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Jane-O-Lantern: Picture Your Pumpkin Two Ways

The celebration now known as Halloween has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain, one of the four Druid “Bonfire” festivals. Celebrated on November 1, midway between the Autumn and Winter Solstices, some scholars believe that it marked the end of the old year and start of the new. Samhain (pronounced sów-en) was not a god to be worshipped, but rather a term meaning “The End of Summer”. It was at this time that the harvest was brought in, preparations for winter completed, debts were settled and the dead buried before the coming winter. In the highly superstitious Celtic culture, it was also believed that at this time when “a new year was being stitched to the old” the veil between the present world and the next was especially thin, allowing the spirits of the departed, both good and evil to roam.

Because of this belief, October 31 became a highly superstitious night. Some used the opportunity to entreat the dead for guidance in the coming year. Others carried on traditions involving the revelation of one’s sweetheart or good fortune for the coming year. Towards the close of the evening priests and townsfolk, dressed as spirits would parade through the village in order to lead the wandering ghosts back to their resting places. Far from being a burning Hell, the Celtic “underworld” was a place of light and feasting, much more akin to the Christian ideal of Heaven.

As it was also the close of the year, the bonfire, kindled by the priests served an extra purpose. Each villager would let their hearth fire die out that night to be lit afresh by embers from the bonfire, symbolizing a new year and hope for prosperity. During the night of spooks and ghosts, homes would be lit by rustic lanterns carved from turnips (known early on as neeps) beets and rutabagas. Pumpkins would be used later, as they were brought to Europe from the New World in the 17th century. These flickering lights were set out in hopes of welcoming home friendly souls and chasing away the evil spirits who wandered that night.

Continue reading Jane-O-Lantern: Picture Your Pumpkin Two Ways

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Pumpkin Pie

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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