How to Put a Pumpkin Pie From the 1600s on Your Thanksgiving Table in 2020
"Tasting History" host Max Miller takes us through a very old-school recipe
After getting into baking about six years ago while watching The Great British Bake Off, Max Miller started bringing some of the tasty treats that came out of his oven to share with his co-workers at Disney. Miller, a lifelong history fan, would also educate his officemates about the historical significance of whatever particular baked good he had brought in that day.
“Then last Christmas, somebody at work was like, ‘You should put this on YouTube. People might find this interesting. Stop yammering to us about it,”‘ Miller tells InsideHook. “It was already kicking around in my head so, when I got furloughed this spring, it was the perfect time to start a project to keep me busy through quarantine.”
That project is Tasting History, a YouTube show Miller tapes from his home in Los Angeles where he examines an ingredient or dish he’s researched and explains its proper place in culinary history. Ahead of Thanksgiving next week, Miller will take a deep dive into a recipe for pumpkin pie he found in the 1670 tome The Queene-like Closet by Hannah Wolley.
“It’s not the first recipe we have for pumpkin pie, but it’s definitely one of the first English recipes that we have,” Miller says. “It’s so early on that the word pumpkin did not really exist. It’s called pumpion pie. Different places at different times spelled it differently, but really the K didn’t show up until about the 1700s. Spelling was not standardized, so even the word pie was spelled differently sometimes.”
As Miller notes, the spelling is not the only thing that’s different about this historical tin-filler.
“Pumpkin pie today is a nice, smooth custard with egg that’s been cooked and pureed,” he says. “This is more like mashed pumpkin with apples and herbs such as thyme and rosemary and then fruit like currants and raisins. It also has a little bit of alcohol in it. It’s baked similarly to how we would bake a pumpkin pie today, but when it comes out, it’s not smooth, it doesn’t look anything like it. The flavors are totally unique, yet still absolutely delicious. In fact, I think I like it more than a modern pumpkin pie. It has more flavors in it.”
And you shouldn’t take Miller’s opinion on the recipe lightly — in addition to being a pumpkin pie historian, he’s also a genuine connoisseur of the dish, no matter how it is spelled or when it was invented.
“Pumpkin pie is my favorite pie. If it’s available, I will eat it,” he says. “I eat it all through the holiday season whenever available. I mean, we say as American as apple pie, but pumpkin pie is just as omnipresent in our Thanksgiving and Christmas and even Halloween traditions. Look at pumpkin spice. The pumpkin spice latte is the symbol of basic people everywhere. That’s kind of why I’m always interested when I can find something a little bit different — because while I love pumpkin pie, it can get a bit monotonous.”
Hungry? Miller’s teaser video for tomorrow’s episode as well as his interpretation of Wolley’s recipe for the old-school pumpion pie is below.
1600s Pumpkin Pie
- 1 Sugar or Pie Pumpkin
- 2 Sharp Apples (ex. Granny Smith)
- 3 Eggs beaten
- 2 Handfuls of fresh herbs (I used Rosemary, Parsley, and Thyme)
- 6 Tablespoons (85g) Salted Butter
- 1/3 Cup (50g) Raisins
- 1/2 Cup (100g) Sugar
- 1/4 Cup (60ml) Sherry or Sack
- Lard or Vegetable Oil for frying (optional)
- 1 Nine-Inch Pie Crust
- Set the oven to 425°F (220°C) and line a pie dish with your pie dough.
- Peel the pumpkin, then remove the stem and seeds, and quarter it. Slice each piece into thin slices, about 1/4 inch thick. Repeat this process with the apples.
- Put 2 tablespoons of the butter into a frying pan and set over medium heat. Note that depending on the amount of pumpkin you fry, you may require more butter; you can also use lard or vegetable oil. Then mix the herbs into the beaten eggs and dip the pumpkin slices into the egg, coating them lightly. Then place them into the frying pan and fry for 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin is quite soft. Depending on the size of your pumpkin, you may need to do this in several batches. The pumpkin should not be more than 3 layers thick in the pan.
- While the pumpkin fries, line the bottom of your pie crust with the apples. Once the pumpkin is cooked, place it in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of the butter, along with the raisins, currants, sugar and sherry or sack. Mix everything together and pour over the apples, smoothing the top.
- Bake for 20 minutes at 425°F (220°C), then reduce heat to 375°F (190°C) and bake 40-50 minutes longer, or until the top of the pie is bubbling.
- Remove from the oven and set a on a wire rack. Scatter the 2 remaining tablespoons of butter on the top of the pie and allow to melt in. Cool completely before slicing.
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