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Pumpkin Pie: A Bite of History

by Ashley Salas

It’s hard to imagine an American Thanksgiving table without the orange-crusted-oh-so-delicious baked dish. On a table ornamented with bowls of cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, turkey and a household filled with a mouthwatering aroma is the classic dessert of the holiday, Pumpkin Pie. Every Thanksgiving season it steals the show, but in a very good way!

Pumpkin pie is the quintessential American Thanksgiving dessert. Early American settlers of Plimoth Plantation, the first permanent European settlement in southern New England, brought English cookery with them to the New World. The pilgrims’ recipe for a pumpkin pie was a makeshift pumpkin pudding—the pumpkin was hollowed and filled with milk, honey and spices before baking in hot ashes. Northeastern Native American tribes grew squash and pumpkins or “pumpions,” two of the earliest foods the first European explorers brought back from the New World. They roasted or boiled them for eating and utilize them as medicine. Historians think that settlers were not very much impressed by the Indians’ squash and pumpkins until they had to survive their first harsh winter when about half of the settlers died from scurvy and exposure. The Native Americans brought pumpkins as gifts to the first settlers, and taught them the many uses for it who later took it back to France and England. 

Recipes that resemble pumpkin pie as we know it didn’t develop until the 1650s in France. Nearly 150 years after, the first pumpkin pie recipe strikingly similar to present day pumpkin pie was created in 1796 in the United States. By the early 18th century, pumpkin pie had earned a place at the table, as Thanksgiving became an important New England regional holiday. For hundreds of years, families and friends have gathered around the table to celebrate a meal together. This Thanksgiving, as you take a bite of your favorite dessert, consider the past and how combined laborers made your pumpkin pie possible.  

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