Amelia Simmons Pompkin Pudding No. 2
It’s Fall in the Northern Hemisphere and it seems everyone in the United States becomes obsessed with pumpkin as soon as the first leaves turn. It’s pumpkin lattes, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin all over Pinterest, etc. While I’m not a fan of most things pumpkin, I do love pumpkin pie. For years I have thought about tackling the first recipe for pumpkin pie to ever appear in an American cookbook, in American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons, published in 1796. People often claim that Amelia Simmons’ “pompkin pie” was the first time a recipe for pumpkin pie appeared in a cookbook but that is not true. While it was the first time it appeared in an American cookbook,
Hannah Woolley had a recipe for pie with pumpkin (“pompion”) in her 1672 book The Queen-Like Closet. Granted, Woolley’s recipe also contains apples.1 While this remains true, I found an even earlier recipe for “pumpion pye” in The Compleat Cook, published in 1658.
The great thing about some of the recipes in American Cookery is that Simmons gives ingredient amounts for the most crucial ingredients, which makes the job of the modern cook much easier. I chose this recipe, instead of No. 1 because I was intrigued by the use of molasses instead of sugar for sweetening.
The recipe as it appears in the book:
No. 2. One quart milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, alspice and ginger in a cust, bake 1 hour.2
Simple, yes? Maybe. Did you know that 1 quart in today’s measurements is not the same as 1 quart in the 18th century? The short story is that units of measure used in the time this book was written is known (today) as the English System. In this system, a quart contains 40 fl oz and a pint 20 fl oz. In contrast, a modern US quart contains 32 fl oz and a US pint 16 fl oz. The quarts and pints are the same in the Imperial System as in the English System.
Once I worked out what the total volume of the mixture was, I was skeptical as to whether just 4 eggs would be sufficient to set the custard, especially considering that eggs in the 18th century were smaller than our modern eggs. Because of this difference in size, I normally use fewer eggs, depending on volume, than historical recipes call for but in this case I chose to still use 4 eggs due to my concern. I arrived at the rest of the ingredients by trying various amounts. I added them little by little, before I added the eggs, and tasted as I went until I reached a flavor balance with which I was happy.
I should add that this recipe makes a lot of filling, eight cups, to be exact. I used a 9 inch pie plate, which took only 2 cups of filling. I highly recommend that you at least halve the recipe. As for the pie pastry, you may use whatever recipe you’d like. Simmons does provide a few options in her book, one of which I tried and failed miserably, and ended up using a modern pie pastry recipe, but that’s a story for another day.
This is the modern recipe for the pie filling:
Amelia Simmons Pompkin Pudding No. 2
5 cups (40 oz) whole milk
2 1/2 cups (20 oz) fresh pumpkin puree (see instructions below)
4 large eggs
1 cup (8 oz) unsulphured molasses
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground all spice
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. To ensure a silky texture, blend the mixture in batches or using a stick blender. Pour the mixture through a strainer into prepared pie plates with pastry that has been blind-baked.
Bake at 350 F for approximately one hour or until the custard is set in the center. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting.
Makes approximately 4 9-inch pies.
To prepare the fresh pumpkin puree, pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Cut one sugar pumpkin, also known as pie pumpkin, in half, scoop the seeds out, and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven until very tender, approximately 1.5 hours. When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and mash it well. If the pumpkins are cooked well enough, you may be able to just lift the skin off the flesh in one piece. Do not use big Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins; they are grown for carving and are very stringy. Pie pumpkins are much smaller, like a cantaloupe.
“The Kitchn” has a good tutorial on how to blind-bake pastry. Instead of reinventing the wheel for this recipe (again!), I will just direct you there.
In the recipe, Simmons doesn’t specify whether the ginger is dry or fresh, but after doing some research on ginger in the period, I settled on dry ground ginger, as it would have been the most common form available. If you want to use fresh, and you can, you’ll need to use less and will definitely need to blend.
Much to my delight, the custard did set, it was silky and delicious; it was also very dark thanks to the molasses. The molasses itself provides a very different flavor from modern pumpkin pie but not in a bad way…unless you are my husband. My husband claims that it tasted like licorice, but I did not get licorice at all.
I have to count this redaction as a success, at least for the filling. I’m going to have to work some more on Simmons’ pastry.
1. Hannah Woolley, The Queen-Like Closet The Second Part, (London, 1672), #92.
2. Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, (Albany: Charles R. & George Webster, 1796), 35. I substituted the long s’s in the text with regular s’s.