On a visit to Great Barrington, Massachusetts last summer, I found myself staring at a wall of One-Pie products in aisle 12 of the local Big Y supermarket. While dear friend Abbie gathered sensible groceries, I juggled several cans of both the pumpkin and the squash varieties. You can’t help but fall in love with the vintage pie slice image and comfortable type-face dancing across the 15 oz. cans. Dubbed the unofficial brand of New England, the squash and pumpkin fillings are responsible for creating generations of pie memories rich with molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
In the early 19th and 20th centuries, Maine was home to well over 100 canneries. Canners realized the importance of label-recognition and sought to tempt consumers with vivid images. One-Pie clearly found their niche, creating distinctive artwork that has remained virtually unchanged for more than 50 years. The fine print tells us that One-Pie hails from West Paris, Maine though digging a bit deeper, it appears the product is actually manufactured in Illinois. A victim of competition from other parts of the country, Maine’s canning industry diminished substantially over time. The food memories associated with One-Pie’s squash and pumpkin fillings however, are much more resilient.
Thanksgiving pie bakers are passionate folks. We love to discuss and analyze the perfectly flaky crust and the virtues of the blind-bake. We are as divisive about canned vs. fresh as we are about pumpkin vs. squash. And don’t get us started on Pyrex, French ceramic bakeware with dimpled edges, and vintage tin. We are an opinionated bunch to be sure, and more than happy to offer our thoughts to anyone within earshot.
The Marthas of the world may fill your iphone screen with images of fresh-from-the-field gourds. You will hear the virtues of roasting your own pumpkin or squash, gently scooping out the seeds (which you will save and roast for garnish) and the ease of removing any fibrous stragglers. Your food processor will make pureeing a snap! What’s missing in your kitchen is a staff of interns designated to make quick work of the roasting pans, blade attachments, and jagged bowl scrapers that now fill your sink. Said interns are also critical when disinfecting and bandaging any gourd slicing wounds you may sustain. Sadly, most of our kitchens are not staffed with interns.
I’ve had a few fresh pumpkin disasters; flesh that is terribly water-logged, fibers as cumbersome and unwelcome as a can of Silly String. If I had to choose my favorite squash, butternut would win for ease and flavor. For consistency of product and little fuss however, there’s no shame embracing the 15 oz. can.
The fact is Thanksgiving pies are inextricably velcroed to our memories. Some folks consume one slice of pumpkin pie per year, never thinking about it from one November to the next. Others dream of a steady dessert diet, rich in pumpkin pie cloaked in whipped cream. You can swear by the Libby’s on the label or the butternut squash you tote home from your organic farmer. The beauty of pie is that you begin with a blank canvas and fill it any which way you choose. If you are lucky enough to choose a can of One-Pie filling, it is most definitely worthy of your pie plate. Based on label looks alone, the filling from West Paris, Maine wins, oven mitts down. Thanks, Abbie for introducing me to the Big Y. If I survive Pievember, I'll see you next summer.