Friday, 18 October 2013

Elephant No. 46: Pumpkin Pie

We had a bit of a non-traditional meal last weekend for Canadian Thanksgiving, so today I thought I'd make a pumpkin pie. I'm not a huge fan of fruit pies, but I do love homemade pumpkin pie.

I cheated today, using store-bought pie shells, rather than starting from scratch. I make pretty good piecrust, if I do say so myself, but time is at a bit of a premium today, so storebought it is.

I did make the filling from scratch, using the recipe on the back of my favourite brand of pumpkin purée. Each can of purée makes two pies, but I only wanted to make one. The recipe below is for one pie.


Pumpkin Pie Filling

2 eggs
398 ml (1/2 can of 796 ml) pumpkin purée (about 1-1/2 cups/375 ml)
1 cup (250 ml) packed brown sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) cinnamon
1/2 tsp (2 ml) ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp (1 ml) ground ginger
1/4 tsp (1 ml) salt
3/4 cup (175 ml) evaporated (not condensed) milk
A 9-inch (23 cm) deep dish pie shell

Beat eggs lightly, then beat in everything else until well combined. Pour into pie shell. Bake at 425˚F (220˚C) for 15 minutes, then lower to 350˚F (180˚C) and bake for another 30–35 minutes, or until crust is golden, and centre is springy. You can also put in a knife or tester, and if it comes out clean, the pie is done. I didn't want to do that because of my design—although I supposed I could have poked a tester through one of the elephant's eyes. But that seemed mean.


The package came with two pie shells, and I thawed them both. I find that, if I transfer storebought pie shells to a normal pie plate, they're not big enough, so I used some of the second pie shell to fill out the basic crust in the pie plate. I used the rest to make a little elephant design for the top.

I was going to wing it when cutting out an elephant shape for the top, but thought I should at least plan before I cut. This is the design I came up with. If you do something like this, you can either cut it out and place it on top of your scrap crust, then cut around it with a sharp knife, or just use it for inspiration as you cut freehand.

This was the piece of crust I cut. I though it looked a bit plain, so I gave it some extra dimension in the tips of the crown and in the tusks. I've stuck things on the top of pumpkin pie before, so I more or less knew that—barring any slips when I placed the crust on the filling—it was going to look exactly like this when it was cooked.

I placed it gently on the filling, careful to keep any of the edges from slipping under the surface. Pumpkin pie filling is relatively firm, so this isn't as difficult as it sounds.

I thought the area around the elephant needed something, so I made a few diamonds out of scrap crust and arranged them around the elephant.

And this is what it looked like right after it came out of the oven. The filling will puff up a bit, but not enough to do anything weird to your design.

As the pie cools, the filling levels out again, and may develop slight cracks. I was lucky in that the only crack in mine is along one ear, so it hardly shows.

Pumpkin pie is one of the easiest pies to make, in my opinion, and it's also very fun to decorate. As long as you have a steady hand when you place your decorations on top, it should look exactly as you expect when it comes out of the oven.

Now if only Terrence would come home so that I could have a piece.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In 2010, researchers finally figured out how elephants make their deep infrasonic calls, some of which are so deep they're beyond what we can hear with the naked ear. For years, no one was sure if elephants purred like cats or blew air over their larynxes like humans. However, when an elephant died of natural causes in Berlin in 2010, German researchers examined her voice box, and determined that elephants make sound very much like we do.

Scientists Christian Herbst and Angela Stoeger blew air through the deceased elephant's voice box, causing the vocal folds on either side of the trachea to flap, like ours do. But although the mechanism is the same, an elephant's vocal folds are very different from ours—and not just in size.

An elephant's vocal folds lie at an acute angle to the stream of air, whereas human vocal folds are almost perpendicular. This means that two-fifths of an elephant's vocal folds are shielded from the flow of air. Not only that, but if proportionally shrunk to match human vocal folds, the elephant's vocal folds are much longer and 180% thicker than a human's.

Nor was that the only difference. Humans make sound when the vocal folds slap together; elephants make sound when the vocal folds are separated. There are also differences in how air reacts with the vocal folds. In humans, the trapped air forces the folds open, making sound. In elephants, the sound actually travels along the folds, creating deep rumbling sounds that literally carry for miles. 

To read the original article, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, click here.

Elephants can communicate over immense distances through infrasonic sound.
Photo source:

To Support Elephant Welfare
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)
Wildlife SOS (India) 
The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee)

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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