November 24, 2011: Sweet potato pie

Happy Thanksgiving! It feels nothing like Thanksgiving here, what with the dazzling sun and ever-visible blue ocean (and, of course, the fact that it’s a completely ordinary day for Chile). Still, I hope that y’all in the States have a wonderful time of it.

My bed at V.’s is much wider than I’m used to. As such, I sleep rather as though I were on a pitching ship in a huge storm — I fall asleep on one side of the bed, but throughout the course of the night, I slant diagonally and roll from one side to the other. There was a 5.4 magnitude earthquake here a few nights ago, and I didn’t even wake up.

I am increasingly frustrated with my Spanish school. Today they told us that, instead of finally doing something new tomorrow, we would be taking a test on the subjunctive (we’ve spent almost half of my classtime on the damn thing). Four of the five students in the class are about to finish at the school, and the one student who is continuing past next week will be absent tomorrow. The test ostensibly measures whether we may continue to the next unit, but since we won’t be there to continue, it’s rather useless. Trapped between rigid adherence to bureaucracy and the astoundingly slow speed of lessons.

On the bright side, I had frothy strawberry juice with lunch.

You may remember that I was idly considering making a pumpkin pie. After class, I decided to escalate this possibility to the level of Sacred Quest. Along with my classmate E. (the other American, who was hunting taco ingredients), I caught a micro to the Jumbo — a ginormous supermarket, easily bigger than a standard Target or Walmart. (The city buses have signs on their fronts to indicate where they’re going — cities, neighborhoods, large streets. Jumbo is so big that the buses list it as a destination of its own.)

I had found a pretty simple pumpkin pie recipe online, with ingredients that I thought I’d be more likely to find in Chile. I started by asking a nice grocery man if they had pie crust, which is an entertaining conversation with my Spanish: “Do you know the dessert pie? I’m looking for its bread. No, not a lemon pie… the lemon pie but without the lemon.” After consulting with a baker, he said they had no such thing.

Oh well. I could make my own crust if I need to. E. and I wandered away, but a few minutes later, the same man tracked me down again and excitedly told me that he had found one, and that we should follow. Tucked on an unobtrusive low shelf, there were exactly two premade pie crusts. Victory! I thanked him — excelente, excelente.

Encouraged, I began to hunt for canned pumpkin. I found a marvelous variety of canned goods: currants, lúcuma, palm shoots, lychee, and applesauce (another taken-for-granted U.S. food that is almost nonexistent here). But pumpkin was nowhere to be seen. I asked a man who was reshelving soups if he knew; he found a pumpkin salad dressing, but somehow I didn’t think that would work. The pie-crust-man wandered by, and asked if I needed any more help; I described what I needed. He galloped off, and returned triumphant with a small jar of sliced zapallo in syrup.

The South American Spanish word for “pumpkin” is zapallo. Unfortunately, zapallo is also used to describe gourds in general. The picture on this jar was of a zucchini (usually called zapallo italiano). Hmmm. I asked him where it came from, and he showed me the shelf; I thanked him again and he bounced off. Next to the zucchini-zapallo jar, I discovered a jar of batatitas — sweet potatoes! Since I like sweet potato pie as much as I do pumpkin, I decided to switch plans, and make a sweet potato pie (instead of an accidental-zucchini pie).

While at Jumbo, I also found a US-to-Chile power converter (so I can charge my camera batteries) and a chapstick (so I don’t arrive home looking like an armadillo). I also stocked up on glorious cappuccino-flavored milk. Then, I grabbed a micro back home, to prepare my single acknowledgement of Thanksgiving.

Ingredientes.

V. helped me get set up with the oven (it’s the older gas type that needs to be lit with a taper of newspaper). It doesn’t have temperatures, but is instead marked with levels 1-8. Based on the Celsius temperatures I told her, she guessed that I would start at level 3 and switch to level 2.

O rare premade pie crust!

I squished and whisked and scooped all my ingredients together, and poured them into the pie shell. It was shallower than the recipe anticipated, so I poured the excess into an oven-safe bowl, and then put them both in the oven.

Filled to the brim with sweet-potato goodness.

About an hour later, there was pie! It’s actually the nicest-looking pie I’ve made (usually the surface cracks a little). I ate dinner, and then had a slice. The flavor of the condensed milk somewhat overpowers the other flavors, and the texture is a little clingy. Nonetheless, it’s tasty in its sweet way (and V. concurs). I declare it an acceptable Chilean approximation of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

Here's what the extra filling ended up as (complete with doneness-test fork marks.)
And... sweet potato pie!

4 thoughts on “November 24, 2011: Sweet potato pie

  1. It is an impressive thing, indeed, to have baked a pumpkinless pie. And from what you wrote about the pie crust discussion (spam and bacon without the spam), I think your strategic competence is on the rise.

    There is no such word as “ginormous.” What you meant to say was “gymatic,” which is the one YOU made up.

    I watched World’s Greatest Dad with Robin Williams and it was supposed to be a comedy but the tone (not the incidents) of the first half was too much like my own life. It did get funnier. The good thing about watching it was that it led me to discover a CD by Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby, so I’ve been merrily downloading songs from that.

    I look forward to your next entry. In the meantime, I shall shower.

  2. “Trapped between rigid adherence to bureaucracy and the astoundingly slow speed of lessons.”

    My entire experience sitting in classrooms grades 5-12, and nearly every class I’ve taken as an adult since: summed up quite pithily by you. I feel your pain.

  3. She who would bake
    A pumpkin pie
    Must answer me
    These questions three
    Ere the pie she may make.
    WHAT … is your name? “Tehhen.”
    WHAT … is your quest? “To bake a pumpkin pie.”
    WHAT … is “pumpkin” in Spanish? “The North American variety or gourds in general?” Well … I don’t know … AAAIIIEEEEEE!

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