I love baking and cooking traditional recipes. But I have met one that is a bit intimidating. Though this recipe for pumpion, a pumpkin-apple pie, is dated 1671, I have read that it was actually copied from another cookbook, and could be 25 years older.
Here is a pie that is as American as Apple Pie and substitutes for the traditional Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie.
Here we are, just one week from Thanksgiving–you MUST be thinking about the menu, right? How about something so different from your normal routine that it will blow the minds of your guests (or the hosts you are providing with a dish). Frying sliced pumpkin instead of using pureed pumpkin. Combining the familiar spices with herbs. Mixing pumpkin and apples in the same pie. Adding a wine/egg pudding. Do you dare do a break with tradition and do a pumpkin-apple pie?
Note: I would love to give you pictures of what this pie looks like, but all the sites I reference below have copyrighted their images, so you’ll have to click through to see various takes on pumpion pie.
The Compleat Cook London: printed for Nathaniel Brook, 1671
Take about half a pound of Pumpion and slice it, a handfull of tyme, a little rosemary,
parsley and sweet marjorum slipped off the stalks, and chop them small, then take the
cynamon, nutmeg, pepper and six cloves, and beat them, take ten eggs and beat them,
then mix them and beat them all together and put in as much sugar as you think fit, then fry them like a froize*, after it is fryed, let it stand till it be cold, then fill your pye, take sliced apples thinne round wayes, and lay a rowe of the froize, and layer the apples with currents betwixt the layer while your pye is fitted, and put in a good deal of sweet Butter before you close it, when pye is baked, take six yelks of eggs, some white wine or vergis*, and make a caudle* of this, but not too thick, cut up the lid and put it in, stir them well together whilst the eggs and pumpions be not perceived and so serve it up.
*froize = a kind of pancake or omelet
*vergis = verjuice, juice from unripened grapes or from crab apples or other sour fruit [Note that the recipe says white wine OR vergris, so you can get along without the vergris.]
*caudle= a warm spiced and sugared drink
Every reference I found to pumpion pie on the Internet shared a different opinion on how to make it. Some ignored putting it in a pastry (or coffin as pie crusts were intriguingly called back then). Some gave up on translating the unfamiliar terms, and just skipped the part they didn’t understand. But each reference added something to my understanding of the sometimes puzzling language of the 17th century recipe.
For instance, if I get up my courage to bake a pumpkin-apple pie, I now know how to make Verjuice or even better, where to buy it ( The site linked is one possibility–search for verjuice or verjus on the Internet). Since the point is to have a puckery sour fruity liquid, I’m tempted to try unsweetened cranberry juice. After all, our Pilgrim mothers had access to cranberries. (Ignoring for the moment that they had plenty of wild grapes as well.) But the easiest route would be to substitute a not-sweet white wine.
After making up some pie dough (probably a tougher one than my flaky Perfect Pie Crust recipe) I would dip the pumpkin slices in the egg and then roll in the herb/spice combination and fry them in a large skillet. When the pumpkin slices are tender, I would pour in the 10 (!) beaten eggs (having used a bit to dip the pumpkins). That would give me a omelet-like bottom layer for the pie. [Note: I would NOT use extra-large or even large eggs, assuming that in the Renaissance they had not yet developed super chickens, I would use small or medium eggs.]
I would roll out the pie dough and line a baking dish — a deep pie plate or even an iron skillet, place the “omelet” in the bottom, slice apples into rounds and cover the “omelet” then sprinkle on currants, cover with a thin layer of sugar and cover with another layer of apples. Dot heavily with butter and cover with a pie crust that is not sealed to the edges.
While baking the pie, I would mix the six egg yolks and white wine (or verjuice if feeling particularly adventurous), add a little sugar and warm gently on the stove. Having baked the pie until the apples are tender and the crust begins to brown, I might remove it from the oven and lift the top crust and pour in the wine/egg yolk mixture, replace the crust and return to the oven so that the “caudle” will become a custard. OR–maybe NOT replace the crust.
I continue to puzzle at the last clause in the recipe, after the pie is baked and the “caudle” warmed– ” cut up the lid and put it in, stir them well together whilst the eggs and pumpions be not perceived and so serve it up.” So it sounds like you break up the top crust of the pie into the wine/egg yolk mixture and stir it together, then pour over to cover the pumpkin omelet? In that case, you would not need to return it to the oven, having cooked the egg/wine mixture on the stove and then further thickened it with the broken up crust. What do you think? The more I think about it, the more sense this makes, since a caudle is a drink like a warm eggnog that would be heated before pouring, but it would not be thick enough to hold up in the pie. [UPDATE March 2018: Reading old cookbooks, I have seen the instructions to raise the lid of the apple pie after baking and carefully spoon in the butter and spices, so perhaps my theory is all wet. It may have been common practice that rather than mix the spices, etc. with the main ingredient, they were added after baking–the hard way.]
Suggestions for baking the pumpion pie, that chooses to ignore some of the instructions.
You can find a slew of recipes on line where the cook purees the pumpkin instead of frying, and layers the pumpkin pie pudding over a layer of apples, which strikes me as totally abandoning the main thrust of the old recipe.
The reprinted ancient recipe for the pumpkin-apple pie comes from Pilgrim Hall Museum. If you’re feeling historic in the kitchen, you can find more early Thanksgiving recipes in this Thanksgiving Cookbook available in PDF at the Pilgrim Hall Museum site.
PLEASE let us know if you try a pumpkin-apple pie, aka pumpion pie! And I promise to do the same.