The first Thanksgiving dinner really did include pumpkin pie.
Pilgrim cooks hollowed out small pumpkins, filled them with sliced apples, sugar, spices and milk. After placing the stem cap back on the pumpkin, it was buried in hot ashes of the cooking fire and baked until tender. Squash and pumpkin quickly became diet staples amongst the settlers.
The Pilgrims invited local Narragansett Indians for their first Thanksgiving feast, to share a bounty of fruit, meat and vegetables that wouldn’t have been possible without their neighbors’ help. The previous winter, these early settlers turned up their noses at such long-storing foods as squash, pumpkin, dent corn and pemmican, a dried paste of ground berries and meat from any wild animal. And, the Pilgrims went hungry, until they were forced to consume the gifts from their Native American neighbors. When summer came, the colonists planted seeds given to them, harvested large crops and tried to create foods like the ones they used to eat in the British Isles.
Did you know that 90 percent of the pumpkins in the U.S. are grown within a 50 mile radius of Peoria, Illinois?
Pumpkin seeds are a nutritious snack. Clean and gently roast with a little light oil and salt or eat raw. Subtly sweet and nutty with a chewy texture, the roasted seeds from inside your Halloween pumpkin are one of the most nutritious and flavorful seeds around. The healing properties of pumpkin seeds for arthritis, prostate health, and cholesterol lowering have been demonstrated in recent scientific studies.
There are plenty of heirloom pumpkins, but two stand out in their uniqueness. Small Sugar is the one given to the early colonists by native Indians and probably was the first pumpkin pie. They are about five pounds with a tough shell, making them ideal for storage, and its rich, sweet orange flesh is perfect for baking.
Rouge Vif d’Etampes is known as the Cinderella pumpkin because of its resemblance to the fairy tale character’s magic coach. The deeply ribbed, red-orange pumpkin can grow almost big enough to hold a little princess. The French heirloom gets as big as three feet in diameter and 40 pounds. The highly ornamental pumpkin was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1800’s by W. Atlee Burpee Seed Co.
Bits of history like the first pumpkin pie and many more are in my new book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday’s Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today’s Cook. Did you know that wild onions and garlic grew so abundantly near the southwest side of Lake Michigan centuries ago that the native Indians referred to the spot by the same word they used for skunks. The word was Chicago and the place was where the Chicago Loop is now located? Or that Emperor Caligula (37-51 A.D.), a renowned, crazed megalomaniac, attempted to make his horse an advisor. He fed the entire Roman Senate a banquet of only carrots dishes, believing their alleged aphrodisiac powers would make the Senators see the horse as an alluring, wise friend.
The book is packed full of recipes, beautiful photos and plenty of information about how to grow heirlooms, select the best ones at farmer's markets, how to save seeds and much more.