Stead of pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.
Poem written in 1630s America, from History.org article on pumpkins .
When the settlers from New England first arrived in Marietta, in the Northwest Territory about 1790, Indian wars were raging. They had no easy trade with the east, their livestock was constantly in danger, they had to clear dense Ohio woods before they could plant vegetables, and then take the chance of going out of their forts to tend to their gardens. Even hunting was risky, said Benjamin Franklin Stone in his memoir of the pioneers of Israel Stone’s family.
In his autobiography, B.F. Stone says
In the late 18th century, when my Ohio ancestors were depending on pumpkin recipes to keep them alive, the Europeans still disdained pumpkin, recently introduced to them, as food for the poor.
Like so many frontier foods, housewives found many ways to keep their family from getting bored with pumpkin. Not an easy task since pumpkin recipes benefit from sweetening and if ever two flavors were meant to go together, it is pumpkin and cinnamon. if they had any cinnamon, it would have been in short supply, and for sweetening, they probably had to depend on maple syrup or honey once they ran out of the small amount of sugar they brought along, as it would be a while before traders would be delivering molasses to the frontier settlements.
I found a great article at History.org, the website of Historic Williamsburg, with a very complete history of the use of pumpkin in America, from American Indians to today. Here’s a 17th century view of one way pumpkins were cooked.
Today we tend to limit ourselves to pumpkin already stewed and canned and to a pumpkin recipe on the can’s label for pie. Or maybe we munch on salted pumpkin seeds, removed when the kids made jack-o-lanterns. Our more versatile ancestors were using pumpkin recipes for side dishes, or stuffed pumpkin with various fillings eaten as a main dish.
But we are not just being lazy when we choose pumpkin in a can. Pumpkins in America have been for decades bred for making jack-o-lanterns–sturdiness taking precedence over taste. And the thinner walls suitable for carving mean you don’t get as much pumpkin meat. So if you’re going to cook up some pumpkin from scratch, be sure that you find a store that sells eating pumpkins–perhaps labeled “heirloom” or you will definitely be disappointed.
What we call pumpkin pie, was known by them as pumpkin pudding. It just happened to be baked in a “paste”, which we call by the finished name–crust. The article from Williamsburg points out that the Amelia Simmons American cookbook in 1796 gave a recipe for pumpkin pudding that sounds almost identical to the pie filling you can find on the label of the canned pumpkin today. There are some things that you just can’t really improve on.
DRINKING YOUR PUMPKIN
Boy, I wouldn’t mind having a taste of pumperkin. That sounds delicious!
NOTE: Be sure you’re buying eating pumpkins rather than jack o’ lantern pumpkins when you try these recipes. And if you want to try pumpkin in more modern recipes, try substituting it fro butternut squash in any recipe.
PUMPKIN RESEARCH NOTES
History.org article on pumpkins from Colonial Williamsburg Journal Autumn 09.
The website Jas. Townsend and Son made the video. At their online store, theysell items for American Revolution recreators. They carry cooking and eating necessities including some ingredients and cookbooks and DVDs for recreating the 18th century kitchen. (Video is available on you tube).
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Stone, excerpt from New England Magazine, both available at Google Books for search.