Many of our traditional Thanksgiving foods have come to be associated with that holiday over the years, but few of them can actually be traced back to the first Thanksgiving celebrations in America. Pumpkins are one that can. Pumpkins were one of the earliest foods the first European explorers brought back from the New World. The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for large melon: “pepon.” The French changed “pepon” to “pompon.” The English termed it “pumpion” or “pompion” in reference to the round shape.
The Northeastern Native American tribes that were friendly with the Pilgrim settlers grew squash and pumpkins. The Native Americans brought pumpkins as gifts to the settlers, and taught them the many uses for pumpkin.
Early American settlers of the Plymouth Colony in southern New England (1620-1692), probably didn’t make pies with their pumpkins but ate them stewed
or as a pudding made by filling a hollowed out pumpkin shell with milk, honey and spices and then baking it in hot ashes.
Europeans had also become fond of pumpkin. Francois Pierre la Varenne was a famous French chef and author of one of the most important French cookbooks of the 17th century, Le Vrai Cuisinier Francois (The True French Cook). It was translated and published in England as The French Cook in 1653. This cookbook contained a recipe for “Tourte of Pumpkin” that featured a pastry shell:
Tourte of Pumpkin – Boile it with good milk, pass it through a straining pan very thick, and mix it with sugar, butter, a little salt and if you will, a few stamped almonds; let all be very thin. Put it in your sheet of paste; bake it. After it is baked, besprinkle it with sugar and serve.
By the 1670s, recipes for “pumpion pie” began to appear in English cookbooks. The pumpkin pie recipes started to sound more familiar, including spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Often the recipes added apples, raisins or currants to the filling. English writer Hannah Woolley’s 1670 “Gentlewoman’s Companion” advocated a pie filled with alternating layers of pumpkin and apple, spiced rosemary, sweet marjoram and handful of thyme. Can you imagine putting that dish on your Thanksgiving table?
By the early 18th century pumpkin pie had earned its place at the Thanksgiving table, though the holiday had not yet been established nationwide. In 1705 the Connecticut town of Colchester famously postponed its Thanksgiving for a week because there wasn’t enough molasses available to make pumpkin pie.
It was not until 1796 that a truly American cookbook called American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, was published. It was the first American cookbook written and published here, and the first with recipes for foods native to America. Simmons’ pumpkin puddings were baked in a crust and similar to present-day pumpkin pies.
In 1842 Lydia Maria Child, wrote her famous poem about a New England Thanksgiving that began, “Over the river, and through the wood” and ended with a shout, “Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!”
Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, and the tradition was established.
In 1929 Libby’s meat-canning company of Chicago introduced a line of canned pumpkin that soon became a Thanksgiving fixture in its own right, replacing the need for roasting and straining one’s own pumpkin.
Much less work, but have you heard the admonition that today’s canned pumpkin might not really be pumpkin at all but a variety of squashes? I’m not sure if this is true or not, or if it even matters, but if you want to be sure your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie is truly made from a pumpkin, make it yourself!
Most of my books take place in the late 1800s and I’m pretty sure you didn’t go to the grocery store and buy a can of pumpkin back then. Here’s what they did: Cut a pumpkin into halves, take out the seeds and the stringy stuff. Place it cut sides up in a roasting pan with a little water in the bottom. Bake until tender then scoop the pumpkin from the shells and mash it with a potato masher. Easy-peasy, right?
How do you make pumpkin pie? Or maybe you prefer pumpkin bread, pumpkin cream cheese roll or one of the many delicious pumpkin recipes available today. I’d love to hear about your holiday pumpkin tradition.
Rand Stafford isn't looking for true love. He'd ridden that trail until his fiancée left him with a shattered heart. What he needs now is a wife to help him care for his orphan nieces. Desperate, he sends an advertisement to a Baltimore newspaper and hopes for the best.
Fleeing her former employer who would use her to further his unlawful acts, a newspaper advertisement reads like the perfect refuge to Carly Blair. The idea of escaping the city, the intrigue, and the danger to hide herself on a cattle ranch in Kansas is her best shot for freedom.
But its sanctuary comes with a price—a husband. While marrying a man she doesn't know or love means sacrificing her dreams, it's better than being caught by the law.
Or is it?