November 21, 2009

THE HISTORY OF PUMPKIN PIE

Pumpkin pie: as important a part of Thanksgiving as the turkey (perhaps more important to some!).  But have you ever paused to wonder...why pie?  And why pumpkin in particular?

To consider the history of the pumpkin pie, first, we’ll go to Europe.  Although the origins of the pie stretch way back to ancient Egypt, where an early version of the pastry was made with honey and nuts in bread dough, I found opinions that they came into their own during medieval times.  Pies (charmingly called “coffins” then) became popular for being both a food and a vessel—easy to transport, hearty and filling.  Of course, being baked without a pan at the time, the crust was...well, pretty crusty and inedible.  But, it did protect the (usually savory) contents on jousts and voyages to and from the castle.  Over the years, the pie making method improved, and the size of a typical pie increased—they had to be pretty big after all to fit four and twenty blackbirds!

Meanwhile, in what’s going to be the USA one day, pumpkins are a staple for the Native Americans.  The outer parts were cut into strips, dried, and made into mats; the innards were roasted by the fire and eaten.  A very useful little gourd, indeed!

But fireworks flew when the pilgrims came stateside; they learned pretty quick that they were going to have to adapt to the local produce, or...well, not eat. Not surprisingly, they didn’t find pumpkin puree by itself to be exceedingly delicious; and so they cleverly removed the seeds from the inside, and added mass amounts of sugar, milk, spices and honey.  They would then bake the pumpkin whole in hot fire embers and eat the sweet insides.  Yummy.

After that, it didn’t take too long for old-world customs to meet with the new-school produce, and the sweet pumpkin mixture was poured into piecrusts. And to speak to why pies don’t have a top crust?  As some would have it (and I like this explanation) foremost to conserve ingredients; they would literally “cut corners” by cutting the crust before baking; this conserving of ingredients is also why pies traditionally became shallower than in the days of yore.

And it is this series of events that led up to the sweet treats served at the first Thanksgiving feasts; the pumpkin pie has been a symbol of not just Thanksgiving, but hearth, home and friendship ever since.

Make your own Thanksgiving pumpkin pie with the recipe.  Just click on the pie below. 

Or you could always pick up a few at Wick’s – they deliver!

A very Happy Thanksgiving
to each of you!