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Thanksgiving | TIMES PAST

A Chef Among the Pumpkins

November 22, 1998|LEILAH BERNSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Our craving for chef recipes is nothing new. On Nov. 20, 1898, for instance, The Times Illustrated Magazine offered several "famous recipes" for pumpkin pie from New York chefs.

"Simplest of all," read the article, "is the recipe of 'Oscar,' the inimitable major-domo of the Waldorf-Astoria. He tried many formulas but found that the one which gave the deepest satisfaction was one in which the delicate flavor of the vegetable was not completely buried beneath the spices."

Ground ginger and cinnamon are the only spices used in this pie, yet they're just enough to give it a nice, subtle flavor. Of course, like many chef recipes of today, the recipe from Oscar Tschirky -- just Oscar to his customers -- was vague and suited more to the pros than to home cooks.

We made some adjustments in The Times Test Kitchen, however, and found that Tschirky's pie is quite good. First, we used less pumpkin puree, fewer eggs and less milk than the original recipe called for (our first try was a liquid mess). The light, basic crust recipe (called plain paste in the old days) is adapted from Fannie Farmer's "Boston Cooking-School Cook Book" from 1896.

Of course, there is no record that the pilgrims feasted on pumpkin pie--or even turkey--in 1621. But the unnamed author of The Times article wrote, "The pumpkin pie deserves its immortality. . . . No viand has a cleaner or purer lineage."

Then followed a brief exploration of the history of pumpkin pie. The Times writer traced it back to at least 1690 ("more of a luxury [then] than is stewed terrapin or canvas-backed duck today") and then to the early 18th century ("an heirloom of the Adams family"). The writer didn't include the fact that there are also reports of colonists making pumpkin pie in the 1640s and before.

The first American cookbook published in the United States--Amelia Simmons' "American Cookery" (1796)--contained printed recipes for "pompkin pie" and "cramberry sauce."

By 1898, The Times article said, pumpkin pie had not changed much. The quality of flour had improved, making the pie crust better. But the filling was essentially the same--still a "glorious golden paste delicately browned on the surface as it was in the days of George Washington."

1998's 1898 Pumpkin Pie

Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

If time is short, use the Pumpkin Pie Filling in any prebaked pie crust from the supermarket.

PLAIN PASTE CRUST

2 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, diced

2 tablespoons lard or shortening

3 tablespoons cold water

Mix flour and salt in large bowl. Add butter and lard work quickly into flour with pastry cutter, fork or hands until flour resembles coarse pebbles. Add cold water and work dough with hands just until dough forms.

Knead dough on floured board 5 minutes then roll out to about 1/8-inch thickness. Line 9-inch round pie pan with dough. Remove excess dough from edges. Fill unbaked pie shell with dried beans or pie weights. Bake at 350 degrees 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

PUMPKIN PIE FILLING

2 cups pumpkin puree

2 tablespoons flour

2 eggs

3 cups milk

3/4 cups sugar

1/2 tablespoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix pumpkin puree, flour, eggs, milk, sugar, ground ginger, cinnamon and salt and pour into baked crust. Bake at 350 degrees until pie surface is smooth and knife inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes.

Refrigerate pie 1 hour before serving.

8 servings. Each serving: 348 calories; 435 mg sodium; 78 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 52 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 1.09 gram fiber.

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