NASA specialist whips up a low-gravity pumpkin pie
For Lesley Garner, fall and early winter are a season for sugar and spice and everything nice.
“I tend to save all my baking for November and December,” said Garner, a mission support specialist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “Holiday baking is my thing.”
Garner, who lives in the Clear Lake area, fills her pantry with tasty cakes, bars and cookies. Her repertoire includes peanut butter balls, toffee and almond cookies decorated like snowflakes, which are her family’s favorite treats.
Baking pies are another specialty — she’s known for her fragrant apple pie. But for Thanksgiving, nothing can beat a pumpkin pie. Garner’s version isn’t your store-bought stodge. Her pumpkin chiffon pie makes for a light and tasty end to a filling Thanksgiving feast.
“I got the recipe from my mom,” Garner said. “She liked pumpkin pie, but didn’t want the traditional thick and dense pie like you get at the grocery store. This pie really is totally different. It is light and delicious. My son loves it and will fight to the death for the last piece.”
The pie’s filling is made in a double boiler on the stove top and then it sets in the refrigerator, so it doesn’t take up prime space in the oven during the busy holiday meal preparation.
“You can make it ahead, which is great,” she said. “If you make it the day before, it is just perfect. It is decorated with fresh whipped cream and pecans. It’s just so pretty.”
While it was Garner’s mother who taught her to cook, her father was the biggest influence on her life, she said. She was born in California, but her family moved around the coast because her father was a missile specialist. Thanks to her father’s scientific career, Garner was inspired to become a teacher. She moved to Houston more than four decades ago and worked for Clear Creek Independent School District for 40 years teaching mathematics and robotics.
Retired from teaching, she enjoys her workplace at Johnson Space Center, where her love of math, science and baking often collide.
“Banana bread is the one thing I bake all year and I usually take it to our meetings,” she said. “My colleagues are disappointed if I don’t bring it. They say it’s not really a meeting without my banana bread.”
LESLEY GARNER’S PUMPKIN CHIFFON PIE
For the filling:
1 packet of unflavored gelatin, dissolved into ½ cup of cold water
4 eggs separated
2 regular cans pumpkin
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ginger
½ cup white sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
For the pastry: Use a store-brought pastry shell and bake according to the directions or use the Best Ever Pie Crust recipe by Jean Haseloh from the website allrecipes.com.
Beat egg yolks and brown sugar with mixer until thick. Add pumpkin, milk and spices. Cook in double boiler until hot. Stir in gelatin. Set aside and let cool in the refrigerator. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold in white sugar.
Fold into cooled custard. Pour into baked pie shell and put in refrigerator until ready to serve. Before serving, decorate with fresh whipped cream and chopped pecan nuts.