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?

Cooksnaps
Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Kelley

    First, let me say we are in 100 PERCENT AGREEMENT about kickball!
    Now, with that off my chest … It happens. Pie crusts are notoriously ornery. I’ve spent years trying to perfect just one recipe and I still get it right only some of the time. :)
    Can’t wait to hear the other pumpkin recipes — I’m a fan of anything pumpkin (with the classic pie being lowest on my list).

  2. My First Kitchen

    I think you’ve hit a chord with the kickball thing. Who was always picked last? This girl. Every. Single. Time. It still hurts. :) Your blog is great! I really love your love of food, and if I lived in Chicago, I’d totally talk about food and restaurants and re-creations with you. Since I live in NC and have only been to Chicago once, this comment will have to do. I’ll definitely stop by again!

  3. Shannalee

    LOL about kickball, guys. Wish we all could’ve been in school together. Oh, the memories!

    Kelley: Thanks for the encouragement. I am just waiting for someone to tell me they have the perfect crust, which is easy, impossible to mess up and delicious. Might I be waiting forever? I will hold out hope and keep trying new ones. Sigh.

    My First Kitchen: You’re nice. I headed over to your blog, which I love!, and am quite sure if I lived in NC, we’d have to hang out. For sure. Thanks for visiting!

  4. Nealy

    Ugh! I had a bad experience with a cookie recipe once. I followed it exactly, but the came out of the oven was anything but edible.

    Then today I had a mishap with unripe avocados. While my guac still came out tasting yummy, it’s presentation was lacking. :(

    Yet we keep trying.

    Still planning on apple cider doughnuts this week.

  5. juliebaylor

    I love that you talk about cooking being a learning experience! Because I am (more often than not) trying out new things, making mistakes and learning from them :) Thanks for posting the “not so perfect as well” – guess it gives hope to us “mortals” :)

  6. Aimee

    I can’t remember where I came across your site, but I highlighted your pumpkin puree in one of my posts. I noticed your pie trouble and just wanted to tell you, you are not alone when it comes to troublesome pie crusts. I, like Kelley, have used different recipes with inconsistent results, especially when it comes to baking blind. Now, the last pie crust I made that had good results was actually from the book “Baking With Julia”. Adding shortening really made a HUGE difference in my ability to roll it out. I always used Martha Stewart’s recipe and had a tough time rolling the all butter dough. Keep trying, we’ll all get there someday!

  7. Shannalee

    Nealy: Glad to know I’m not alone. And, by the way, I am now craving guacamole, so thanks for that. :)

    Julie: You’re so sweet. Mere mortals—LOL! I swear everything is hit or miss when it comes to cooking. Maybe some day we’ll be like the pro chefs that never seem to have a bad day! :)

    Aimee: Isn’t that interesting about the same recipes giving different results from time to time? Frustrating! “Baking with Julia”–I will have to look that up. And I think you’re on to something with the shortening. I made some meat/potato pasties this weekend with a different crust recipe (I’m that determined) and used Crisco, which gave very different results–much more flaky. Thanks for including me in your round-up!

  8. raina

    Tee hee…I am laughing because I made (or tried to make) my first pumpkin pie this year…what a disaster…my pie crust was great, but the filling …well, you could drink it, it ran out of the pie as soon as I sliced it.

  9. Pingback: Begin with Pumpkin | food loves writing

  10. Kim

    I don’t know how it’s possible, but I had never read this post. I don’t know what went wrong with your pie crust, but I am going to try my first from-scratch pie crust sometime next week, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

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