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Stewed Pumpkin Recipe & Historic Thanksgiving Fare from 1672

Nov 20, 2017 03:44PM ● By Linda Ditch
As Thanksgiving approaches, most of us are anticipating the roast turkey, the family’s favorite stuffing recipe, buttery mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, sweet-tart cranberry sauce, and cinnamon-spiced pumpkin pie that will overload our dinner tables. However, the menu for that first  three-day Thanksgiving feast celebrated by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621 was quite different from the one we enjoy today.

First, cross potatoes off the list since they originated in South America. Next, skip the cranberry sauce, as the colonists didn’t have sugar to mix with the cranberries, though they did use them to flavor sauces for meats. And nix the pumpkin pie. The recipe didn’t exist at the time, though they did enjoy stewed pumpkin sweetened with syrup or honey.        

So what did those early colonists eat? From an account written by Edward Winslow to a friend in December 1621, historians only know for certain that venison and fowl (which may have included wild turkey, duck, geese, and the now-extinct passenger pigeon) were served. However, they do have a good idea what foods were available to the colonists at the time, which included a lot of seafood (mussels, lobster, cod, eel); maize and smaller amounts of wheat and barley; vegetables like squashes (including pumpkin), spinach, peas, cabbages, beans, onions, turnips, and carrots; fruits such as plums and grapes; and nuts, especially chestnuts and walnuts.

If you would like to bring a taste of 1621 to your 2017 Thanksgiving meal, Kathleen Wall, Colonial Foodways Culinarian for Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, shares a recipe from Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History from Pilgrim to Pumpkin Pie by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver, and Plimoth Plantation. It includes a 17th century description of how the dish was made.

Stewed Pumpkin

Serves 8

To stew pumpkins, from New England Rarities Discovered by John Josselyn, 1672:

 “The Housewives manner is to slice [the Pompions] when ripe, and cut them into dice, and so fill a pot with them of two or three Gallons, and stew them upon a gentle fire a whole day, and as they sink, they fill again with fresh Pompions, not putting any liquor to them; and when it is stew’d enough, it will look like bak’d Apples; this they Dish, putting Butter to it, and a little Vinegar, (with some Spice, as Ginger, &c.) which makes it tart like an Apple, and so serve it up to be eaten with Fish or Fleash: It provokes Urin extremely and is very windy.”


4 cups cooked and mashed pumpkin or other squash

4 Tbsp butter

1 to 2 Tbsp cider vinegar

1 to 2 tsp ground ginger (or any combination of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and pepper to taste)

1 tsp salt

Place the pumpkin, butter, vinegar, ginger, and salt in a saucepan over low heat. Stir and heat until all of the ingredients are well combined and hot. Adjust the seasonings to your liking and serve.

Bon appétit!

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