Pumpkin pie is a dessert pie with a spiced, pumpkin-based custard filling. The pumpkin and pumpkin pie are both a symbol of harvest time, and pumpkin pie is generally eaten during the fall and early winter. In the United States and Canada it is usually prepared for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other occasions when pumpkin is in season.
The pie’s filling ranges in color from orange to brown and is baked in a single pie shell, usually without a top crust. The pie is generally flavored with a spice mixture known as pumpkin pie spice, which is made using spices such as ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice. The pie is usually prepared with canned pumpkin, but fresh-cooked pumpkin can be used.
The pumpkin is native to North America. The pumpkin was an early export to France; from there it was introduced to Tudor England, and the flesh of the “pompion” was quickly accepted as pie filling. During the seventeenth century, pumpkin pie recipes could be found in English cookbooks, such as Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion. Pumpkin “pies” made by early American colonists were more likely to be a savory soup made and served in a pumpkin than a sweet custard in a crust. Pumpkins were also stewed and made into ale by colonists. An early appearance of a more modern, custard-like pumpkin pie was in American Cookery, a cookbook published in 1796. It used a sweet custard filling in a pie crust, with spices similar to the ones used today.
It was not until the early nineteenth century that the recipes appeared in Canadian, and American cookbooks or that pumpkin pie became a common addition to the Thanksgiving dinner. The Pilgrims brought the pumpkin pie back to New England, while the English method of cooking the pumpkin took a different course. In the 19th century, the English pumpkin pie was prepared by stuffing the pumpkin with apples, spices, and sugar and then baking it whole. In the United States after the Civil War, the pumpkin pie was resisted in Southern states as a symbol of Yankee culture imposed on the South, where there was no tradition of eating pumpkin pie. Many Southern cooks instead made sweet potato pie, or added bourbon and pecans to give the pumpkin pie a Southern touch.
Today, throughout much of Canada and the United States, it is traditional to serve pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner.
Pumpkin pies were discouraged from Thanksgiving dinners in the United States in 1947 as part of a voluntary egg rationing campaign promoted by the Truman Administration, mainly because of the eggs used in the recipe. This was a part of President Truman’s Citizen’s Food Committee task force, designed to ration food consumption in the United States in hopes to provide more foreign food assistance to Europe post World War II. Part of the campaign included an “Egg-less & Poultry-less Thursday”, which began in October 1947, and with Thanksgiving Day always occurring on a Thursday, there was a considerable backlash among American consumers against this. Truman was true to his word, and no pumpkin pie was served at the White House for Thanksgiving in 1947.
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