The holiday season arrives under many banners: Pilgrim plays at school, the bloom of Christmas lights. For me, it’s heralded by a craving for all things pumpkin. The flavor of this seasonal staple (along with its supporting cast of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove) fills me with a longing that’s as powerful as it is prompt, arriving every year with the first frost and lingering through New Year’s.
And it’s not just pumpkin I crave, but One-Pie canned pumpkin puree. It’s New England’s unofficial brand — the same brand used by my mother before me. The flavor is rich and consistent, the texture perfect. And truth be told, I can’t resist the label, which hasn’t changed in at least 50 years and looks even older. When it comes to my pumpkin, I accept no substitute.
But despite my deep attachment, I realized that I knew almost nothing about One-Pie. A glance at the label assured me that it hails from West Paris, Maine. But my preliminary research on the company behind it yielded nothing: no Web site, no advertising, not even a voice on the line. Weeks of calls to headquarters led only to unreturned messages. Was our beloved brand a chimera?
Finally … an actual person in West Paris, who picked up the phone and led me to Jim Sheridan, a former account manager for Johnson O’Hare, a regional food broker based in Billerica, Massachusetts. Jim is now mostly retired, but he handled the One-Pie account for 10 years, and he understands our loyalty. In fact, that loyalty is now reaching beyond New England. When one supermarket chain carrying the brand expanded into upstate New York, Sheridan says a rival market “had to start carrying it as well to compete.”
One-Pie’s history is rooted in Maine’s 19th- and early-20th-century food-products boom, when the state was home to well over 100 canneries. Maine, with its teeming waters and cool climate, shipped and sold sardines, sweet corn, beans, apples, and, yes, pumpkin. One-Pie canned pumpkin (the company also offers canned squash) officially got its start at the Medomak Canning Co. in Winslows Mills, a village within the town of Waldoboro.
Alas, most of those canneries are now gone, and though One-Pie is still distributed from West Paris, Maine, it’s made in Illinois. Still, it holds a special place here in New England, where taste and tradition mingle, and a great-looking label doesn’t hurt, either.
The following recipes make the most of this prized New England staple. One — a family recipe from Yankee lifestyle editor Amy Traverso — transforms traditional pumpkin pie filling into a fluffy custard, its texture somewhere between pudding and soufflé. The second is another twist on a familiar favorite: pumpkin streusel bar cookies, with a creamy pumpkin center and crumbly top.