< Vegetables



No member of the squash family has a more storied history in America than the pumpkin. During the first decades of English settlement in New England, the meat and seeds of the pumpkin nourished the colonists when other crops—wheat and maize—faltered. In America’s first folk song, “New England’s Annoyances,” the settler complains,
             ‘Stead of 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 was not for pumpkins we should be undone.
A Native American cultivar, the pumpkin more than corn, proved of the most immediate consequence in keeping New England alive. Livestock would eat pumpkin, if salted, and learned to relish it. The corn crop was seldom so ample as to provide cattle and swine feed. To memorialize the central role the pumpkin played in the 1620s, it appears as one of the central dishes of the Thanksgiving table, usually in the form of pie.

The early American pumpkin shared many of the attributes of later versions of the vegetable. They had orange rinds, ribs, five sided fuzzy green stems, ample flesh, and a roundish to oval configuration. Since squashes, gourds, pumpkins, and cucumbers have a volatile tendency to interbreed, there can be a fair degree of variability in pumpkin types, and some taxonomic indeterminacy. The name pumpkin has been applied to fruiting plants of several squash species: Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita mixta, Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita moschata. The naming issues are further confused by the tendency in England and Australia to call Winter Squash pumpkins. While the classic Halloween pumpkin tends to be the widely cultivated old variety, the Connecticut Field Pumpkin, most pumpkins grown nowadays for processing into pumpkin pie filling are New England Pie (or Small Sugar) Pumpkins. One netted rather than ribbed heirloom variety, ‘Winter Luxury,’ has a distinctive and excellent taste, and may be the best sort for soups and roasting. Pumpkin seed was disseminated by farmer exchange until the 1830s when a market for several varieties developed. The four premier antebellum varieties were the Connecticut Field, the White Bell, the Finest Cheese (or Family) and the Mammoth (or Spanish).[1] Since large pumpkins tended to be grown for livestock feed, much experimentation took place in expanding size and weight. The awards given for size at agricultural fairs amplified this tendency. Now gargantuan pumpkins (crosses between Hubbard Squashes and 19th century Mammoths) are grown purely as novelties, the feed dimension having been lost. The “Potato Pumpkin” of the 19th century is now known as the “Cushaw Squash”. The mid-19th century saw the perfection of the pie pumpkins, modest fruited cultivars of great flavor. The green-skinned warted Nantucket ranged in shape from bell to flattened oval, but boast fine-grained yellow flesh of high flavor. Even more popular was the hard shell Sugar pumpkin that had small seeds and light yellow flesh.[2]

Traditionally intercropped with corn, farmers mounded soil into small hillocks at eight to ten foot intervals in the spaces between corn rows. Three seeds would be planted in the crowns of the hills, about three inches deep. Since pumpkins thrive on warmth, and need a 60 degree minimum temperature to flourish, the pumpkin is a summer crop in most of North America. Because the plants proved hardy, farmers tended no to fuss much with them, even neglecting weeding. “This vegetable, or rather fruit, is extensively grown in Canada; being always planted with Indian corn. It is given in the fall of the year to the cattle and swine, which feed upon it eagerly: it is fattening and nourishing, and imparts no bad flavour to the milk, as turnips are apt to do.” (Canadian Settler’s Guide p. 127)

The Pumpkin from its early centrality in Anglo-American food, became increasingly marginal in the 19th century as breeders developed an array of tasty and prolific squashes. The pumpkin beer of colonial times fell by the wayside, despite the attempts of entrepreneurs to patent and market vegetable beers with a fair measure of dried pumpkin in the mix during the 1840s. Most popular were the puddings/pies that mixed pumpkin with eggs, milk, and spices. Pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, baked pumpkin, and very sweet and glassy pumpkin preserves also enjoyed some popularity, until the 1860s, when Pumpkin became decidedly a rustic and rather backward ingredient, to remain so until a historical nostalgia wave at the end of the century brought it back as a emblematic food of Pilgrim times. Of all the culinary effects of the ‘Colonial Revival’ in American culture, the rehabilitation of the pumpkin and the pumpkin pie was the most visible. Other curious developments include a fashion for a diet drink in the 1880s that was a decoction of parched pumpkin seeds, and the periodic attempts to make the rather forward tasting oil of pumpkin seeds a major salad oil. Its reddish green tinge did not help win it popularity.

1. Bridgeman, Young Gardener’s Assistant (1847), p. 87.
2. Burr, Garden Vegetables and How to Cultivate Them (1866), p. 108-09.

Cashaw, Cushaw, or Crook-Neck [Potato Pumpkin]    History

- A large variety, solid flesh, fine and sweet; favorite of the South; Color light cream, sometimes slightly striped with green, flesh salmon colored.

Sweet    History

- small, very sweet, delicious for pies; large, oblong, mottled, light green and yellow, with very thick sweet tender yellow flesh and large seeds.

Large Cheese    History

- splendid for cooking; skin reddish-orange.

