As the big day approaches, our anticipation grows. For the first time since we moved to Northern Virginia, my whole family will be joining us for Thanksgiving, and we are thrilled that everyone is able to make the trip. When we were kids, our family would make a 22-hour nonstop drive from Kansas City back home to Virginia to spend Thanksgiving with all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Dad would enjoy a little time hunting with his dad and his brothers while the moms and kids stayed home with Grandma, who always had a spectacular southern meal planned for the big day. There were some years that not everyone could make the trip, but many years there were 20 of us gathered around three tables spread throughout the house since we couldn’t all fit in the kitchen or dining room. There was turkey and dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, rolls, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, applesauce cake, fruit cake. It’s not that the food was fancy—we come from farm stock, after all—but we all went back for seconds (and thirds) and Grandma talked about the food, sometimes fussing if one of the dishes or desserts didn’t turn out to her liking.
Thanksgiving with my maternal grandparents was smaller but no less memorable. Nana (the boys call her Grand Grandma) always met us at the door with a big smile and hugs. She made my favorite kind of mashed potatoes, which weren’t really mashed at all, just stirred well with butter, salt, and pepper, so they were still a little chunky. For dessert I always remember her pineapple no bake cheesecake and I began asking for it as my birthday cake each year.
I remember many years having two Thanksgiving Day meals, one with each set of grandparents so we could see everyone. We lived so far away and it was hard to make the trip more than once a year, so we tried to pack in as much family time as possible.
My family still gathers during Thanksgiving or Christmas each year to share and enjoy each other’s company and reminisce on those holidays we spent with our grandparents. We are scattered across several states and some years circumstances prevent us from all coming together, but we still make it a priority because we want our children to know their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Hopefully we are building a foundation that will stay with them as they grow up and they will always know they can come home and be with family during the holidays, no matter where life takes them.
This bite-sized pumpkin custard dessert works well for holiday parties and is easy to prepare ahead, and it’s a great size for young children. I make the custard and cream the day before and keep them covered in the refrigerator, then assemble just before serving. I use a piping bag for the cream, but you can also swirl a small spoon in it and gently drop it on top of each custard. The custard and cream are naturally gluten-free, just use gluten-free gingersnaps to make the recipe completely gluten-free. I found the mini martini glasses at Crate and Barrel and Pier 1, but I’m sure you can find them other places as well.
Pumpkin Custard with Mascarpone Cream
- 9x9 glass baking pan, buttered
- stand mixer with paddle attachment, or large mixing bowl and hand mixer
- quart freezer bag
- large star piping tip plus coupler
- 24 mini martini glasses
- 2 cups roasted pumpkin puree (or a 15-ounce can of puree, not pie filling)
- 3 eggs (lightly beaten)
- 1¼ cups half-and-half
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 4 ounces mascarpone cheese
- 4 ounces heavy cream (very cold)
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- gluten-free gingersnap crumbs
- Preheat the oven to 350° F/175° C.
- CUSTARD: In the mixing bowl, beat the pureed pumpkin, eggs, half & half, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg until thoroughly combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared 9×9 pan. Bake until the center is slightly wobbly and the edges are firm, about 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack, then chill in the refrigerator until it is completely cold, at least 1 to 2 hours.
- CREAM: While the custard bakes, beat together the mascarpone, cream, and sugar together with a mixer until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- ASSEMBLE: In the bottom of each glass, spoon in about 3 tablespoons of the chilled custard, then top off with a dollop of the cream. Sprinkle on some of the gingersnap crumbs and serve.