This recipe, one of the first published recipes for pumpkin pie, comes from Amelia Simmons’ 1796 cookbook American Cookery, the first cookbook written by an American to be published in the United States.
While Amelia Simmons claims to present recipes “adapted to this country,” her book borrows heavily from British culinary tradition. In fact, historians Stavely and Fitzgerald found that 20% of her recipes were plagiarized directly from British sources (mainly Susannah Carter’s Frugal Housewife, Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, and E. Smith’s Compleat Housewife, which were all popular books at the time). Another 15% are mostly plagiarized, with slight alterations, and 42% more are dishes regularly found in British cooking. Many of the alterations are simply word changes, such as using the American term “molasses” instead of British “treacle.”
Despite the plagiarism (which was incredibly common in cookbook-writing at the time), Stavely and Fitzgerald did find that about 23% of Simmons’ recipes (44 total) appear to be unique. Many of these unique recipes feature ingredients native to North America and thus uncommon in British cookbooks, such as cornmeal, squash, and pumpkin.
Amelia Simmons provides two different recipes for pumpkin pie (or pompkin pudding, as she calls it). I will be making the first one; there is an excellent video of Townsends making the second version here.
Modern Redaction: (sized for a 9-inch pie pan):
- 1 1/3 cups cooked, puréed pumpkin (can be stewed, baked, or canned pumpkin – any way will work)
- 2 cups cream, milk, or half-and-half (in the original recipe, Simmons calls for cream, but in a note at the end of the book she states that milk can be substituted for cream in any of the pudding recipes. I split the difference and used half-and-half)
- 2 beaten eggs
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1/2 tsp mace
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
Pie crust (adapted from Amelia Simmons’ Puff Paste No. 3):
- 2 1/2 cups flour (or 2 cups for a pie with no lattice)
- Weigh the flour; use 75% of the flour’s weight in butter
- 1 egg white
- For the crust: cut the butter into small cubes and rub into the flour with your fingertips. This may take a while because there will be a LOT of butter.
- Slowly add in the egg white until the dough comes together. You may not need to use the entire egg white.
- Alternatively, use any other pie crust recipe or use a store-bought crust. Simmons’ recipe makes a very tasty, very flaky short crust, but other pie crusts would work just fine.
- Whisk all the ingredients for the filling (pumpkin, cream, eggs, sugar, and spices) together until smooth. Pour into the pie crust. I had a small amount of filling left over that wouldn’t fit; I put this in a ramekin and baked it along with the pie for a mini pumpkin custard.
- Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until the filling is set but the center is still slightly wobbly. Let cool before serving.
Technically, Amelia Simmons instructs you to “cross and chequer” your pie, by which she means to put a lattice over it. I attempted this, but the filling was so liquid-y that there was no way it could support the weight of a lattice. I ended up creating a lattice on a baking sheet and baking it separately from the pie, then placing it on top afterwards. Unfortunately, the pastry was so flaky that there was a lot of breakage in this operation. Then, when I went to cut the pie, I found that cutting through the lattice created a huge mess. I ended up taking it back off again anyway. I would recommend leaving out the lattice entirely and just making it an open-faced pie.
Amelia Simmons’ recipe has a higher proportion of dairy to pumpkin than most modern recipes, making this slightly more custard-like than I’m used to. That being said, it still tastes remarkably like modern pumpkin pies. If someone had served this to me without telling me where it came from, I never would’ve guessed it was a historic recipe.
Amelia Simmons does not give amounts for the spices and sugar in the recipe, so I just used amounts I thought would be appropriate. I personally think I got it spot-on – but of course if you prefer different levels of spice this recipe is easy to experiment with.
The crust was so buttery it was almost too decadent. With the lattice it would definitely have been too much, so once again I would recommend leaving that off and just making this an open pie. Other, simpler pie crusts would also work perfectly fine for this as well. Of course, if you’re an upstanding colonial family trying to show off your wealth in front of your neighbors, then by all means load up that crust with as much butter as you can afford.
Simmons, A. (1796). American cookery. Hartford: Hudson & Goodwin. https://www.loc.gov/resource/rbc0001.2015amimp26967
Stavely, K., & Fitzgerald, K. (2017). United tastes: The making of the first American cookbook. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.