It’s the ultimate challenge on Thanksgiving Day, one that almost seems cruel: “Save room for dessert!” And yet a Thanksgiving meal without pumpkin pie seems horribly incomplete. So when did the indulgent holiday come to be associated with the sweet treat?
Pumpkins were long a staple of North and South American peoples. Scientists have even dated pumpkin-related seeds back to 7000 BC in Mexico. Early settlers of the Plymouth Plantation noticed how readily available pumpkins were, and copied Native Americas in roasting and boiling the squash to stay fed. Pumpkin was definitely a big part of the first Thanksgiving.
Later, in an attempt to make pumpkin more appetizing, settlers began cutting open the top, scooping out the seeds, and pouring milk, honey, and other spices—when available—into the pumpkin prior to cooking it, inadvertently creating the first pumpkin pie prototype.
Though pumpkins are native to North America, pumpkin pie as it’s known today wasn’t first made until pumpkin was exported to France. Francoise Pierre la Varenne, a French chef, included a recipe for the pastry in his cookbook, published in 1653. The recipe spread to English cookbooks in the late 1600s, and eventually made it over to the New World, with the first recipe appearing in an American cookbook in 1796.
Marketing companies and holiday carols began including the seasonal treat in slogans and songs, and the association stuck. You’ll notice that songs like There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree continue to perpetuate the connection with lyrics like “Later we’ll have some pumpkin pie, and we’ll do some caroling.”