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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

In Praise of Pumpkin

By Joyce Beydler

Make cooking an educational experience this holiday season with the help of this recipe, gleaned from the very first colonial cookery book, The Compleat American Housewife. Your kids will learn about 18th-century America while cooking up a tasty, traditional dessert.

Colonial Pumpkin Pie


  • 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


Note: The italicized portions of this recipe are excerpts from The Compleat American Housewife.

  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 350ºF.
  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. 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, and 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. Standardized 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.
  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, but vanilla is more commonly used today.
  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. 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 piecrust 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.

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