It was November, 2005, and we had only recently arrived in the Pátzcuaro area. We had heard good things about Cha Cha Cha, a beautiful restaurant of eclectic international and Mexican cuisine. (It closed a few years ago, and the space is now occupied by the more traditionally Mexican Restaurante Lupita's).
"Cx3" was owned by Rick, a Californian and Enrique, his Mexican partner. Rick decided to make a Thanksgiving buffet dinner for the expat colony and friends. This grand and highly appreciated gesture would entail a lot of work. I went to him and introduced myself as a retired baker, and volunteered to make pies for the dinner. I also made potato rolls, but those I could do at home.
|Rick at work in the Cha Cha Cha kitchen|
|Rubén y los hornos de Pancho Villa|
Rick had scored several kilos of "Real pumpkin!" in chunk form in Morelia. They were irregular in size and shape. I decided that the best way to cook them would be by simmering them on the stove top. This took several rounds of cooking as we couldn't do them all at once.
This all had to be well drained or the filling would be watery.
|Rubén strains the pumpkin|
The blending of eggs, milk, spices and sweetener was the easiest part.
On to the crusts. These proved to be truly daunting, as the only available shortening then available in Pátzcuaro Centro was Inca, a solid and durable shortening. It is so tough that you have to hack off pieces with a heavy knife. This proved difficult to blend with flour and to form crusts. Several trips to the Super Lloreda store nearby were necessary to get more Inca and harina.
Somehow, I managed to patch together enough dough to form ragged crusts. These were filled with the rich, amber, sweetly spiced filling, and placed, one at a time in the pre-Revolutionary ovens. I couldn't do it. The oven opening was too narrow to pass with quivering uncooked pie in trembling hands without receiving painful burns. But Rubén was able to do it. Checking for doneness was infrequent, due to the hazards of passing objects in and out.
I think we had made 6 to 8 pies, some supplemented with carrot puree to enrich the pale Mexican pumpkin flesh, and a couple of payes de mamey, a rich and easy to work with tropical fruit. I think that there also were some payes de camote (sweet potato, sort of). This process took many hours, due to the above mentioned limitations. It gave "over reaching" new depth of meaning.
|Preparing mameyes for pie filling|
Next day, Thanksgiving Day, the expats gathered, with high anticipation at the restaurant for a taste of home. The buffet was attractive and varied, the turkey, dressing, and the traditional fixings all succulent and delicious. Seconds were offered. The meal was a real crowd pleaser. I think that the cost was $150 pesos, a true bargain.
|Fill your plate with your favorites|
For this event the next year, I made the pies at home. It still was hard work, but it was much easier. I didn't miss those hornos Revolucionarios a bit.
The Thanksgiving Dinner, 2006 at Cx3 was even better than the previous, but served at table. Rick sensibly raised the price and it was still worth every centavo.
Yours truly, Don Cuevas, pictured below, smoking his then favorite puro, after another special occasion meal at Cha Cha Cha.
|Saludos, Don Cuevas|
pastry for two 9-inch 1-crust pies.
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp molasses
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 cups pureed pumpkin
1 2/3 cups undiluted evaporated milk
3 tbsps sweet dark rum
2-3 tabs chopped crystallized ginger (optional)
Prepare two 9-inch pastry shells with high fluted rims. Chill the shells for about 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 400º F. When the shells are cold and firm, line them with waxed paper or foil, and fill them with raw beans or rice. (I skip this step. -DC)
Bake the shells 10 minutes, then remove the paper or foil or beans or rice, prick the shells in several places with a fork (I skip this, also. DC)
and bake them another 10 minutes.
In a bowl, combine the two sugars, molasses, salt, spices and pureéd pumpkin. In another bowl, beat the eggs with the milk and rum. Combine the two mixtures and mix them thoroughly.
Sprinkle the chopped crystallized ginger evenly across the bottoms of the pastry shells. Ladle the filling carefully over the ginger, dividing it evenly between the two shells.
Bake the pies in the preheated 400º oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
Cool the pies on a rack and serve with sweetened whipped cream.
Makes two 9-inch pies.