I’ve always liked the idea of a celebration to give thanks, but I’ve never known why America has a holiday called Thanksgiving. And then there’s the much more pressing question: what is the story with pumpkin pie?
Thanksgiving probably began simply as a celebration of a bountiful harvest, and the idea has been co-opted at different times by religion and politics. Eventually its various origins and purposes seem to have come together mostly as a reason for Americans to come together, firstly as a symbol of national unification (as decreed by Abraham Lincoln) and these days as a family occasion.
My extensive research of American TV situation comedies suggests that this is a holiday with generous and loving qualities.
Still, I’m more intrigued by the idea of pumpkin pie. Why pumpkin pie?
Ryan O’Hanlon of Pacific Standard has this excellent quote to add to my understanding of it: “Thanksgiving is an American holiday, and there are few things more American than dumping a can of pre-prepared mush into pie crust and calling it dessert.”
Certainly pumpkins originated in the “New World” along with corn, tomatoes and peanuts. However it seems likely the recipes that evolved into modern-day pumpkin pie were actually European. They had been stuffing and roasting cucumbers, gourds and zucchini since the Middle Ages. So the first “pumpkin pies” were probably pumpkins stuffed with apples and berries and shoved into a fire. Sounds practical but even more weird than the modern version.
All of this brings me to my own attempt at making one. The nearest I have come to tasting a genuine Thanksgiving pumpkin pie is smelling a “spiced pumpkin” scented candle, so I didn’t have any bias to begin with. But I wanted my version to hint at the history of this odd-sounding dessert. So I stuffed a pumpkin with a custardy pumpkin mash (recipe below).
Actually it was a butternut squash, so my pumpkin wasn’t really a pumpkin just as my pie wasn’t really a pie. I served it with Dutch apple sauce in homage to those medieval cooks I mentioned, but that extra flourish also added extra weirdness to the flavour, I think.
Whether or not my “pie” was a success depends upon who you ask. The kids tucked in and then tired of it very quickly; perhaps they found it too rich. The husband took two spoonfuls and declared it “not yucky… but a bit weird.”
I think it was delicious and I’d like all my vegetables served as custard from now on, please.
Many Cha Cha’s Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie
Half a small pumpkin (I used a butternut squash, which we call a pumpkin…)
1/2 cup Muscuvado sugar
2 free range eggs
1/2 cup cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground Allspice
Whole cloves (to decorate the pumpkin shell)
Icing sugar and perhaps Dutch applesauce or extra cream, to serve
Brush the pumpkin or squash with oil and roast for 40 minutes at 180C. Scoop the flesh out of the shell, discard the seeds and puree the pumpkin. Add eggs, cream, sugar and ground spices to the pumpkin puree and continue to blend until mixture is well combined. Decorate pumpkin shell with whole cloves and then spoon the pumpkin mixture into the shell (any leftover mixture can be baked in patty pans or ramekins). Place the pumpkin into an oven-proof bowl to help it retain its shape, then return it to the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until set, at 150C. Dust with icing sugar and serve with sauce or cream.