Hallowe’en Pumpkin Pie (1919)

Halloween has long been celebrated in many parts of the world, but many would say it is especially popular in the United States. Similar holidays exist elsewhere, like the Day of the Dead in Mexico, Pitru Paksha in India and Yu Lan (Hungry Ghost Festival) in China. Catholics around the globe celebrate All Saints Day as they have done for centuries.

All Hallows, the Christian version of the ancient pagan holiday Samhain, was not widely observed in the U.S. until the end of the 19th century when it began to lose its heavy religious overtones. Irish immigrants are probably most responsible for popularizing a blend of ancient Celtic traditions and All Hallows celebrations. Irish traditions meshed with regional Harvest festivals and created a uniquely American version of the holiday. The commercialized Halloween (or Hallowe’en) that we know and love didn’t really start until 1910.

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From The Book of Halloween, 1919. Public Domain.

In 1909, Halloween and Harvest parties were a fast-growing trend throughout the country. Masquerades and other themed parties for adults were already well-established especially among the wealthy, but by the turn of the century more and more people had joined in the festivities and were even hosting their own. What really got things moving was the introduction of commercially produced Halloween die-cuts and party decorations by two major paper companies: Beistle and Dennison Manufacturing Co.

Dennison had been in business around 50 years by then and was known primarily for making merchandise tags. That is until someone had the genius idea to mass produce party decorations.  Within only a few years Dennison became the go-to Halloween party reference. The company even published its own Halloween guides called Bogie books! Between 1912 and 1935 they published a new edition every year (with the exception of 1918 and 1932). These books were full of party planning ideas from costumes and decorations to party games, ghost stories and menus.

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Decoration ideas and cut-out instructions from Dennison’s Bogie Book, 1920

Party Like It’s Approximately 1919

The Bogie Book from 1920 is a great resource for any vintage Halloween enthusiast to get an idea of what a typical Halloween party might have been like. In many ways Halloween was much the same as it is now. Pumpkins were carved and lit with candles and homes would be decorated with images of black cats, witches and ghosts. Adults and kids alike would dress up and attend dinner or dance parties at clubs, churches and schools or go to private parties hosted by friends or family. It was common to receive an actual paper party invitation in those days and, prior to the 1940s, costumes were almost exclusively homemade.

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According to The Book of Halloween (1919) by Ruth Edna Kelley, Hallowe’en was a night of “ghostly and merry revelry” with all kinds of mischief. Trick-or-treating didn’t really catch on until after the 20’s, so many youth found the holiday a perfect time to go vandalize the neighborhood. Any kids or teens not into trouble-making would enjoy party games like bobbing for apples, treasure hunts, fortune telling and sharing ghost stories. In 1919, kids’ Hallowe’en games and activities were nothing new. Parents had probably grown up singing Hallowe’en songs and participating in organized plays and dances like this one from The Jolly Hallowe’en Book (1900):

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Young adults looked forward to Halloween as the day their fates would be sealed and they would find their love match. Many (if not all) party games played by teens and young singles were elaborate ways of discovering their true or future romantic partners, from attaching names to apples on a string to performing bizarre rituals in front of a mirror at midnight. Halloween parties around the turn of the century were filled with an impressively large variety of matchmaking games and traditions. It is unclear how much stock, if any, was put in the results. But it was probably a lot of fun!


The Recipe

Hallowe’en Pumpkin Pie

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Once upon a time, long before the internet, homemakers and home chefs relied on their friends, families and neighbors to find new and reliable recipes. Cookbooks were plentiful of course, but many women filled their personal recipe collections with newspaper or magazine clippings and cards received in recipe exchanges with their friends. The holidays were a great time to try out new recipes to be served, no doubt, at dinner parties or family gatherings. For many women young and old alike, hosting a good Hallowe’en party was a very important social responsibility. And a good Hallowe’en dinner menu was hardly complete without pumpkin pie!

On October 17, 1919, the Patriot Newspaper of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania printed the following recipe for Hallowe’en pumpkin pie.

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One-Egg Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients:

  • Pastry for pie crust or pre-packaged pie shell
  • 2 cups canned pumpkin (not pie filling)
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. each ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch

Step ONE: Dry Ingredients

Combine sugars, salt, cornstarch and spices and blend well.

