makes a lot of filling, so you may have enough to bake a little dish of it on the side.

This filling is also delicious on its own without a crust, so if you're in the mood for pumpkin custard or pudding, omit the crust!

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