Mammoth    History

- often grows to weigh over 100 and sometimes reaches 300 pounds; for stock feeding.

“Negro,” or Nantucket Pumpkin    History

- This is the true old-fashioned black-warted shelled pumpkin of old times. The “pumpkin pie” pumpkin of grandmothers.

Connecticut Field    History

- large; best for stock.

Large Yellow    History

- good for kitchen and for stock; of fine grain and excellent flavor.

Pumpkin (Kentucky Housewife 1839)    History

Select a large, deep colored pumpkin, as such are generally sweetest. Split it in two, take out the seeds and stringy fibres, but do not scrape off any of the firm part of the pumpking, as that which is next to the seeds is much the sweetest part. Cut the pumpkin in slices of convenient thickness, peel them, cut them up small, and boil them in a large quantity of water till quite soft; then do not drain them from the liquor, but stew them gently in it, till they form a thick pulp, stirring it frequently at the last, to prevent its scorching. This is much the best way of cooking pumpking, as by stewing down the liquor, you retain all its sweetness, and take off the raw taste that the pumpkin otherwise would have. To prepare it for table, put it in a pan, with some rich, highly seasoned gravy, or salt, pepper and butter; the former is preferable. Fry it a few minutes over hot coals, stirring it all the time; when it gets nearly dry, serve it up; it is eaten with fresh beef or pork. Pumpkin is sometimes stewed with pork, but the receipt I have just given is far superior to any other way it can be dressed; it requires so long a time to cook it well, that it would not be more than half boiled, when the meat would be perfectly tender, and to cook them separately, and then put the pumkin in the gravy, you would have the flavor and essence of the meat as much as when cooked with it. They will keep well through the winter, put up as directed for squash and potato pumpkin; they are sweetest after taking a few light frosts in the fall of the year, which will not injure their preservation through the winter. (P. 215)

Baked Pumpkin, Vermont Style (Harder’s Practical Cookery 1885)    History

Cut a ripe Pumpkin in quarters, take out the seeds, pare off the rind and then cut it in slices half an inch thick. Put it in a buttered baking dish, moisten it with four spoonfuls of water, and set it in a moderate oven to bake. When cooked butter each piece and serve them hot. (P. 282)

Pompkin Pudding #1 (New England Cookery 1808)    History

One quart stewed and strained, 3 pints cream, 9 beaten eggs, sugar, mace, nutmeg and ginger, laid into paste [crust], and with a dough spur, cross and chequer it, and baked in dishes three quarters of an hour. (P. 49)

Pompkin Pudding #2 (New England Cookery 1808)    History

One quart of milk, 1 pink pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake one hour. (P. 50)

Pumpkin Pudding (Cookery as it Should Be 1855)    History

Boil and squeeze through a stout cloth the pumpkin which has been nicely stewed, squeeze it very dry; to two pounds of pumpkins thus drained add three-quarters of a pound of good brown sugar, and three-quarters of a pound of butter smoothly creamed; stir them into the pumpkin; a tea-spoonful of pounded mace and grated nutmeg, and a little ground cinnamon to be added; then one wine-glassful of wine and brandy mixed; beat these all together well; lastly add the yolks of eight well beaten eggs. Line the dishes with puff paste, and fill with the above; bake half an hour. (P. 230)

Pumpkin Mush (Lady’s Receipt Book 1847)    History

Pour into a clean pot, two quarts or more of good milk, and set it over the fire. Have ready some pumpkin stewed very soft and dry; mashed smooth, and pressed in a cullender till all the liquid has drained off. Then measure a large pint of the stewed pumpkin; mix with it a piece of fresh butter, and a teaspoonful of ground ginger. Stir it gradually into the milk, as soon as it has come to a boil. Add, by degrees, a large pint or more of Indian-meal, a little at a time, stirring it in, very hard, with a mush-stick. If you find the mush too thin, as you proceed, add, in equal portions, more pumpkin and more Indian-meal, till it becomes so thick you can scarcely stir it round. After it is all thoroughly mixed, and has boiled well, it will be greatly improved by diminishing the fire a little, o hanging the pot higher up, so as to let it simmer an hour or more. Mush can scarcely be cooked too much. Eat it warm with butter and molasses, or with rich milk. It is very good at luncheon in cold weather. (p. 368).

