The history of the Thanksgiving classic: pumpkin pie

Nov 7, 2022, 1:20 PM | Updated: 1:26 pm

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Hurrah for the pumpkin pie! A Thanksgiving staple, the pumpkin pie has a unique and actually quite lengthy history.

According to history.com, pumpkins were first grown in Central America in 5,500 B.C. and were brought to Europe from the New World by European explorers. Their first mention in Europe dates to 1536.

So by the time the pilgrims landed in 1620, it’s likely some of them may have already been familiar with the squash.

While pumpkin pie was likely not served at the first thanksgiving, since both the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag ate pumpkin regularly, it’s highly likely the squash was present in other forms.

By the late 1600s pumpkin pie made its appearance in cookbooks.

A 1653 French cookbook contained one of the earliest recipes of a “pumpkin pie” where milk-boiled pumpkins were strained and baked in a crust.

While recipes in the late 17th century in both England and New England described filling a hollowed-out pumpkin with sweetened milk or sliced apples and cooking it in a fire.

A 1670 recipe by an English woman, Hannah Woolley, involved filling a pie with layers of pumpkin, apple, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram.

By the 1700s, pumpkin pie had evolved into more of the pumpkin custard-filled pie we eat today.

“American Cookery,” a 1796 cook book by Amelia Simmons contained a pair of pumpkin pie recipes, one which seems to be the custard precedent to today’s version.

By 1842, pumpkin pie was mentioned in the famed, “Over the River and Through the Wood” poem by Lydia Maria Child: “Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done? Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!”

When Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 pumpkin pie was still only largely in the northern states and New England area.

Many southern confederates considered the new holiday to be an imposed “Yankee tradition,” and not all were fond of the new holiday.

However, after the holiday’s institution, the popularity of the pie and Thanksgiving menu spread until pumpkin pie had become a tradition.

By 1929, Libby’s meat-canning company of Chicago introduced a line of canned pumpkin, completely changing the process of roasting and straining one’s own squash to make pumpkin pie and replacing it with a cheaper, more convenient solution.

Today, pumpkin pie is considered essential to a Thanksgiving feast. Most people now wouldn’t dream of cutting up their own pumpkin to roast and then strain to use in the popular pie. With canned pumpkin, pumpkin spice, (which usually consists of  ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice,) an outer crust, and sometimes a dollop of whipped cream on top, the pie is ready to go.


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Those uninterested in cooking at all, head to Costco to get their famous, seasonal pumpkin pies.


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The history of the Thanksgiving classic: pumpkin pie