Pumpkin pies’ political past

By Caryl Clem

Before English colonists traveled the high seas to land on American shores, pumpkins were used as a vegetable.  In a Native American cookbook, Spirit of the Harvest by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs a recipe features baking a variety of savory seasonings with meat and rice inside the pumpkin.  As early as 1651 a French chef published a recipe for Tourte of Pumpkin in his cookbook that was republished in England in 1653. Wealthy landowner’s wives baked pumpkin treats. Farm wives stewed sliced pumpkins and apples together with molasses. The first Dutch lawyer who owned land in New England documented his opinion that the North American pumpkin was sweeter and more delicious. The Native Americans believed sharing meals together was a sign of peace and community, sharing the pumpkins with colonists was a sign of goodwill.

An orphan colonial woman was able to publish the first American woman authored cookbook.  The recipes were written in a different format than the English version and included a new vocabulary for cooking terms. American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, in 1796 showed she was a genius combining specific step by step instructions, patriotic terms for dishes like Election Cake and meals for larger budgets and servings. She blended the emerging American culture into her recipes: created the first leavening agents that lead to baking powders, used the staple of corn meal to replace the English pasties dough, and introduced the terms shortening, cookie, and slapjacks. Her cookbook provided an American culinary identity and a way to spread patriotic pride in the new countr

In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale, an abolitionist campaigned to make Thanksgiving a National Holiday. In her novel, Northwood the pumpkin pie portrayed as a most distinguished dish to serve at this meal.  Another abolitionist wrote the poem about the traditional journey to Grandmother’s house at Thanksgiving.  Released in 1842 by Lydia Maria Child, “Over the River and through the wood ended with a shout, hurra for the pumpkin pie. “ Instant recognition and fame spread as it appeared in children’s stories and articles in agricultural journals advising the benefits of eating pumpkins.  In 1828 a cookbook was published by popular Eliza Leslie that featured the pumpkin pie custard we eat today. The pumpkin was cooked; strained then eggs, butter, sugar and spices were added. This mixture was poured on top of a pastry shell with strips of pastry laid across the top. When Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a National Holiday in 1863, the members of the Confederacy in Virginia proclaimed it was a Yankee move to impose Yankee customs in the South. Taste buds finally won the political war as the love of pumpkin pie spread across the country.  In 1929, Libby first released canned pumpkin filling that became the answer to easy pumpkin pie baking.

After checking the top pie sales across the nation, Pumpkin ranked first, followed by Apple in a heated second.  National Pumpkin Pie Day is Christmas Day, Dec 25:  I am not waiting that long to celebrate this wonderful taste of fall.