Next I went to Pearson's, where pie is one of the essential food groups, just after hot dish, soup, Swedish meatballs, and heart medicine. An old lady in the next booth noticed me grinning over my pie ($2.90), a squat, church-basement-looking offering with an attractively brown top. "You're happy today, aren't you?" she asked me. I sure was. The pie smelled strongly of nutmeg, and my thesis that even lackluster pumpkin pies are pretty good was holding up. She invited me to join her conversation circle, and we all soon concluded one is never too old to wear silver.

Zooming over to the Highland Grill, I discovered their version of pumpkin pie ($3.95) is more savory than sweet, the crust salty and mostly unsweetened, the pumpkin filling super-spicy. It was very good, in a manly, forthright, and burly sort of way. I only wished that instead of coffee I had gotten a beer to go with it, like the dark Summit Alt Bier they had on tap, or at least some rebar and a few hammers to flail.

I also tried Baker's Square, because I was curious how their pumpkin pie would stack up. They offered two versions, pumpkin ($1.99) and pumpkin cream ($2.99). No one bothered telling me that pumpkin cream pie is just the exact same pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top of it. Luckily, when they handed me two identical slices of pie, one with whipped cream, I pretty much figured it out. Then my server told me she had thought it odd when I ordered them both. I thought she was odd. We narrowed our eyes at each other and bided our time as the minutes ticked by, one minute into two, and then back to one, which surprised us both.

The only thing you need to know about Baker's Square is that you're not missing anything. The pumpkin pie here has a peculiar oily sheen and gelatinous texture, and there's nothing vegetal about it whatsoever. The nicest thing about these offerings is that you can really taste the cinnamon, the distinct hot note of it. And the way the pie on the table looked exactly, exactly like the pie in the photos on the table, down to the T-square perfect edges.

Later that night I had Bar Abilene's pumpkin pie (pictured), and it was a revelation. The restaurant that brought us real margaritas made with real lime juice was not content with the traditional version of pumpkin pie ($4.95). Instead, they've come up with one topped with caramelized corn flakes and pecans. Yeah, I know it sounds wacky, but it was truly excellent, and the corn flakes didn't contribute anything but crisp. Texture was a big part of the experience here; the pumpkin filling was nicely loose, allowing it to cling alternately to that sweet, nutty, cinnamon-laced topping or the perfectly crisp crust. Even after a day of tasting all the tricks that pumpkin piehood had to offer, this pie came out on top. Oddly, charmingly, my waitress, Bridget Harrington, had made the pie herself. She's a pie lover encouraged in her enthusiasms by the restaurant's kitchen. She's a talent, that kid, but all I can say is, Beware: Last time I was encouraged by a kitchen I woke up in Tijuana handcuffed to Dun Foal.

Monday at Hamlin's, owner Barry Hamlin had indeed made pumpkin pie ($2). When I slid onto a stool at the small central counter, I saw immediately that three other people were already feasting on the stuff. When mine came, it was simply beautiful: a clear, fresh orange-brown, the top dotted with little mahogany rings where bubbles had burst during baking. It had a sweet, clear flavor, and its crust was the Hamlin's classic flaky, lard version. Barry Hamlin says the key to that sweetness is maple syrup--he got the recipe from a Lioness cookbook (Hamlin collects ladies' auxiliary and church cookbooks). Sliding the little white plate away, I felt thoroughly satisfied, fulfilled, and secure in the knowledge I had done my part for all the blown-out giant pumpkins, albeit in a completely lazy and selfish way.

Only one question remains: Which pie was the best? Either the Bar Abilene or the Turtle Bread. They were both so very good, so very different. City slicker, country bumpkin. And did you ever notice how bumpkin rhymes with pumpkin? Poet Tony Hickman has. He has also noticed pumpkin rhymes with somethin'. And with tradition. Well, kind of, sort of. Oh, the fragile effervescence that is the relationship of humanity and pumpkinkind!

Other pies: Pearson's Edina Restaurant, 3808 W. 50th St., Minneapolis, (612) 927-4464; Highland Grill, 771 Cleveland Avenue S., St. Paul, (651) 690-1173; Bakers Square Restaurant and Pies, 2239 Ford Pkwy., (651) 698-0775; Hamlin's Coffee Shop, 512 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, (612) 333-3876.

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