Thanksgiving Special: A Shortcrust History of Pumpkin Pie


Pumpkin-Pie-ImageIf you’re in the USA you’re undoubtedly getting ready for one of the biggest feast days of the year – Thanksgiving. Perhaps your thoughts are already being filled by the delicious delicacies that you’ll be treating yourself to. Turkey, stuffing, mac n’ cheese, green bean casserole and of course – pumpkin pie. It may surprise you discover that this Fall dessert, whilst delectable, wasn’t found on the tables at the first Thanksgiving. Nor did it originate in the New World. In fact, it’s far more of a modern day staple for Turkey Day.

Evidence suggests that pumpkins originated in South America over seven thousand years ago and overtime also became native to New England. It’s believed that Native Americans traditionally prepared pumpkins by cooking them in slices over the hot coals of their fires. The vegetables began being exported to England and France during the Tudor period and the versatility of them were quickly recognised, including using them as a filler.

Pumpkin pies as we know them today were developed in the mid seventeenth century in France. Renowned chef Francois Pierre la Varenne created a recipe for a pompion torte – a pastry crust with a sweet pumpkin filling. Similar recipes began appearing in English cook books by 1675, one of the most notable being Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion.Meanwhile, it took 150 years for Varenne’s creation to begin appearing in American cookbooks, and it was only then that the pies began become a common item at the Thanksgiving table.

However, despite this beloved pie not being present at the first Thanksgiving in 1621, the vegetable itself certainly was. Pilgrims had brought pumpkin recipes with them on the Mayflower that were sweeter than that of the the Native Americans. In fact, they served a kind of pudding at the iconic dinner which involve hollowing out a pumpkin and filling it with milk, honey and spices. It was then baked in hot ashes.

Regardless of the pie’s origin, it continues to be a staple at American Thanksgiving dinner tables today, as well as a symbol of the Fall season in general. With that it mind, you should probably go and have a slice.

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The Wedding Cake: A History


Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of a couple of close friends from highschool. It got me thinking about wedding traditions, particularly the wedding cake. I thought that it would be interesting to explore the its origin, and how it has developed throughout history.

The original concept for the wedding cake can be found in the ancient Roman Empire. Unlike the sweet and heavily iced cakes of the 21st century, these were made of whole wheat flour. Although the preparation and decoration of the cakes was vastly different at this time, it still enjoyed the same attention and focus.

There are some curious wedding cake customs that are now long forgotten. Let’s just say that they are somewhat more eccentric than merely witnessing the newly weds cut the cake together…

For example, the aforementioned ancient bread cake was broken into small pieces over the bride’s head. Upon completing this ritual, guests would eat the pieces, as it was considered it to be a good omen. Can I just say that nobody better try this on my wedding day. I’m not getting up at 5am for styling just to have it turned into bread-hair.

From Medieval England, there are accounts of a custom that involved placing large amounts of sweet buns in front of the newly weds who would then attempt to kiss over the pile. If they were successful, it was considered as a sign that the couple would bear many children. This obsession with child-bearing also explains why fruit cake eventually became traditional at weddings – they were a sign of fertility and prosperity.

Always Impressive – The Croquembouche

Interestingly, the tradition of the sweet bun pile also unwittingly gave birth to a famous delicacy. It is said that a French pastry chef witnessed this custom in England and was inspired thusly to create the Croquembouche – a French wedding cake made out of a tower of profiteroles, topped with a halo of spun sugar. It was to become the signiature French wedding cake…as well as an elimination challenge in every season of Master Chef.

Around late 17th century, the wedding cake came to be known as the bride’s pie. Generally, they were mince pies made from sugary sweet breads. Every wedding guest was expected to eat a piece as it was considered both rude as well as extremely bad luck not to do so. A glass ring was hidden inside the pie, and it was believed that the female guest who found it would be the next one to be wed. This is of course reminiscent of the modern tradition of catching the bouquet.

Another interesting tradition from the 17th century was keeping a piece of cake under an unwed girl’s pillow. The custom was to break the cake into tiny pieces, which then were passed through the bride’s wedding ring. These pieces were then offered to the female guests to be placed under their pillows. By following this ritual, it was believed that they would dream of their future husband.

The 17th century also gave birth to the tradition of having two cakes – the bride’s and the groom’s. Personally, I was under the impression that this was a relatively new concept that allowed modern grooms to have a cake that wasn’t horrifyingly girly. Alas, it’s origins can be found in history.

A somewhat more…modern wedding cake.

