One of the highlights of this time of year is the prevalence of cold weather comfort food, whether it’s hearty soups and stews or apple and pumpkin pies. Just the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg in the air is enough to tingle our senses, bringing “Autumn” in every heavenly sniff.
According to The Food Timeline, “Recipes for stewed pumpkins tempered with sugar, spices and cream wrapped in pastry trace their roots to Medieval cuisine. We find several period European/Middle Eastern recipes combining fruit, meat and cheese similarly spiced and presented. The Colombian Exchange [16th century] flooded the “old world” with “new world” foods. These new foods (pumpkins, potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts, corn etc.) were incorporated/assimilated/adapted into traditional European cuisines, each in their own way and time. Culinary evidence confirms it took several generations before many “new world” foods were accepted by the general public. Pumpkins seem to have skipped this honeymoon period. They were similar to “old world” gourds and squash, and superior in flavor. They were also just as easy to cultivate. As such, pumpkins (aka pompions) were embraced almost immediately.
If pumpkins are a “New World” food, why are they sometimes listed as ingredients in Medieval European recipes? If you notice, these references are usually found in Medieval cooking books with modernized recipes. The original recipes simply call for squash or gourds. Why substitute pumpkin? Some Medieval recipes for members of the curcurbit family (gourds, calabash, cucumbers, melons) are more palatable to contemporary tastes if you make them with pumpkin. It’s also readily available.
“As for pumpkin pie, in particular, in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England “people of substance” were familiar with a form of pumpkin pie that both followed the medieval tradition of “rich pies of mixed ingredients” and also bore resemblance to the consumption of apple-stuffed pumpkins typically engaged in by people of lesser substance…Pumpkin pie went out of fashion in Britain during the eighteenth century. Perhaps Edward Johnson reflected this emerging attitude in the 1650s when he offered as a sign of New England’s progress toward prosperity the fact that in most households people were eating “apples, pears, and quince tarts instead of their former Pumpkin Pies.” Pumpkin had been superseded by the more civilized fruits (free of association with the natives), of which the settlers had first been deprived. Such an anticipation that pumpkin pie was on the way out was premature, as far as the developments on this side of the Atlantic were concerned.*”
In 1803, Susannah Carter offered this recipe “To Make Pumpkin Pie” in her cookbook, The Frugal Housewife, or, Complete woman cook; wherein the art of dressing all sorts of viands is explained in upwards of five hundred approved receipts, in gravies, sauces, roasting [etc.] . . . also the making of English wines. To which is added an appendix, containing several new receipts adapted to the American mode of cooking. This title is updated from her earlier work, simply entitled The Frugal Housewife and printed in 1765. An American Edition was printed in 1772 on plates created by silversmith, Paul Revere. In 1829, American author Lydia Maria Child published a book with the same title. After a run in over Copyright infringement, Child’s Publisher was required to change it’s title in 1832 to the now famous, American Frugal Housewife.
To make Pumpkin Pie
Take the Pumpkin and peel the rind off, then stew it till it is quite soft, and put thereto one pint of pumpkin, one pint of milk, one glass of malaga wine, one glass of rosewater, if you like it, seven eggs, half a pound of fresh butter, one small nutmeg, and sugar and salt to your taste.
Susannah Carter, The Frugal Housewife, or, Complete woman cook, London, 1803.
- 2 cups of Pumpkin (1 small sugar pumpkin, 3-4lbs)
- 2 Cups of Milk
- 1/2 cup Malaga wine (or sweet Sherry, or Port– all fall into the “Sweet, Fortified Wine” category)
- 1/2 cup rosewater
- 7 eggs
- 1 cup of butter, softened
- 1 tbsp ground nutmeg, 1 nutmeg, grated
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Sugar to taste, (about 1 cup)
- 2- 9″ single crust pie shells
One of the easiest ways to cook pumpkin is to roast it. This brings out a lovely rich orange color and, if using a Sugar Pumpkin, much more sweetness than boiling the flesh.
Preheat your oven to 350*. Slice your pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and place it cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Add a little water to the pan so that it stands about 1/4″ deep and place the pan in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the squash is well roasted and the flesh is soft. Remove it from the oven, let it cool a bit and then scoop the flesh out of the shell. Discard the shell and start baking your pie!
Mix all ingredients together and our into the prepared pastry shells. Bake at 425 degrees F. For 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F. And bake for 40 minutes more, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Garnish with pecans and whipped cream.
This makes a much lighter, less “pumkin-y” pie than traditional Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie.
*America’s Founding Food: The Story of New England Cooking, Keith Stavely & Kathleen Fitzgerald [University of North Carolina Press:Chapel Hill] 2004 (p. 67-8)
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