“For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.”
I love pumpkins. I’ve grown pie pumpkins and white pumpkins and French pumpkins. The quintessential symbol of autumn, I have a permanent pumpkin display atop my antique kitchen hutch in honor of this fall staple. One day I hope to get back to the Keene Pumpkin Festival in Keene, New Hampshire – held each October, it is a mecca for pumpkin lovers.
The pumpkin has a special place in American history. Without pumpkins many of the early New England settlers might have died from starvation – the rhyme above, circa 1633, is a testament to the Pilgrims’ dependence upon them for food. They said that corn, beans, and pumpkins or squash were the Indian “Three Sisters,” for these three were the Indians’ main crops; all three were seeds the Pilgrims planted that first spring in the New World. Corn serves as the natural trellis for the beans to grow on. The beans’ roots set nitrogen in the soil to nourish the corn. The bean vines help to stabilize the corn stalks on windy days. The squash plants shelter the shallow roots of the corn and shade the ground to discourage weeds and preserve moisture. A symbiotic relationship and an early form of sustainable agriculture!
The Pilgrims cut the top off of a pumpkin, scooped the seeds out, and filled the cavity with cream, honey, eggs and spices. They placed the top back on and carefully buried it in the hot ashes of a cooking fire. When finished cooking, they lifted it from the earth and scooped the contents out along with the cooked flesh of the shell like a custard. By the 1670s recipes for early versions of pumpkin pie were appearing in English cookbooks. The following appeared in the 1671 version of “The Compleat Cook”:
Pumpion Pie – Take about halfe a pound of Pumpion and slice it, a handfull of Tyme, a little Rosemary, Parsley and sweet Marjoram slipped off the stalks, and chop them smal, then take Cinamon, Nutmeg, Pepper, and six Cloves, and beat them; take ten Eggs and beat them; then mix them, and beat them altogether, and put in as much Sugar as you think fit, then fry them like a froiz; after it is fryed, let it stand till it be cold, then fill your Pye, take sliced Apples thinne round wayes, and lay a row of the Froiz, and a layer of Apples with Currans betwixt the layer while your Pye is fitted, and put in a good deal of sweet butter before you close it; when the Pye is baked, take six yolks of Eggs, some white-wine or Verjuyce, & make a Caudle of this, but not too thick; cut up the Lid and put it in, stir them well together whilst the Eggs and Pumpions be not perceived, and so serve it up.
Got that? Me too.
Aside from pumpkins, earlier this week on a chilly fall day I watched as a flock of schoolkids trekked across Brewster Field and, in true kid fashion, kicked up the piles of yellow leaves on the ground. Soon they were tossing armloads of leaves in the air and having a great time enjoying the end of the autumn season. Let’s all celebrate before the cold winds of winter blow … celebrate the yellow leaves and the “pumpions,” because, in November, “if it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.”