Apple pie gets a lot of credit as a universally recognized symbol of American cultural heritage. That’s a lot of responsibility to put on any dessert, let alone a pie. While apple pie is certainly delicious, pumpkin pie may be even more deeply woven into the fabric of American tradition.
To many Americans, pumpkin pie is a crucial Thanksgiving dinner course, sharing a place with turkey and stuffing as a fundamental fixture of the Thanksgiving celebration. Pumpkin pie does not get a whole lot of press during the rest of the year, but come November, its moment has officially arrived. It remains one of the most popular pie flavors among Americans, second in popularity only to apple pie according to a 2008 poll conducted by the American Pie Council.
Clearly, Americans love their pumpkin pie.
But where does it come from, and how has it become such an integral part of the American Thanksgiving tradition? And, most importantly, how do you make it from scratch?
A Brief History of Pumpkin Pie
Early formulations of pumpkin pie were developed by French chefs during the 1600s. They first began receiving pumpkins as exports from the British colonies in North America, and the early dishes they prepared were pastries and soups that only loosely resembled modern pumpkin pie recipes. English cookbooks also began incorporating recipes for dishes that vaguely resembled modern pumpkin pies during the mid-1600s.
Pumpkins, like many of the other foods consumed at the earliest Thanksgiving feasts, were representative of a successful annual harvest. A variety of pumpkin-based dishes appeared at the earliest Thanksgiving celebrations, although the pie as we know it today had not been developed at this time. The first known American pumpkin pie recipe was published in American Cookery by Amelia Simmons in 1796.
Thanksgiving was officially declared to be a national holiday in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln in an attempt to assuage civil war tensions between the Union and the Confederacy. The holiday’s official recognition was the product of several years of intense campaigning by author Sarah Josepha Hale, a woman whose other claim to fame is having written “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Hale was the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, a magazine containing essays and pieces of short literature that was published during the 19th century and distributed throughout the U.S. As part of her campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, Hale published numerous articles in her magazine that were focused on developing the traditional backbone for what would one day become Thanksgiving. These articles included recipes for several common Thanksgiving dishes, including turkey and pumpkin pie. Since the holiday’s inception, pumpkin pies have appeared on Thanksgiving tables around the country.
Pumpkins are native to North America, although they may have originated in South America thousands of years ago. They are generally planted during the summer and harvested right around the end of September. If cared for correctly, pumpkins can be grown in almost any part of the U.S. States such as Illinois, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan are some of the top pumpkin producers in the country.
In order to make pumpkin pie filling, pumpkins must first be roasted. To prepare for roasting, the pulp and seeds are removed. The seeds from this mixture may be roasted separately, while the pulp may be used to create a puree for use in other dishes for flavoring.
While pumpkin pies are traditionally made using fresh pumpkins, a number of companies produce prepackaged pumpkin pie filling mixes. Making a pumpkin pie from scratch can be somewhat time-consuming, but it produces a fresher, stronger pumpkin flavor than using canned filling. Using the recipe below, you can bake a fresh, delicious pumpkin pie from scratch that will blow your family away this Thanksgiving.
Making Pumpkin Pie From Scratch
- 1 medium pumpkin (should produce approximately 4 cups of roasted pumpkin)
- 1 c. brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 can (12 oz.) of evaporated milk
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp. salt
- Pre-heat your oven to 400°F.
- Prepare the pumpkin by washing it, removing its stem, cutting it open, and removing all pulp and seeds from the inside. Cut the pumpkin in half and lay each half onto an aluminum-foil lined baking sheet, cut-side down.
- Coat the outer surface of the pumpkin skin with canola oil and bake at 400°F for 45 minutes or until soft.
- Remove the roasted pumpkin flesh from the skin and place in a food processor. Add eggs, evaporated milk, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt, and brown sugar. Blend until smooth.
- 1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 c. cold unsalted butter, cubed
- ¾ c. cold water
- Combine dry ingredients (flour, sugar, and salt) in a bowl and mix.
- Gradually add unsalted butter and cold water in small quantities, continuing to mix until all ingredients have been added and dough is smooth and cohesive.
- Flour the dough lightly and form it into a sphere. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/8 in. thick.
- Cut dough in a circle approximately 2 in. larger than the base of your pie crust mold (9 in.).
- Transfer the dough to the pie crust mold, pressing the dough gently into the mold. Remove any excess dough from the top of the mold.
- Make sure your oven is still set to 400°F. If not, preheat oven to 400°F.
- Pour the pumpkin pie filling into the crust, making sure that it spreads evenly.
- Bake for approximately 45 minutes. Continue baking until you can insert a toothpick into the center of the pie and remove it cleanly.
- Remove pie from oven and allow to cool for at least one hour before eating.