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Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Pie Recipe from 1861

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Slice of pumpkin pie on a blue china plate with more of the pie in a baking dish behind it and an antique cookbook, a small gourd, eggs, a spoon, and nutmegs on the table.

Pumpkin pie is a traditional, old-fashioned dessert that many people associate with holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. And, unlike recipes such as mincemeat pie and Marlborough pudding that have fallen out of favor with many people, pumpkin pie is a recipe that has stayed just as popular at holiday tables over the past few centuries. And since I enjoy experimenting with old recipes from antique cookbooks, I decided this year to try a truly old-fashioned version of a pumpkin pie from a cookbook from the 19th century. This old-fashioned pumpkin pie recipe has a nice smooth texture and a sweet and mild pumpkin flavor with a hint of spice.

If you like a stronger pumpkin flavor, you could probably try increasing the amount of pumpkin by another quarter of a cup or even by a third of a cup. I haven’t made it this way yet, but I think that I might try that the next time I make this to see how it is. I quite liked the balanced flavor of this pie as it is, though, because I could taste the pumpkin, but it wasn’t an overpowering pumpkin flavor.

The Original 19th Recipe

The recipe that I used came from an old 19th century cookbook called The Young Housekeeper’s Friend by Mrs. Cornelius. I have two antique copies of this book, one from 1861 and one from 1870. The recipe that I used came from the 1861 edition. (The 1870 edition is pictured in the photo above because the cover is more colorful, but I used the 1861 edition as the reference for my pumpkin pie recipe.) The 1859 edition is available in a modern printed facsimile copy or you can also read a digital copy for free online at Project Gutenberg.

“To a pint and a gill of strained squash, put three gills of sugar, three eggs, two crackers, pounded and sifted (or four eggs without the crackers), a teaspoonful of salt, one nutmeg, a dessert spoonful of powdered cinnamon, or some essence of lemon, a teaspoonful of ginger, and a table-spoonful of butter, melted in a quart of milk. Boil the milk. To mix it, stir the spice and salt into the strained squash first, then add the cracker, and sugar, and when these are mixed, pour in half the milk, and when this is well stirred, add the remainder, and lastly the eggs, which should be thoroughly beaten. If you make up two quarts of milk, use five eggs, and five pounded crackers, and double the other ingredients.”

The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, pages 70-71

My Adaptation of the Original Recipe

Since the mixture in the original recipe would have been enough for two pies, I decided to divide everything in half. I also omitted the crackers and used the ratio of eggs suggested by the recipe for use without the crackers. I also decided to omit the lemon essence because I thought the nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger would be better with the pumpkin then lemon would be. I might try using a bit of lemon extract some other time out of curiosity, though, just to see how it effects the flavor of the pie.

The original recipe just mentions using “sugar,” so you could use regular granulated sugar if you wanted to for this recipe. When I’ve talked to the historical interpreters at Old Sturbridge Village before, they have mentioned that in the early 19th century white sugar was considered to be a company or special occasion sugar for many families, so it would certainly seem fitting to use white sugar for a holiday pie. I decided to use brown sugar for my pie, though, because I like the little bit of extra flavor in brown sugar. And The Young Housekeeper’s Friend states that “For almost all kinds of pies, good brown sugar is nice enough” (page 64). So, the use of brown sugar seems like it would be an appropriate choice for this pie in keeping with the original recipe.

The original recipe (divided in two) calls for half of a nutmeg, so I used a whole nutmeg and grated about half of it. If you use whole nutmegs then the amount you will get will depend on how large or small your nutmeg was to begin with. I was afraid that it would be too much nutmeg flavor, so I did slightly less than half of the nutmeg which ended up being about one and a half teaspoons. I think that the next time I make this pie I won’t be so worried about there being too much nutmeg because one and a half teaspoons didn’t seem like too much to me at all, and next time I think I might even add a bit more nutmeg than that since I like the nutmeg flavor.

19th Century Baking Tips

It’s interesting to see times when old-fashioned baking tips line up with modern baking advice. Even though kitchens have changed a lot since the 19th century, some baking advice stays the same throughout the decades. Here are a couple of tips given in The Young Housekeeper’s Friend about preparing pumpkin pies:

“This sort of pies [sic] requires nearly an hour to bake; more, if the dishes are very deep. When done enough, the top will be gently swelled all over, and in moving, tremble like jelly; if not done, the middle will look like a thick liquid.”

The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, page 63

I found this advice to be accurate when making this pie because it took just under an hour to bake and I checked to see if it had a slightly swollen look and a slight wobble when I gave it a bit of a shake. I had also looked at a couple of different 19th century cookbooks to see what they recommended for how hot of an oven to use. Some cookbooks suggested using a “moderate” oven and some suggested using a “hot” oven. I decided to go for a temperature that seemed like it would be a good temperature in between moderate and hot and baked my pie at 375 degrees. I didn’t blind bake the crust before putting it in, and I kept the oven temperature the same for the whole time it was baking.

Slice of pumpkin pie on a blue china plate with more of the pie in a baking dish behind it and an antique cookbook, a small gourd, eggs, a spoon, and nutmegs on the table.

Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Pie Recipe from 1861

This old-fashioned pumpkin pie recipe comes from an old cookbook called The Young Housekeeper's Friend published in 1861. This pie has a light and sweet pumpkin flavor with a hint of spice.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 cups milk (I used whole milk)
  • Pie pastry for a single crust 9 inch pie

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Prepare your favorite pie crust recipe and set the dough aside in a cool place while you prepare the filling.
  3. Put the milk into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Then add the butter and let it melt into the hot milk. Once the butter has melted, set aside the pan to cool.
  4. Put the pumpkin in a large mixing bowl and add the spices and salt to the pumpkin. Stir well, then add the sugar and stir again.
  5. Add half of the milk to the bowl and stir the mixture. Then add the other half of the milk and stir again.
  6. In another small bowl, beat the eggs for a minute or two and then add them to the bowl and stir well to combine.
  7. Line a 9 inch pie plate with your favorite pie pastry and pour the pumpkin mixture into the pie plate.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for about 55 minutes or until the pie has a slight wobble when you shake it. You can also insert a knife into the pie to see if it comes out clean. Doing this will probably leave a visible line in the pie, but you can cover that up with some decorative pie crust leaves made from scraps of pie dough if you like.
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Slice of pumpkin pie on a blue china plate with more of the pie in a baking dish behind it and an antique cookbook, a small gourd, eggs, a spoon, and nutmegs on the table.
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