This week, the aroma of baking pumpkins for pies and soups is drifting out from ovens all across the United States. Pumpkin pies are eagerly anticipated at the end of a Thanksgiving feast, and then forgotten for the rest of the year.
Pumpkin – a fruit from caveman times
This history of the humble pumpkin reaches back to around eight to ten thousand years ago in the Mexican highlands of Oaxaca. This is where the oldest orange field pumpkin seeds were encountered by archeologists. Wild pumpkins do not exist, as they were cultivated from wild gourds that grew in the moist soils of riverbanks and creeks.
Ancient pumpkins were 7 to 10 cm around, and had very hard shells. The flesh of those early pumpkins was thin and bitter, so they were likely gathered and planted to eat solely their seeds. Over the centuries, plants were selected and bred to produce more, better tasting pulp and bigger seeds.
Spicy pumpkin soup to warm you up in autumn
Pumpkin soup is typically thick soup made from a purée of a pumpkin. It is made by combining the pulp of a blended pumpkin with stock or broth. It can be served either hot or cold, and is a popular Thanksgiving dish in the United States.
Also known as the squash soup is a soup prepared using squash as a primary ingredient, with acorn squash and butternut squash being the most common ones.
Spicy pumpkin soup recipe
- 2 sugar pumpkins (450 g of pumpkin purée)
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 2 diced onions
- 3 cloves of minced garlic
- 2 cups of vegetable broth (either DIYor store-bought)
- 1 cup of canned coconut milk
- ¼ tablespoon of each: sea salt, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, chili flakes, coriander, garam masala
First, preheat oven to 350 °F (around 180 °C) and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut off the tops of the sugar pumpkins and halve them.
Scrape out all the seeds and strings. Bake the pumpkin for 45-50 minutes. Having cooled for 10 minutes, peel away skin and set it aside.
Afterwards, pour olive oil over a saucepan, then add onions and garlic. Cook for 3 minutes, until it becomes translucent. Add the pumpkin, coconut milk and spices and bring to a simmer.
At the end, blend the soup until you achieve purée texture.
Pumpkin soup history
The pumpkin soup originated in Haiti during their independence. It was supposed to be a statement to French Colonists that the Haitian people could work together to create something. The traditional version of the pumpkin soup is called soup joumou. It is consumed in Haiti on New Year’s Day (January 1), as a historical tribute to Haitian independence in 1804.
The squash soup constitutes also a part of the cuisine of North African cuisine, and the cuisines of Mozambique and Namibia, both of which are located in Southern Africa.
Interestingly, pumpkin “pies” prepared by early American colonists were more similar to a savory soup served in a pumpkin than a sweet custard in a crust known today.
Pumpkin pie not sweet?
The first pumpkin “pies” were actually whole pumpkins with their tops cut off and the seeds scooped out. The pumpkin was filled with a savory porridge of stewed pumpkin, bread crumbs, apples and eggs. Afterwards, the top was placed back on the pumpkin and the whole thing was baked in an oven. The sweet variant of this era would have been a pumpkin stuffed with only apples and baked whole.
The first printed sweet pumpkin pie recipe appeared in the cookbook American Cookery in 1796, and was similar to the modern pies enjoyed today.
Why do Americans eat pumpkin primarily as pie, and also usually only around Thanksgiving?
The pumpkin pie probably had the consistency of cheesecake, and was exceptional in that it was intended for lavish, high society consumption. Mostly, by this time in American history, pumpkins were typical food for poor farmers and their families. The pumpkin was easily planted, grew well in a variety of soils, and produced large volumes of food that stored and traveled well. These qualities led to the pumpkin being widely grown across the United States as the country grew and the settlers expanded.
As the nation grew and industrialized, young generations left farms during the urbanization era. Pumpkins reminded people of fond childhood memories on the farm. To hold onto that nostalgia, pumpkin pies started appearing as Thanksgiving meals. The tradition grew and spread effectively, so today you will likely find a pumpkin pie during the Thanksgiving feast in every part of the country.