For many of us, the holidays wouldn’t be complete without pumpkin. Pumpkin pie is a dessert staple for Thanksgiving. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin ravioli and pumpkin soup—there are so many creative pumpkin recipes to whip up for the holidays.
Retailers like Starbucks have gotten on the pumpkin bandwagon, serving Pumpkin Spice lattes, and pumpkin muffins and scones throughout the fall. Breweries also make seasonal pumpkin ales around the holidays. (Steadfast Beer Co makes a gluten-free pumpkin ale!)
So, how did pumpkin become so popular around the holidays?
Pumpkins, which are part of the gourd family, have been grown in North America for five thousand years and are indigenous to the Western Hemisphere. They are harvested in October, which makes them perfect for jack-o-lantern carving during Halloween, and pumpkin pie making for Thanksgiving.
While pumpkins were available during the first Thanksgiving, the pilgrims most likely did not use them to make pumpkin pie. According to the History Channel, pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe ate pumpkins and other squashes indigenous to New England—possibly even during the harvest festival—but the new colony lacked the butter and flour necessary for making pie crust. Moreover, settlers hadn’t yet constructed an oven for baking. According to some, early English settlers in North America improvised by hollowing out pumpkins, filling the shells with milk, honey and spices to make a custard, and then roasting the gourds whole in hot ashes.
Pumpkin pie became a trend in the 1800s when it became stylish to serve sweetened pumpkin dishes during a holiday meal. After Thanksgiving was made an official holiday in 1863, and many of its customs solidified, the association with early settlers and pumpkin made pumpkin pie a popular and fashionable dessert.
In 1929, Libby’s began selling canned pumpkin, making it easy to whip up pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. To this day, many pumpkin pies begin with a can of Libby’s. The company’s iconic pie recipe also started the tradition of baking the pie with cinnamon, ginger and cloves. If you prefer to use fresh pumpkin, many farmers markets now sell cooking pumpkins (not carving pumpkins), which you can roast and then puree for your pie.
This year, make your famous pumpkin pie or experiment with some new pumpkin dishes—there are lots of recipes out there to try! (Pumpkin cheesecake, anyone?) In addition to its rich flavor, pumpkin is rich in vitamins and antioxidants—one cup of pumpkin gives you 245 percent of your daily value of vitamin A. Happy cooking!
By Alexis Olszewski