Tuesday, November 21, 2006

As American as Pumpkin Pie

From the most recent book I'm returning to the library but wish I could keep in my personal library: Far-Flung Hubbell: Essays from the American Road, by Sue Hubbell:

...Americans were the first to understand what pie could be. For instance, the English had been making what they called pompion by cutting a hole in the side of a pumpkin, extracting the seeds and the filaments, stuffing the cavilty with apples, and baking the whole. New Englanders improved on this, combining the apples and pumpkin and putting them in a proper pastry. Then they eliminated the apples and added milk, eggs, spices, and molasses to the mashed, stewed pumpkin.

Pie has never been more loved than in nineteenth-century America, where it was not simply dessert but also a normal part of breakfast. The food writer Evan Jones quotes a contemporary observer as noting that in northern New England "all the hill and country towns were full of women who would be mortified if visitors caught them without pie in the house," and that the absence of pie at breakfast "was more noticeable than the scarcity of the Bible." (from pp. 7-8, Chapter One, "The Great American Pie Expedition").

Hubbell describes banana, coconut, raisin, lemon, cherry-cream, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, cherry, pineapple, apple, Dutch apple, peach, apricot, peanut-butter, walnut, pecan, sour-cream raisin, sweet potato, coconut-cream, green-tomato, chocolate-meringue, lemon meringue, Key lime, shoofly, strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, graham-cracker (pie, not just piecrust), Nantucket cranberry, butterscotch, banana-pudding, buttermilk, apple-raisin, and icebox mixed fruit pies in her delicious account, which includes some recipes that I'd like to try. My husband, however, will be making the pumpkin pies tonight for dinner at his parents' house the day after tomorrow. I really prefer apple pie, but I'd rather wait until I can make one myself than eat one from the grocery store.

One of my favorite things about the day after Thanksgiving is a breakfast of apple pie and coffee. And I'd rather have a slice of very sharp cheddar with my hot apple pie than ice cream, thank you very much.

I wanted to add some interesting quotes from Laura Shapiro's Perfection Salad on the anti-pie movement at the turn of the century (which perhaps is better described as the failed "pie temperance" cult), but I can't find my copy. So I'll just provide a link to Linda Stradley's History of Pie until after the holiday. And a link to The Wrong Pie, a funny discourse on Crooked Timber from a few years ago. Healy is wrong about the neglect of pumpkins in the social science literature (well, in anthropology, anyway, where Curcurbita pepo has become a star in the constellation of prehistoric Native American domesticates), though he may be right about pumpkin pie.


Sarah said...

I hate to keep bringing this back to the screaming kid in my life, but I must say that I now both enjoy your book reviews for the book reviews and for the fact that it gives me hope that I too could be up and reading again soon.

I would like to do lunch one of these days, by the way--and look into your mom group...but I do not yet feel prepared to make such commitments with this unpredictable colicky little thing.

Sandy D. said...

The screaming kid is central to your life now...time enough for commitments and books later. Just sleep when the screaming subsides ;-).