(Don’t miss Thanksgiving blogging part I: “this depends intirely on the goodness of your fire.” Several commenters in that thread–Susan, Notorious Ph.D., Dr. Crazy, and Clio Bluestocking offered up delicious notes from their prospective feasts, and Notorious suggested that we all post recipes on Thanksgiving day from our own meal preparations. Don’t miss out–post a recipe on your blog too, and if you don’t have a blog, post it in the comments thread on my blog!)
What would our Thanksgiving table be without a pumpkin pie? Well, the version we eat is a modern invention, in its sweetness and richness–probably less than 200 years old. The people in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 undoubtedly ate pumpkins and other winter squashes at their great feast of roasted fowl and venison, but it was probably served unsweetened and just simply “stewed,” with perhaps some salt and butter to enrich it, if they were fortunate.
I looked in vain to find a recipe for pumpkin pie in Mrs. Carter’s cookbook, The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook (1772 edition), which was published in London and Boston, and I presume written by an Englishwoman. So I had to look to Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery (Hartford, 1796) to find recipes that deal specifically with New World ingredients like squashes and corn meal. Here are two Native American ingredients transformed by the English love for all things sweetened and turned into a pudding-like consistency. The first offers three versions for Indian Pudding, which is a basically hasty pudding (cornmeal mush) sweetened and enriched with butter and eggs. Here they are, in declining order of richness and tastiness, in my opinion (p. 26):
A Nice Indian Pudding.
No. 1. 3 pints scalded milk, 7 spoons fine Indian meal, stir well together while hot, let stand till cooled; add 7 eggs, half pound of raisins, 4 ounces butter, spice and sugar, bake one and half hour.
No. 2, 3 pints scalded milk to one pint meal salted; cool, add 2 eggs, 4 ounces butter, sugar or molasses and spice q. l. it will require two and half hours baking.
No. 3, salt a pint of meal, wet with one quart milk, sweeten and put into a strong cloth, brass or bell metal vessel, stone or earthen pot, secure from wet and boil 12 hours.
“No. 3” is clearly the most Anglicized version in the manner of preparation, which looks like a steamed English pudding, and an extremely heavy and unpleasant one at that. But, all of the eggs, milk, and butter in the other versions are clearly contributions from English agriculture and foodways. You’ll notice too that Mrs. Simmons is much more telegraphic in her delivery than was Mrs. Carter–she seems to presume more familiarity with ingredients and techniques. (And I have no idea what “q. l” means–do any of you?) Next, we have several recipes for transforming winter squashes into puddings and tarts (pp. 27-28):
A Crookneck, or Winter Squash Pudding.
Core, boil, and skin a good squash, and bruize it well; take 6 large apples, pared, cored, and stewed tender, mix together; add 6 or 7 spoonsful of dry bread or biscuit, rendered fine as meal, half pint milk or cream, 2 spoons of rose-water, 2 do. wine, 5 or 6 eggs beaten and strained, nutmeg, salt and sugar to your taste, one spoon flour, beat all smartly together, bake.
The above is a good receipt for Pompkins, Potatoes, or Yams, adding more moistening or milk and rose-water, and to the two latter a few black or Lisbon currants, or dry whortleberries scattered in, will make it better.
Immediately following the above recipie, we finally get to pumpkin pies! From p. 28:
No. 1, one quart stewed and strained, 3 pints cream, 9 beaten eggs, sugar, mace, nutmeg and ginger, laid into paste No. 7 or 3, and with a dough spur, cross and chequer it, and baked in dishes three quarters of an hour.
No. 2, One quart of milk, one pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.
You’ll note that No. 1 doesn’t call for sugar, so it’s more like a quiche with a lattice crust. (And check out those amounts–a quart of pumpkin, 6 cups of cream, and 9 eggs!–surely enough to make 3 or 4 9-inch pies.) No. 2 is sweetened with molasses and spiced like modern pumpkin pies, and so is probably closer to what most of you will be eating on Thursday, although the ratio of milk to pumpkin makes it look rather milkier than pumpkiny.