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Monday, November 19, 2012

A Brief History of the Pumpkin Pie

The week of the great American harvest celebration, Thanksgiving, is upon us once more. There is nothing quite like the holidays to remind us just how quick is the passage of time and years. So much changes within the course of our journey, we realize, as we ponder the possibility of an earthly existence without Hostess Twinkies or Cupcakes. So little remains unchanged. Even the Thanksgiving turkey has changed since were children. People smoke them nowadays and put them in bags to retain their moisture. It just doesn't seem like a real Thanksgiving if the turkey doesn't emit a dry powdery residue when it is sliced, and suck the very marrow from your bones as you try to chew and swallow each bone dry, oven-cooked, over-cooked bite of it.

If almost anything sacred remains, then it must be the pumpkin pie. They have discovered cultivated seeds of it in Mexico dating to around 7,000 B.C. Then, shortly after Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Europe began to eat the pumpkin too. By 1675, pumpkin pie showed up in an English recipe book.  At about the same time that the English were bringing the recipe back to the American continent, Europeans were changing their own recipes and started making pumpkin pies by stuffing the pumpkin itself with spices and apples and other treats and then baking it whole. So, had American colonization began in earnest a little later, we'd have to use two ovens on Thanksgiving to have a place to bake both the turkey and the pumpkin! 

But perhaps no one advanced the development of the pumpkin pie like Margaret Malone did. By 1998, Margaret (Maggie to her friends) was already a pioneer for her innovative work with the grilled cheese sandwich. While the grilled cheese had been being burnt for hundreds and even thousands of years, it was Margaret who perfected the art of serving them 'burnt side down' to unsuspecting diners. The 'burnt side down' serving method has since caught on and is all the rage in cafes in Milan and bistros in Paris. But Margaret's real innovation didn't come about until 1998 when she substituted sugar in her pumpkin pies with common table salt. The result was polite guests piling on scoop after scoop of cool whip to mask the taste and children spitting out mouthfuls of pumpkin into the waste basket. 

This Thanksgiving as millions of households will prepare a feast for friends and family, thousands of salty pies and burnt turkeys and raw dinner rolls will be rolled out for unsuspecting guests. So many of these experiences will result in an embarrassed cook and so many of them will be reduced to tears for having ruined Thanksgiving. My mother remains an amazing cook. She didn't cry because she had accidentally replaced the sugar with salt, and actually found humor in it all as we watched each new victim try a slice. 

The moral here is that even the best cooks makes mistakes. And Thanksgiving is about being together with people you care about. A day with loved ones isn't going to be ruined by salty pies or burnt turkeys or raw rolls. It can't be. So many years later, I can't remember the hundreds of pies that my mother made that were delicious and perfect. I only remember the one that had salt in it. And of all the pies I have ever eaten, that remains to this day, my favorite one of all. Have a happy Thanksgiving this week everyone! 

P.S. Remember that this weekend only (Thursday through Sunday), you will be able to download my two favorite books that I have written (The Ghosts of Melrose and Silence of Centerville) onto your Kindle or computer via Amazon for FREE. Please make sure to pass it along this Thanksgiving and encourage your friends and family to download them as well. As an independent author I rely 100% upon word of mouth and people just like you to get readers interested in my work. Thank you and as always, thanks for reading!   -Buzz-      


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