The fall weather has finally hit Chicago and I don’t know about you, but I cheated and grabbed my first bit of pumpkin spice September 1st. And I fully admit it, it was a latte. At this point it’s become a cliché with pumpkin spice dog treats, cereal, and even protein powder (no amount of nutmeg will ever fix protein powder). In my case, what really draws me in is our culinary history. When the days grow colder, we find ourselves pulled to Old World spices. Most of us will rarely use nutmeg, mace, or allspice in our everyday cooking but once the autumn wind spirals along the road we find ourselves searching out mulled wines, and yes, pumpkin spice as well.
It’s not exactly the pumpkin ingredient by itself, but what is mixed into pumpkin pie that make this mix of spices such a staple. There’s a nostalgia to pumpkin pie. It’s a piece carved from classic Americana, and I feel a little lost when it’s not lined up with the usual harvest feasts around Halloween and Thanksgiving. When I was younger, I liked to imagine a farmer’s housewife pulling a fresh pie out of the oven with her apron or white linens. It’s almost nightfall. The turkey is proudly set and steaming on the table. She straightens her back, sets it out to cool, and claps her hands to shake off that last bit of flour. It seems nice, doesn’t it? Feels right? But who was the housewife that created this recipe, and did it always look like this?
I may not be able to trace pumpkin pie back to the very first woman who jumped out of her field with a brilliant idea and a massive squash in her hands, but we do have a record of it in America’s very first cookbook. Amelia Simmons published American Cookery in 1796. Luckily for us in 2018, there’s a free online edition of her cookbook and just from a brief glance we see recipes we no longer eat. “To Dress a Turtle”, “Tongue Pie”, and “Potato Pudding” are part of some very unfamiliar recipes that I will quietly avoid. But passed the “Foot Pie” and “Carrot Pudding”, there it is. Simply called “Pompkin”. And here I am hundreds of years in the future sitting with my laptop and reading a simple recipe with the barest of instructions, but I recognize it.
No. 1. One quart stewed and strained, 3 pints cream, 9 beaten eggs, sugar, mace, nutmeg and ginger, laid into paste No. 7 or 3, and with a dough spur, cross and chequer it, and baked in dishes three quarters of an hour.
No. 2. One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.” (Simmons, “American Cookery”)
Imagine all the mothers, grandmothers, uncles, and fathers pressing their hands into the dough before they glanced back at the recipe. Whisking the familiar thick, orange filling. Floured hands gently placing pies through every evolution of the baking oven this country has experienced. Every generation gave it taste, looked around their cupboard and added bits and pieces of their home to adjust it to their liking. Gingersnap crusts, whipped-cream toppings, it followed us all the way down to here and now where we still search out the familiar in syrupy lattes and spiced cookies. We remember the scents of our parent’s kitchen, the same scent that drifted through our grandparent’s house when they were young.
I work retail at The Chopping Block and during my shift, I catch scents drifting from the kitchens. I always turn around or peak up the stairs to see what they’re up to. I can hear laughter echoing from the chefs down the hall while they roll out dough and pull out saucepans. Everything from the retail floor to the classrooms is colored in mossy green, oak brown, copper, and cream white. We want to bring the familiar here.
The Chopping Block carries down the same tradition of testing recipes, opening that new bottle of wine, and the quiet comfort that you’ll find in any house during the holidays. We want that warm feeling that hits when you finish a Thanksgiving meal, and we want to share it with you. The Chopping Block has its own recipe, its own tradition for pumpkin pie and it will be available for your holiday table in November. You can pre-order one of our pies to get a taste of what goes on in our kitchens or you can always ask us for the recipe if you want to pull it fresh out of the oven. You can also learn how to make our classic version in one of our upcoming Thanksgiving classes:
- Thanksgiving Workshop (hands-on)
- Thanksgiving Crash Course (demonstration)
The same way that Amelia Simmons shared the tips and tricks of her kitchen in 1796, we’re here to continue the tradition of connection and care. At The Chopping Block, “my house is your house” and we hope to see you soon for a slice of pie and a warm night to round off the end of a year.