You know its that time of year.. because you can't go anywhere with out seeing the outfit of the season - Pumpkin Spice Lattes with sweaters, shorts, and Ugg boots. The P.S. Latte made its debut in 2003, btw.. and the cultivation of pumpkins can be traced back to 5500 BC in Central America. That gives me 7503 years of pumpkin fun to talk about :) ... Oh, Ghourd!
I'm not going to go back quite that far, lets start about 398 years ago when the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth Harbor. As those European settlers would soon find out, the winters in southern New England are rough, and they are exponentially more rough when food is scarce, and half of your people die from scurvy. Lucky for the Pilgrims, there were some curious Native Inhabitants around that were intrigued by their new visitors. So intrigued that they stole some tools. (I'm obviously paraphrasing a lot of history, but stick in there.) Anyway the tools were returned and this is how they meet Squanto. Now, Squanto and his tribe, the Wampanoag were fighting with a nearby tribe, the Narragansett and desperately needed the Pilgrims support. This leads to the Pilgrim-Wampanoag Peace Treaty of 1621 and offers both parties support from each other. The Pilgrims would help provide defense and arms for the Wampanoag; and they in return taught the Pilgrims how to farm. So... to celebrate the first harvest (the first historically-recognized* Thanksgiving), there was a big 3 day party where lots of local food was eaten - fish, shellfish, fruits, nuts, venison, even things like, um... local and native squashes - but not the kind that were double baked and in a pie crust. That happened later. Like, 1796 later, in the first American Cookbook, American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons.
As time goes on and the settlers started colonies, pumpkins weren't necessarily a dinner staple, with some regarding the pumpkin as a food of last resort. People at the time were way more taken with bread and beer. However, when yeast wasn't available for beer, guess where people turned to... yep, fermenting pumpkins. So even though people didn't want to admit it, there were always pumpkins hanging around. It wasn't until Abraham Lincoln designated Thanksgiving a National holiday in 1863 that the pumpkin pie really cemented its place in history as a dessert staple.
Now, as American history goes, Industrialization changes everything... the pumpkin industry included. At the end of the Agricultural Depression, the Government was giving out large farm subsidies to large companies who were mass producing food for the country. This was bad for the small farm and something needed to happen fast! Luckily, by this time, cars were commonplace and people were looking to venture out of their urban environments on the prowl for some good ol' fashioned weekend nostalgia. Seasonal roadside farmer stalls adorned with pumpkins starting popping up everywhere, pumpkin patches gained popularity and well as festivals, dedicated to nothing but... PUMPKINS! Grow them big, hoist them a mile in the air.. doesn't matter what you do with them, people are having fun.
Last year, in America, pumpkin sales topped $121 Million dollars, with the number one pumpkin product sold being pumpkin pie filling.
*** On Dec. 4, 1619, a group of 38 Englishmen landed at Berkeley Plantation on the James River near what is now Charles City, Va. ... This Virginia Thanksgiving, a religious observance, was held about one year before the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620 and about two years before their Thanksgiving harvest feast in 1621. ***
America sure has come a long way since the first harvest celebration!
(Tune in next week when we talk about how the Civil War created Thanksgiving)