Pumpkin Pie (Improved Housewife 1844)    History

Halve, seed, rinse, slice into small strips, and stew the pumpkin over a gentle fire, in just water enough to prevent burning to the bottom of the pot. After stew soft, pour off the water, and steam the pumpkin about eighteen minutes, over a slow fire, seeing that it does not burn. Take it off, and strain it, when cook, through a sieve. Put to a quart of the pumpkin, twelve eggs and two quarts of milk, if you wish the pies very rich. Put to a quart of the pumpkin, three eggs and one quart of milk, if you wish them plain. If very plain, put to a quart, one egg, with a spoonful of flour, and very little milk. The more thinned the pumpkin, the greater the number of eggs required. Sweeten the pumpkin to the taste, with sugar beaten with the egg, and very little molasses. Lemon peel, nutmeg, and ginger, are good seasoning for the pies. As they require a hot oven, have the pumpkin scalding hot at the time of putting it into the plates, to prevent the rim of the pies getting burnt before the inside is sufficiently baked. Bake as soon as the plates are filled, to prevent the crust becoming clammy. The fewer the eggs in the pies, the longer the time required to bake them. Pumpkin may be kept several months in cold weather, by making it, after stewed, very sweet, and strong of ginger, and then scalding it well. Keep it in a cool place, in a stone jar. Take out what you want at any time, and put to it the milk and eggs. (P. 97)

Southern Pumpkin Pie (Southern Gardener & Receipt Book 1860)    History

Take a brown earthen pan, grease it, and sift Indian-meal over it, about the thickness of a quarter of an inch. Prepare the [cooked] pumpkin in good new milk, sweeten to the taste, and add a little ground rice instead of eggs, with a little ginger. Bake. (P. 226)

Dried Pumpkin (Canadian Settler’s Guide 1857)    History

Boil down the pumpkin; and when soft, take it out of the pot, spread it on dishes or tins, and set them in the sun or under the stove to dry. When quite dried, pack in papper bags, and hang up in a dry room. This mode will enable you to make pumpkin-pies at any season, when required. Steep it in milk, till it swells and softens, and make your pies as usual. Some cut the pumpkin in rings, and hang up to dry in the kitchen; but it is apt to mould and turn black: possibly, if dried at once in the sun outside the house, or at night in the oven, it would keep better. (P. 129)

Preserved Pumpkin (Improved Housewife 1844)    History

Cut slices from a nice, high-colored pumpkin, and cut the slices into chips about the thickness of a dollar; have the chips of an equal size, six inches in length, and an inch broad. Put to each pound of fruit a pound of loaf sugar. Pare off and lay aside the yellow rind of some lemons; squeeze out the juice, allowing a gill to a pound of pumpkin. Put the pumpkin into a broad pan, laying the sugar among it; turn the lemon juice over it; cover the pan, and let the whole set all night. In the morning, put the whole in a preserving pan, and boil, skimming it well, till the pumpkin becomes clear and crisp, but not till it breaks. It should have the appearance of lemon candy; and, if liked, some lemon peel, cut in very fine pieces, may be added. About half an hour’s boiling is sufficient. When done, take out the pumpkin, spread it on a large dish, and strain the sirup through a bag; put it into jars, turn the sirup over it, and tie up. It is very nice; may be eaten without cream, or laid on puff paste shells after they are baked. (P. 167)

Pumpkin Molasses (Canadian Settler’s Guide 1857)    History

This article is made by boiling down a quantity of ripe pumpkin for many hours, expressing the juice, and then boiling it down to molasses syrup. (P. 129)

Pumpkin Soup (Parloa’s New Cook Book 1880)    History

Two pounds of pumpkin. Take out seeds and pare off the rind. Cut into small pieces, and put into a stew-pan with half a pint of water. Simmer slowly an hour and a half, then rub through a sieve and put back on the fire with one and a half pints of boiling milk, butter the size of an egg, one tea-spoonful of sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and three slices of stale bread, cut into small squares. Stir occasionally; and when it boils, serve. (P. 97)

Cream of Pumpkin Soup (Harder’s Practical Cookery 1885)    History

Cut a ripe Pumpkin into quarters, take out the seeds, pare off the rind and then cut it into small pieces. Boil them in lightly salted water, and when done drain them in a colander. Then put them in a saucepan with a piece of butter, season with salt, pepper, sugar and nutmeg and let them simmer for ten minutes, stirring them occasionally. Then add three quarts of thickened chicken or veal broth, and when it boils add a faggot of parsley garnished with celery, onions and leeks. Let it boil slowly for half an hour, then skim it well, remove the faggot and rub the soup through a fine sieve. Then put the puree in a saucepan to keep it warm, and when ready to serve it, add a piece of butter and a pinto f cream diluted with the yolks of six raw eggs. Mix them well together until the butter is melted. Serve with some small fried bread crumbs on a separate plate. (Pp. 282-83)

Pumpkin Bread (Southern Gardener & Receipt Book 1860)    History

The pumpkin is first deprived of the rind, and afterward cut up into slices and boiled; when soft enough it is strained in a colander and mashed up very fine. It this state it may be used in pieces, or mixed with flour for pudding, cake, &c. If it be intended for bread, you may add a third or half as much wheat flour as pumpkins. The sponge must be first set in the ordinary way with yeast in the flour, and the pumpkin worked in as it begins to rise; use enough pumpkin as will bring the dough to a proper degree of stiffness without water. Care should be taken that the pumpkin is not so hot as to scald the leaven. It requires more baking than bread made entirely of wheat. (P. 170)