How to make Pumpkin Pie from 1796

Pompkin pies and a damask rose

This recipe is adapted from a recipe of Amelia Simmons in the rather wonderful ‘Great Cooks and their Recipes – From Taillevent to Escoffier’ by Anne Willan. A book I’d highly recommend. It looks at 14 great cooks in 3 countries over 600 years.

Amelia Simmons’s book American Cookery appeared in 1796 and it sought “the improvement of the rising generations of females in America”. Almost nothing is known about the author herself except, mentioned by herself in the cookbook, that she was brought up as an orphan.

I made this glorious colourful pie for Dine Like a Servant. It was served alongside Hannah Glasse’s chocolate tart. The guests received a pumpkin pie and half a chocolate pie. With cream, of course.

If you have carved out a large pumpkin for Halloween this recipe is ideal to use up the excess (pumpkin) flesh. But better buy a smaller, more flavoursome squash.

Pompkin or Pumpkin Pie

Makes two 9 inch/22 cm pies or 12 small 6 inch small pies

  • 375g 12 oz flour 125g 4 oz butter (unsalted)
  • 75g or 2½ oz lard
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 tbsp water (more if you need it)
  • 750g pumpkin/squash after cooking & pureeing
  • 750ml or 1 1/4 pint double cream
  • 4 large eggs beaten
  • 250g or 8 oz granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground mace

The easiest way I found to deal with the pumpkin is as so. Cut it in half, take out the seeds, then cut it into quarters, then into eighths. Place these eighths into a pan of hot boiling water and cook until tender. Then scoop the flesh from the skin. The flesh is then soft enough to put through a food processor, or if you want to be truly authentic use a pestle and mortar.

Set the pumpkin puree to one side to cool. To make the pastry measure out the flour into a bowl. Cut the butter and lard into the smallest pieces you can and drop into the flour. Add the salt. Using just your fingertips, rubbing the butter and lard into the flour. I stop before it gets to the breadcrumb stage. It’s the point where you can still see tiny lumps of butter. I find this gives a crumblier pastry. Do try and experiment with this method if you like.

Now add the water to pastry and use a spoon to bring the mix together. When the water is incorporated you can get in with your hands. But gently. Create a ball of pastry by rolling the mixture around the bowl. Stop when all the flour and butter is combined. You may have to add more water but try not to create a dough that’s too sticky. When ready wrap up in plastic (or a clean cloth for authenticity) and store in a fridge or in your cool pantry. It should be kept cool for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 175C/gas 4/350F. The cooled pumpkin can be put into a big mixing bowl together with the cream, the eggs, the sugar, the ginger, nutmeg and mace. Mix all together then pour into a large jug.Take your pastry from your cool place and roll it out, as thin as you can while still being able to manage it. I filled small pie tins with the pastry you could use a large one, of course. Put the pie tins onto a baking tray. Now fill will the pumpkin mix from the jug. Fill to just under the top of the pastry case.

Bake the pies in the preheated oven for about an hour. The top will brown. This is good. The tarts should be firm in about an hour. I sprinkled some of them with sugar as they came out the oven which my guests loved, but the choice is yours.

For your delight I include the original recipe!

No. 1. One quart (pumpkin) 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.​