Traditionally, the groom’s cake was a dark coloured fruit cake and was quite small in size. Comparatively, the bride’s was a simple, but large pound cake with white icing, which was used to symbolize virginity and purity.

It was during the 19th century that the groom’s cake began to disappear, as the bride’s was becoming more popular. This was largely due to sugar becoming more easily obtainable. However, this sweet commodity was still expensive and as such, only wealthy families could afford to have pure white icing. Consequently, it became something of a status symbol. This was proven only further when white icing was dubbed ‘royal icing’ after Queen Victoria used it for her own wedding cake.

The modern wedding cake, as we know it, originated from the wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. He was married in 1882 and his cake was the first in recorded history to be completely edible. It was baked in separate layers and contained very dense icing. When the icing hardened the tiers were then stacked together – a groundbreaking innovation that had never been used before. Modern wedding cakes still use this method, but because of their size, internal support is sometimes added to each layer in the form of dowels.

So there you have it, a very brief history of the wedding cake. I must say that I had a fantastic time researching this topic – there were far more interesting and quirky anecdotes than I expected. In light of modern cakes being so versatile, and more of a reflection of the couple’s personalities, it was fascinating to discover the origins and long dead traditions of yesteryear.

In finishing, I’d like to thank Ryan and Tara for being the inspiration for this post. I know you’re going to have a wonderful (and hopefully cake-filled) life together.

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The Great Plum Pudding Caper


Hello my little Historians!

Well, well, well, two posts within seven days – you’re all so very spoiled!

Today’s post will be quite short, but I can assure you that the tale I have to tell is quite fascinating and falls under the ever entertaining category of Quirky History.

I’m sure that I can safely assume that everyone here knows who Émile Deschamps is, so I won’t bother with the tiresome introductions and explanations.

What’s that? You don’t know EVERYTHING about French Romantic poets from the 19th century? Good lord, what a bunch of savages you all are.

Émile Deschamps was born in 1791 and, as previously mentioned, was one of the foremost contributors to the Romantic School of poetry. One of his most noteworthy achievements was the co-founding of the journal, La Muse Française alongside Victor Hugo. If I need to explain Les Misérables to you then I think it would be best if you leave and never come back. At the very least you should know about the film adaptation starring Liam Neeson, even if he doesn’t punch any wolves in the face. Anyway, Deschamps also wrote an ode titled La Paix Conquise, which was greatly admired by Napoleon.

Eat the pudding, eat the pudding, eat the pudding

Despite how common the good old Plum Pudding is today(Hello, Christmas), during the 19th century it was incredibly difficult to get outside of Mother England. As such, it was a rare delicacy in France that few had the pleasure of tasting. However, Deschamps was graced with such an opportunity in 1805 when a man named Monsieur de Fontgibu offered him a bite. He was instantly enchanted.

It would be some ten years before Deschamps would have another encounter with the English dessert. One evening whilst wandering the streets of Paris he decided to pop into a restaurant for dinner. Much to his surprise he saw that plum pudding was on the menu! He promptly ordered and made a point of finishing his meal quickly in anticipation of the long-awaited and almost forgotten plum pudding. However, as he was waiting, an incredibly apologetic waiter approached his table to explain that unfortunately, the very last pudding had already been claimed by another customer. Deschamps spun around to see who the waiter was referring to. Imagine his surprise when he saw that the man was none other than Monsieur de Fontgibu!

Some say that they shared the dessert as well as a laugh over the amazing coincidence.

Liam Neeson getting ready to punch some wolf-face

22 puddingless years passed before Deschamps happened to be invited to a dinner party where a rare English delicacy was being served for dessert. Try to guess what it was.

At the dinner, the poet regaled the other guests with the amazing tale of his two other encounters with the elusive dessert. All were amused and one woman even exclaimed that all Deschamps needed to complete the occasion was his old plum pudding friend.

It is rumoured that just as this sentence was uttered, the door burst open and a late guest entered. That’s right, you guessed it – Monsieur de Fontgibu had also been invited to the dinner party. Incredible, right? One can only hope that there was enough to go around this time.

Deschamps’ plum pudding encounter is often remembered in relation to the philosophy of synchronicity, as described by Carl Jung. For those who are interested – Synchronicity, as a philosophical concept, is the experience of two events that are unlikely to take place or are seemingly unrelated, yet they occur together in a meaningful way. Please be advised of the extremely basic nature of this explanation.

The concept of synchronicity and our little plum pudding tale is really quite amazing and worthy of study. Personally though, I prefer to remember it as one of the strange, and delicious, tidbits from history that make the world just that little bit more interesting.

Thanks for playing!