My favorite memory of pumpkin pie is not a Thanksgiving story at all but the tale of a very hot Fourth of July. I was living in Boston and my friend David had invited me to tag along to a potluck being thrown by some people in the MIT math department.
For some reason now lost to memory, David was intent on baking a pumpkin pie for this event, but had a) an un-air-conditioned apartment that was at least 100 degrees inside and b) very few of the ingredients needed for the creation of a pumpkin pie.
I might add that the majority of supermarkets in Boston were closed that day.
After some scavenging across the greater metropolitan area, David came up with canned organic pumpkin from Bread and Circus (now a Whole Foods) and a premade graham-cracker crust from the 7-Eleven.
The apartment got considerably hotter during the baking, the pie never really managed to cool as we didn't have time to put it in the fridge, and after it had been walked to the subway station, experienced its first subway ride and then carted to the potluck, it could pretty accurately be described as pumpkin soup with graham undertones.
Fast-forward to the 21st century.
A couple years ago I got real tired of being disappointed in the pumpkin pie I was baking at Thanksgiving. I'd been using a recipe off the Libby's canned pumpkin label and it wasn't doing it for me anymore. I tried using the same recipe but with fresh pumpkin, with no better results; then, I hit the Internets to see what the prevailing thought was about the best pumpkin pies. Ironically, if you type "best pumpkin pie recipe" into Google, the top result is the recipe from the Libby's label.
I was looking for good pumpkin flavor without getting too eggy-tasting in the custard. A treatise from Daily Olive is helpful in discussing the importance of milk, cream and sugar in your custard: "As with many older recipes, this [one] calls for heavy cream as well as milk and a goodly quantity of sugar. These ingredients not only improve the flavor, but they also protect the texture, since both fat and sugar serve to block the curdling reaction." But the four eggs in this recipe wrecked it for me, just too eggy.
I finally hit on this winner from Joyofbaking.com. It's classic, while recalling some of the best elements of Independence Day pumpkin pie. While I never make the whole shooting match complete with the maple whipped cream, there's a lot to like here.
The basic recipe for the pumpkin pie works with any crust, so if you already have a favorite crust recipe, use that. It even works in a premade graham cracker crust, which I often adopt for old times' sake. The graham cracker doesn't get soggy -- although I wouldn't try it in the middle of summer. I particularly like the layer of gingersnaps laid in the bottom of the pie, but that's skippable, too, if you're in a hurry.
The keys to success, in my opinion, lie in the use of heavy cream (instead of the sweetened condensed milk often found in recipes) and good quality spices. I use Penzeys, including the China cassia cinnamon and Powdered China #1 Ginger.