Step TWO: Wet ingredients

Beat the egg and combine with the pumpkin. Mix wet and dry ingredients together.

Step THREE: Fill and Bake

Line a glass pie plate with the pie pastry dough of your choice or move a frozen packaged shell from the tin to the plate to thaw. If you’re curious about why we are using glass and not tin read this. While the pie tin does work in a pinch, I prefer how the crust turned out in the glass plate. Fill the pie and spread evenly.

Bake at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Times may need to be adjusted according to your oven and/or elevation. There are no specific baking instructions on the original recipe so I used the directions for classic Libby’s pie (c. 1950) as my guide.

Note: I did not blind bake my crust because I would not consider this pie to be a custard and there was no concern that the batter would make the bottom soggy. Between the glass pan and the baking time there was no issue with crust done-ness. It was just right.

Step FOUR: Serve

Serve the pie warm, room-temperature or chilled. It’s up to you! Leave your pie in the glass dish and – this is apparently very important – make your hostess cut and serve the pie at the table.

 

Step FIVE: Enjoy!

This pumpkin pie is fantastic. I am not a fan of pumpkin pie, to be honest, but this recipe inspired a major change of heart. All of my dinner guests and even my anti-pie 5 year-old genuinely enjoyed it!

At first glance this recipe doesn’t appear to be much different than the traditional pumpkin pie, but if you’re familiar with custards and pumpkin pies you’ll notice immediately that this one *completely lacks dairy. It has only one egg and some cornstarch to thicken and bind it, but other than that the filling is just sugar, spices and pumpkin. The spices are bold but this is a very good thing.

*This recipe is already dairy-free, so it would be incredibly easy to make it vegan (using flax or other egg substitute) and even gluten free if you make your own pastry dough.

If you are emotionally attached to the light and super creamy custard-style pumpkin pies, this one might not be for you but you really should try it anyway. Halloween is the perfect holiday to take culinary risks!

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A Final Note about Canned Pumpkin

By 1919 it was common to use all kinds of canned goods in the kitchen, including pumpkin. In “To Live Well and Cheaply” from Grocer’s Magazine (1913) there is much praise about canned pumpkin:

“The canner of food has brought no finer art than the preserving of pumpkin in convenient tins… The canning of pumpkin is an enterprise of greater magnitude than most people imagine. One packer had on his grounds at one time last season 4,000 tons of this gorgeous fruit – a novel sight.”

Nobody wants to spend the day stewing pumpkin, then or now, so buying it in cans really is the way to go. However, our modern canned pumpkin is probably not quite the same as it was then. Libby’s, the world’s dominating canned pumpkin manufacturer, purchased the Dickinson Brothers’ plant and started producing canned pumpkin in 1929. Dickinson had developed a special type of squash called the Dickinson Squash or Dickinson Field Pumpkin, which is much more closely related to butternut squash than traditional orange Fall pumpkins. In fact, botanically it is not even considered a pumpkin at all! This notorious squash is what Libby’s uses to make their iconic pumpkin puree. But don’t curse Libby’s name just yet. Most varieties of pie “pumpkins” are not actually true pumpkins, but are genetically squash. True pumpkins are best used for carving, not eating. Plus, it’s said that Libby’s is one of the few brands that does not use a combination of pumpkin and other squashes to make the puree. It is 100 percent of whatever it is.

Canned pumpkin does not taste the same as the puree you could make at home with the sugar pie pumpkin and certainly not like the much less desirable flavor of actual orange, ribbed pumpkins like the Connecticut Field or the Howden.  Lake Shore is possibly the only brand out there that also existed in 1919. Regardless, it would be nearly impossible to recreate the exact flavor and consistency of the original canned pumpkin because we don’t know which types of pumpkins were used.

Anyone who has experimented with canned pumpkin knows that each brand tastes and looks different, which was probably also the case in 1919. Choose the type of pumpkin that you like. I ended up using Libby’s Pure Organic Pumpkin, but for authenticity’s sake you could try Lake Shore if you can find it.  Organic is best, but it all ultimately comes down to personal preference.

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Sources and Further Reading

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