It is a staple around every American’s table this time of year, as we welcome another holiday season. Thanksgiving just isn’t complete without the sweet, spicy, and oh-so-comforting aroma of pumpkin pie wafting throughout your home. But what you may not have known is that pumpkin pie has a history as rich as the holiday we associate it with!
The pilgrims, who are credited with the invention of Thanksgiving dinner, had in fact never seen squash before they came to the new world! In the 1620s, Native Americans brought them pumpkins as gifts, and showed them how to use the iconic gourd. Of course, there were no ovens back then, so they would hollow out a pumpkin, fill it with cream, honey, and other spices, and bake it in hot ashes. The pilgrims came up with the idea of turning it into pie, because putting things in pastry was a European concept. But of course, it didn’t transition into pie until about 50 years later, because there was no way to set a pie without an oven!
A famous French chef, Francois Pierre la Varenne, wrote a cookbook in 1651 with a recipe for pumpkin pie that included the pastry.
It wasn’t until 1796 that the first truly American cookbook was put together by Amelia Simmons, and that volume included a recipe for pumpkin puddings that is very similar to our modern-day version of pumpkin pie.
There are lots of ways to make pumpkin pie. But we are partial to this recipe, coming to us from Chef Molly, and in the more original “un-pie” style!
“Molly’s New Original Pumpkin Pie”
Makes 1 medium/small pumpkin, serves about 8
For the shell: 1 pumpkin, about 8″ in diameter, 2 tbsp butter, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice*
For the custard: 2 cups heavy cream, 6 egg yolks, 1/2 cup honey, 1 vanilla bean, scraped** or 2 tsp vanilla extract; 2 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2) Carefully cut a wide circle around the pumpkin stem, remove the top, and scoop out the seeds. Keep the orange flesh intact.
3) Place butter, brown sugar, and spices in the pumpkin and place in a baking dish. Put in oven about 5 minutes or until the butter is melted.
4) Remove from oven, spread the melted butter and sugar all around the inside of the pumpkin to coat the flesh. Return to oven and continue roasting about 30 minutes, until the flesh is soft but not mush.
5) While roasting the pumpkin, combine all custard ingredients in a blender and mix thoroughly.
6) Once the pumpkin is al dente, pour the custard into the shell, cover with foil, and return to the oven. Turn the oven down to 325.
7) Bake until the custard is set; it will still have a jiggle, but won’t move like a liquid.
At this point, you can serve it hot straight out of the oven, or cool it in the refrigerator and serve cold the next day. If you serve it hot, just dig in with a large spoon, scooping custard and pumpkin flesh into bowls. If chilled is desired, you can serve in spoonfuls, or slices (add 2 extra egg yolks to help firm it up).
*Pie spice is available as a spice blend, or you can make your own. I make a large batch at the beginning of the fall, as I use it so much seasonally. I put a touch of salt in my blend, so I don’t have to add it in the recipes I make with it. If you purchase a blend that does not have salt in it, I recommend adding a pinch to the custard and pumpkin shell, as it kicks the flavor up a notch.
Suggested DIY blend: 12 parts cinnamon, 4 parts ground nutmeg, 4 parts ground ginger, 3 parts allspice, 3 parts mace, 1/4 part white pepper, 1/4 part sea salt
**A note on vanilla beans: The seeds are where the flavor is. Cut the bean lengthwise and use the knife to scrape the seeds out. The hull is still useful! My favorite use is to put it in a container of sugar. After a week or so, you will have vanilla sugar. The scraped hull can be used in liquid infusions as well. They keep well in the freezer, wrapped tightly.
History source: Linda Stradley