Thanksgiving Special: A Shortcrust History of Pumpkin Pie

If you’re in the USA you’re undoubtedly getting ready for one of the biggest feast days of the year – Thanksgiving. Perhaps your thoughts are already being filled by the delicious delicacies that you’ll be treating yourself to. Turkey, stuffing, mac n’ cheese, green bean casserole and of course – pumpkin pie. It may surprise you discover that this Fall dessert, whilst delectable, wasn’t found on the tables at the first Thanksgiving. Nor did it originate in the New World. In fact, it’s far more of a modern day staple for Turkey Day.

Evidence suggests that pumpkins originated in South America over seven thousand years ago and overtime also became native to New England. It’s believed that Native Americans traditionally prepared pumpkins by cooking them in slices over the hot coals of their fires. The vegetables began being exported to England and France during the Tudor period and the versatility of them were quickly recognised, including using them as a filler.

Pumpkin pies as we know them today were developed in the mid seventeenth century in France. Renowned chef Francois Pierre la Varenne created a recipe for a pompion torte - a pastry crust with a sweet pumpkin filling. Similar recipes began appearing in English cook books by 1675, one of the most notable being Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion. Meanwhile, it took 150 years for Varenne’s creation to begin appearing in American cookbooks, and it was only then that the pies began become a common item at the Thanksgiving table.

However, despite this beloved pie not being present at the first Thanksgiving in 1621, the vegetable itself certainly was. Pilgrims had brought pumpkin recipes with them on the Mayflower that were sweeter than that of the the Native Americans. In fact, they served a kind of pudding at the iconic dinner which involve hollowing out a pumpkin and filling it with milk, honey and spices. It was then baked in hot ashes.

Regardless of the pie’s origin, it continues to be a staple at American Thanksgiving dinner tables today, as well as a symbol of the Fall season in general. With that it mind, you should probably go and have a slice.

From Tudors to Turducken: An Engastration Tale

Greetings, food history lovers.

I’d like to start this post by thanking Sally Evans for choosing this topic and for her donation to the Delicious History Podcast Project! Part of her prize was getting to choose something for me to write about, and she definitely chose wisely. Now let’s explore the world of monster-roasts!

Engastration is the proper term that is used to describe the act of stuffing an animal into the insides of another animal, and then cooking it. A charming description, I know.

Arguably the most famous engastration creation is the Turducken – A de-boned chicken stuffed inside a de-boned duck, stuffed inside a de-boned turkey. The exact origin of the Turducken is debated, however, Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme claims to have invented it and managed to secure a patent on the recipe in 1987.  It was then further popularised by American football commentator John Madden during the NFL. He also promoted it on Fox Sports by feeding it to the Thanksgiving Bowl winners.

Despite the three-bird feast being in the public eye for a relatively short period of time, the tradition of multi-bird and multi-animal roasts have a long history. This is unsurprising if one considers humanities love for playing God. Some historians claim that these roasts emerged during the middle ages, while others believe they can be traced back to ancient times.

Although there are literally hundreds of variations, today we’re going to be looking at some of the more notable edible monstrosities from history.

Tudor Christmas Pie – It actually looks quite palatable…from the outside

Tudor Christmas Pie

The Tudors are known for their overly gluttonous feasts, and their Christmas Pie certainly fits the mold. It consisted of a coffin shape pie crust that enveloped a turkey stuffed with a goose, stuffed with a chicken, stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a pigeon. The tradition of this extravagant pie lived on, and a similar recipe can be found in The Art of Cookery, which was published in 1747. It also became fashionable to serve these pies cold during the 19th century, which is something I think I would find rather hard to stomach.

Cooking these multi bird roasts inside a pie was a common practice at the time due to the use of fire for cooking, as opposed to ovens. If cooked on their own, the outer layers of meat would become tough and dry.

Cockentrice

Not satisfied with merely stuffing creatures into one another, the Tudors can also be attributed with combining animals for their feasts. The most famous is the cockentrice – a pig and a capon that are sewed together to create a new mythical beast. It was born out of Henry VIII’s uncontrollable desire to impress the King of France by throwing a £5 million on a literal meat feast. In addition to the cockentrice, the celebration also consisted of 2000 sheep, 1000 chickens and a dolphin. Because, y’now, that’s necessary.

A similar creation to this is the Helmeted Cock, which first appeared in medieval French cookbook Le Viandier de Tailleven. As opposed to sewing the two animals together, the capon rides the pig and is outfitted in the coat of arms of the honoured Lords who are present.

Rôti Sans Pareil

Translated to ‘Roast Without Equal’, this was created by 19th century French gastronomist Grimod de la Reynière. This testament to human will consisted of seventeen birds that were stuffed in the following order:

The Helmeted Cock

  • Giant Bustard
  • Turkey
  • Goose
  • Pheasant
  • Chicken
  • Duck
  • Guinea Fowl
  • Teal
  • Woodcock
  • Partridge
  • Plover
  • Lapwing
  • Quail
  • Thrush (not the disease)
  • Lark
  • Bunting
  • Warbler

 

 

Reynière even published the recipe for his creation in a volume of L’Almanach des Gourmands. Because obviously this is something that people would want to make on a regular basis, and clearly gives Jamie’s 15-Minutes Meals a run for its money.

Kiviak

This one isn’t for the faint hearted, nor the weak stomached.

Kiviak is a traditional winter food of Greenlandic Inuits that involves obtaining roughly 400 auks (a type of sea bird) and stuffing them into a seal carcass. In case you were wondering, this includes their feathers, beaks and feet too. Seal grease is applied in order to prevent spoilage and then the entire thing is covered by a large rock pie and fermented for 3 – 18 months. Once the carcass is unburied everything is consumed…raw.

Thanks for joining me on this exploration into the realm of culinary monstrosities! To finish, I’d like yo know if any of you out there have tried a Turducken or any other multi-animal roast. If not, would you be game?