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Hilde Lee: America's pumpkin pie filling a partnership of Indian puree and English custard

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Hilde Lee: America's pumpkin pie filling a partnership of Indian puree and English custard
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Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 6:00 am
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Hilde Lee: America's pumpkin pie filling a partnership of Indian puree and English custard
Hilde G. Lee
The Daily Progress
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Although we usually think of pumpkins only at Halloween, this American vegetable of the squash family has become quite popular in Europe. Even the German cooking magazine Kochen und Geneissen, to which I subscribe, had a feature article on pumpkin (Kurbis) in the October issue.cartier watches for men
One of the recipes in this German magazine pairs pieces of pumpkin with pieces of chicken breast in a dish that is spiced with curry powder, leeks and bay leaf. Coconut milk is the liquid in which this stew simmers in the oven.fake cartier watches for sale
Although we cook various varieties of squash throughout the year, pumpkins are primarily signs of Halloween. If the Halloween pumpkin flesh is used at all, it is the basis of soup or a pie.cartier fake watches
However, in days past, pumpkins were a prime source of food for the Indians and early settlers alike. Both pumpkins and their squash cousins grew luxuriously in those days with little farming attention. These foods were relatively unknown in the countries from which the early settlers had come.cartier fake
Early American housewives, therefore, invented recipes on a trial-and-error basis. Many times, these new dishes with little known ingredients were received with little enthusiasm by the family, but hunger often prevailed.
Like corn, many pumpkin dishes were served with butter, sugared water or molasses. Another variation was sweet pumpkin sauce, used as a topping on cornmeal mush, thus preserving expensive sugar for more important occasions. A still popular dish of naked pumpkin was originated by the early settlers who removed the pumpkin’s core, baked the shell and its flesh in cabbage leaves, and then served the whole vegetable with cream poured in the center.
Indians shared with pioneers various methods of drying and dicing pumpkins, which they called “pompions.” Thus, the preserved chunks could be reconstituted later by boiling with other produce. The Indians also boiled or baked their pumpkins. They baked a whole pumpkin by placing it in the ashes or embers of a dying fire. Before it was eaten, the flesh of the pumpkin was moistened with animal fat, maple syrup or honey.
The Indians also dried pumpkins by cutting them into rings and hanging the rings up to dry. This gave them a vegetable to use in the winter months. Dried pumpkin also was ground into meal and used the same as cornmeal to make breads and puddings.
But there is a little more history to this vegetable of Halloween.
For centuries before the Europeans came to the Americas, pumpkins were one of the staple foods of the native Indians. Food historians believe that this vegetable, a member of the squash family, probably originated in Central America.  By the 1500s, pumpkins and other squashes were cultivated by the Indians from South America to North America. However, the earliest Indians (1000 to 300 B.C.), who were nomads, dried the pumpkin seeds and used them for food since they were easy to carry on their long journeys.
As the Indians settled into villages they cultivated pumpkins and other squashes. Food historians say that squashes were the first of the Indian triad — corn, beans and squash — to be cultivated.
The first pumpkins known to Europeans were discovered in about 1540 when some of the scouts of Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado reported that melons (probably pumpkins) were growing in what is today the Southwest. In 1584, Jacques Cartier, the French explorer, reported that he had found big melons (squashes) in the St. Lawrence region (upper New York state). The French word “gros melons,” however, was translated as “pompions” (pumpkins).
In 17th-century New England, ripe pumpkins were sliced, then diced and put into a two- or three-gallon iron pot to be stewed in the fireplace for most of the day. Periodically, more pieces of pumpkin were added to the pot as its contents boiled down. After cooking all day, the mixture had the consistency of applesauce. A little butter, vinegar and ginger, if available, were added to the mix. This pumpkin puree was served as an accompaniment to fish or meat.
 
 
 
Some of this pumpkin puree also was used by the settlers for pumpkin pies. Even though the English long had been making pastry for meat and fruit pies, and the Indians had been stewing pumpkins, it was the New England colonists who combined the pastry and pumpkin for an entirely different dish.
The first pumpkin pie is reported to have been served at the third Thanksgiving meal celebrated by the Pilgrims. To the mashed stewed pumpkin, the settlers added milk, eggs, spices and molasses. The mixture then was  poured into a pastry shell and baked until the filling was firm but creamy, and the pie crust crisp and golden.
In preparing the pumpkin pie filling, the New Englanders were following a basic English custard pie recipe of milk, eggs and sugar. Lacking sugar, however, they used molasses. Molasses became such an important ingredient to pumpkin pies that, on several occasions, New England towns put off their Thanksgiving celebrations for a week or more while awaiting a shipment of molasses from the West Indies.
In the first genuine American cookbook, “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons, published in 1796, there was a recipe for “pompkin pie.” Although the book was very small — only 46 pages — it did contain recipes for most of the American culinary inventions to that date.
The settlers found that pumpkin pies and puddings could be prepared with dried pumpkin throughout the year. However, because of the great abundance of fruits and berries, pumpkin pie fillings were not considered the first choice for dessert. They usually used when other desserts were not available.
In the mountainous regions of the East, dried pumpkin was used as a substitute for molasses, as pumpkin meat is naturally sweet. As the settlers moved westward, they took with them seeds for potatoes, beans, cabbage, squash and pumpkins.
Today, pumpkins are associated with fall, Halloween and pumpkin-growing contests. It is not unusual to grow pumpkins weighing 500 pounds or more. Some of the big ones are grown on the north coast of California.
My pumpkin pie recipe includes some sour cream in the filling to cut the richness of the pumpkin flavor and some walnuts to provide some contrast.
 
Pumpkin Pie
 
Filling:
1 3/ 4 cups canned pumpkin
3 eggs
1 1/ 2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/ 3 cup molasses
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/ 2 cup whipping cream
1 cup sour cream
3/ 4 cup small walnut pieces
Pastry for single crust pie (recipe follows)
Mix the pumpkin, eggs, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon into a smooth texture in a medium-size bowl. Add the molasses, sugar, whipping cream, and sour cream and blend well.
Roll out the pastry dough to fit a 9-inch pie pan. Fit the dough into the pan and flute the edges. Pour the pumpkin filling into the pie shell and bake in a preheated 350° F. oven for 50 to 55 minutes or until the filling is set and a knife inserted toward the center comes out clean. Cool before serving.
Serves 8.
Pastry:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
Place the flour in a bowl and cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water, a tablespoon at a time, and stir with a fork until the dough can be formed into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
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