There are worse things than bad recipes. I know. And in the interest of perspective, let me state I’m not especially a fan of doctor’s appointments, migraine headaches or sixth grade kickball, either. But I really hate bad recipes. Or, what’s truly worse, recipes I make bad. With just a few teeny-tiny (or maybe not so teeny-tiny) mistakes, the results become disaster. It’s enough to make a girl run from the kitchen and never look back. In fact, I’d bet it’s the reason a lot of people say they don’t like to cook.
This (can I complain to you for a minute?) was supposed to be a post about pumpkin trifle, filled with alternating layers of crumbled gingerbread, a creamy pumpkin medley and whipped topping. There were to be broken gingersnaps on top. It would have been beautiful. You would have been impressed. And those of you who, smarting from a bad recipe or two, weren’t sure if you should take another risk, would have sprung from your computer screen and been off to the kitchen.
But, the other night, preparing the gingerbread ahead of time, I made a classic mistake. I used a wrong ingredient, substituting corn syrup instead of kane syrup, in place of molasses, creating a flavorless, doughy cake with a pale off-white hue.
It was time for Plan B.
Growing up, the part of Thanksgiving I liked most, just after the rolls and the green bean casserole and the turkey (all right, and the sweet potatoes, provided there were marshmallows and brown sugar involved) was the pie. Pumpkin pie.
This, you must understand, was fairly significant, since, when growing up, I generally hated pie. Apple pie, no, thank you. Banana cream? Ew. In fact, though I’ve expanded my palate a bit in the intervening years since then, still to this day, I would rather go hungry than eat a slice of cherry pie, except maybe if I can scrape out the chunky insides and have just the crust with a big side of ice cream.
So in terms of childhood favorites, pumpkin pie was it. Thus this week, frustrated with my first step at pumpkin trifle, I decided to make a homemade pumpkin pie instead, crust and all. This time, I used a new recipe from a cookbook I generally love, a cookbook that has never failed me.
The results were, well, fine. Edible, even. The filling was superb, a pumpkiny custard made from my pumpkin puree, hot and soothing out of the oven. But the crust? Hard, tough, like cracker. And while I’m reluctant to blame the recipe, since its source has been so reliable, I have no idea what I did wrong. Every ingredient was as instructed; the directions were followed. Yet somehow, some way, the results were failure.
This, I hardly have to say, is frustrating for a home cook. You take the time to try something new, you do exactly what you’ve been told—yet, you come out the loser. Would it be easier to just order take-out and call it a day?
But, on the other hand, this—the whoops! moments, the small failures—happens to everyone. I mean, everyone, everyone. If some nice person you meet tells you he or she has never had a kitchen disappointment (let alone disaster), don’t believe it. In fact, get as far away from that person as quickly as possible, as this is clearly a liar you should never trust.
Cooking is not just therapeutic or comforting, and it’s not just a way to provide food for one to eat. Cooking is also learning. And, just like I had to mess up a little (still do) before succeeding—in school, in jobs, in friendships—so with cooking.
In that spirit of optimism, let me also say that my small tupperware container of puree garnered me two more pumpkin-based recipes, which I’ll share next week and which were, generally at least, completely disaster-free.
In the meantime: Happy Halloween! And, have you made your own pumpkin puree yet?