In the first decade of the 1900s, a number of articles appeared in the American press on pumpkin pie. As I explained yesterday, after some 250 years, a realization had coalesced that the pumpkin was an American original and most particularly in the form of pumpkin pie.
The pie had achieved cultural status, as the hot dog, still in gestation, would in a generation, and the hamburger in two.
Pumpkin pie was a thing, a symbol of nationhood. You could argue about its confection, its quality here and there, but to attack it even implicitly invited someone’s high dudgeon, usually a journalist’s. When the national fabric is threatened, right-thinking people react to defend it. This happened with pumpkin pie in the 1910s.
A number of news articles, seemingly quite innocuous, had appeared arguing for a pie made from yellow squash, the crook-neck type still common in the market. One stated that made properly, it could hardly be distinguished from pumpkin pie, and some thought it had a better taste.
On a slow press day no doubt, the Washington Herald mustered all its oratorical power in defense of the “distinct American institution”, pumpkin pie. It enlisted in aid no less a thunderer than William Jennings Bryan, whose Commoner was making a splash. Bryan needs no introduction, I’m sure, to most readers.
You can read all about it here. This is the first paragraph.
Rachel A. Snell is a food historian who has studied American and Anglo-Canadian middle class domestic cooking of the 1800s. In this 2014 article she reproduces two Victorian recipes for pumpkin pie, one American, one English. They are from Sarah J. Hale’s foundational The Ladies’ New Book of Cookery (1852).
It seems a supposed American institution had an English counterpart. Which came first?
The pumpkin originates in the new world, as most people know. But it was sent to England a long time ago, possibly around the time or even before the Pilgrims established in America. Maybe Pilgrim pumpkin pie is really English. So many other things in North American foodways, extending to its drink customs, are, as I have discussed time and again here. Of course the pie was different here, just as bourbon is different from malt whisky. But not that different…
Felice Boselli’s resonant painting shown above includes a pumpkin in a display of flowers and fruits. It was composed in 1700. Boselli was a noted still life painter of the Italian baroque era.
Note re images: the first image above was sourced from Wikipedia Commons here, and is believed in the public domain.The second image was extracted from the 1903 newspaper article linked in the text, available via the Chronicling America historical newspapers site. Images appear for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources resides solely in their lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.