Bake Colonial Pumpkin Pie

What You Need:

  • 1 3-4 pound culinary pumpkin (also called a "pie" pumpkin)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter (let soften at room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 frozen pie crusts

What You Do:

Note: The italicized portions of this recipe are excerpts from the colonial cookbook, The Compleat American Housewife by Julianna Belote.

  1. Stew a fine sweet pumpkin till soft and dry. Cut the pumpkin into chunks. Place the pumpkin in a large pot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let simmer until the pumpkin is soft. Imagine doing this on a wood stove! When the pumpkin is done, drain, let cool, and peel.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Rub it through a sieve. For a more authentic take, use a fine mesh sieve or food mill to puree the pumpkin. For convenience, you can also use a food processor. If you don't have any of these tools on hand, mash the pumpkin using a potato masher or sturdy fork. Measure 2 cups of pumpkin puree and place it in a mixing bowl.
  4. Mix with the pulp six eggs quite light... Eggs have gotten larger over the years. If you compared a modern egg to an egg from the 18th century, it would be twice as big! Whip three eggs (instead of six) with a whisk, then combine with the pumpkin.
  5. ...a quarter pound of butter... There was no refrigeration in the 18th century, so butter was kept at room temperature. Let the butter soften on the counter before use. When soft, add the butter to the pumpkin mixture and mix well. Colonial housewives measured ingredients by weight because each used their own "cup." Standard measuring cups came later.
  6. ... half a pint of new milk... Add the whole milk to the pumpkin mixture. Baking with half-curdled sour milk was so common in colonial times that when fresh milk was used in a recipe, it was called "new milk" to avoid confusion.
  7. ...some pounded ginger and nutmeg... Add the ground ginger and nutmeg to the pumpkin mixture. Ginger could be harvested locally, so it was a popular spice in the colonies. Imported nutmeg was expensive and had to be pounded with a mortar and pestle before each use.
  8. ... a wine glass of brandy, and sugar to your taste. Add the vanilla and sugar. Brandy has a powerful, sweet flavor and helps enhance other flavors around it. Vanilla is more common in desserts these days, and can be used as a substitute.
  9. Put a paste round the edges, and in the bottom of a shallow dish or plate... Unwrap the frozen pie crusts. Colonial bakers made "paste," or dough, as they needed it.
  10. ...pour in the mixture, cut some thin bits of paste, twist them, and lay them across the top. Pour the pumpkin mixture into one of the pie crusts. Cut shapes out of the second pie crust and arrange them in a pattern on the pie for a decorative touch.
  11. Bake it nicely. Place the pie in the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean and dry.

Pumpkins were a big part of the colonial diet, as you can see from this short poem written by an unknown colonist circa 1630.

For 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 were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.

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