Memories of Pumpkin Pie

Anyone over a “certain” age and living in the New York Metropolitan area will remember Horn & Hardart Automats, those grand cafeterias where you could get on the usual line and buy the usual stuff from the steam tables. But it was always more fun to buy the individual portions of food that were set in little alcoves on the wall, each covered by a glass window. You would put the required number of nickels in a slot and poof! the glass window would open and you would take your food and before you knew it the window closed, and another identical portion of food would circle around and take its place.

If you didn’t have enough change you could get some from the “nickel lady,” in charge of the change booth. As I recall, the nickel ladies were always plump.

My Aunt Roz and Uncle Mac used to take me and my cousin Leslie to the Automat when we went ice skating in Manhattan. The two of us always had the vegetable plate: macaroni and cheese, hash browns and spaghetti.

Dessert depended on the season, but in the autumn I always picked pumpkin pie.

I remember Automat pumpkin pie as a miracle. It was tender, moist and not too spicy. It had a golden sheen on top and nice, crumbly crust. It was the best pumpkin pie ever, even better than my Mom’s.

And so, even after the ice skating days were done and trips to the Automat over, I would sometimes make my way over to one to pick up a slice of pie. 

Then the Automats closed, pushed out of the gastronomic mainstream by the likes of the McDonald’s and Burger King of the world.

Neither of those eateries have pumpkin pie.

Wow, do I wish I had that Automat recipe.

I make a different pumpkin pie every year. I don’t know if the one below is better than the Automat’s. Memories can be deceiving. But I can say it is delicious. Tender, moist, and with a glossy sheen on top. Perfect for Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin Pie

1-3/4 cups mashed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

1-1/2 cups half and half cream, evaporated milk or nut milk (such as MimicCream)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 9-inch unbaked pie crust

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Beat the pumpkin, sugar and brown sugar with a whisk or electric beater set at medium for a minute or until well blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the cream until well blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt and beat ingredients for a minute or until well blended. Pour into the pie crust. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 45 minutes or until set. Remove from the oven and let cool. Makes one pie serving 8 people