Recipe Squashed!

I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving feasts!  Hopefully you didn’t overload too much on pumpkins, squash and sweet potatoes.  If you can still stomach thinking about food, read on about the results of my historical pie adventure.  I chose to follow the pumpkin pie recipe (from The White House Cookbook, 1877), but to mix it up a bit by swapping the pumpkin with squash, as was recommended at the end of the recipe.  The results?  This pie recipe will be filed away in my “interesting” category.  Better than disastrous, but not something I’d make for my next dinner party!

The toughest challenge I’ve found in translating these historic recipes to modern day is managing my expectations.  Making the squash pie definitely brought this to light.  I expected the squash pie to come together like a modern pumpkin pie, which I’ve made too many times to count.  But of course it didn’t, and why would it?  Not only are the ingredients and baking process different, but tastes and expectations are different now too. 

The best example of blown expectations with my squash pie was consistency.  I’m so accustomed to that wonderful pudding-like consistency of pumpkin pie filling, due in large part to the thickness of the pumpkin in a can.  While the freshness of the squash was a welcome change to the recipe, the texture was not.  I strained as much water as I could from the squash, but it still did not reach the cream-like texture of the pumpkin in a can.  And the recipe called for no other substantial dry ingredients aside from sugar!  Add in the fact the recipe called for more milk than any other ingredient, and I was left with a completely liquid filling.  I was sure it would never set, and gave up on the pie before it even went in the oven.

But lo and behold, it did set (1 ½ hours later!) and while the end product was still not the same as the pumpkin pie on our Thanksgiving dessert spread, it was entirely edible, flavorful, and a welcome change.  And that’s the important thing to remember when following old recipes – change, and welcoming it!  Understanding that historic dishes will not always resemble modern dishes is what makes the process so much fun.  I just need to be sure to let people know these dishes are from old recipes so they don’t think I can’t make a decent pumpkin pie, according to their expectations, of course! 

So all in all, the pie had a great freshness about it, the consistency was close enough to my expectations, but it was overwhelmingly sweet.  The amount of sugar could probably be cut in half because of the natural sweetness of the squash.  But then again, folks in the 19th century probably expected their squash pie to be that sweet!

Published by

Tracey Kry

Assistant Curator of Manuscripts and Assistant Reference Librarian, American Antiquarian Society

2 thoughts on “Recipe Squashed!”

  1. What kind of squash did you use for your pie? Many squash varieties are watery. Butternut squash, however, has the buttery, pudding-like consistency that you find in canned pumpkin. That’s what I use in my ‘pumpkin’ pie recipe – butternut squash, pumpkin, or sweet potatoes.

    By the way, there is no such thing as too much pie. My father and mother had/have different philosophies about pie: my mother has always refused any pie more than 24 hours old; my father, on the other hand, only liked two kinds of pie: hot and cold.

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