The Real Pumpkin Pie

Sep 21, 2017
The Real Pumpkin Pie

The Pilgrims used Sugar Baby pumpkin for their first Thanksgiving feast.

Doreen G. Howard


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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. 

Pumpkin Tidbits

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.

More History

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.


About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

Reader Comments

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My teenage son and I have

My teenage son and I have started a little family tradition of trying to make one "Original Thanksgiving" recipe every year to include with the usual menu. (Last year we included some baked fish.) So, I made this today, as a tester before fixing for guests on Thursday. It was amazing! I used a smallish sugar-pumpkin and the only thing I did differently was to sprinkle the inside of the pumpkin with a little brown sugar, patting it on the flesh, before adding the apples. Then I dotted the apples with a bit of butter before pouring over the cream. Son and I agree- this will be on our table every year! Thanks Doreen.

A very unique pumpkin grown

A very unique pumpkin grown here in southwestern PA is the long neck pumpkin. It resembles a gigantic butternut squash and can have a curled neck. It is prized for its dense, tasty flesh as the pumpkin neck is solid. It is easy to grow and high yielding.. The pumpkins can weigh 20+ lbs.

Hello Doreen ~ I was very

Hello Doreen ~

I was very interested in this article as well as the accompanying photos. It looks like you cooked a sugar pumpkin much like the Pilgrims did! I have so many questions: how did it taste? What exactly did you do and what did you put in the hollowed out pumpkin? It looks like you roasted it in the oven. How long on what temperature? I would love to try this myself so please forgive my curiosity.

Thank you very much.


I used the Pilgrims recipe

I used the Pilgrims recipe and stuffed the hollowed-out pumpkin with sliced apples, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg.  I poured a cup of whipping cream over it all and baked in the oven at 375F for an hour.  I tested the apples, and they were soft and yummy!  So I put the pumpkin lid back on and let all cool for another hour before serving.  As I scouped out servings, I included pumpkin flesh, too, and mashed all together.  It was wonderful!  Fruity, spicy and a special Thanksgiving treat.

Thanks so much! I am going to

Thanks so much! I am going to try it exactly as you did it.

Love this - will definitely

Love this - will definitely try during the season - it's funny how the supply of pumpkins at the supermarket drop after Halloween - my tried and true betty crocker pumpkin bread recipe is a must and expected by many folks, ha! I even make a few batches in canning jars so the bread keeps for a long time and can be shipped without worry of spoiling - yep - that's the ole pioneer spirit!

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