Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pumpion Pye in the 17th Century

I can’t be the only person who is haunted by a recipe.

I saw this little beauty a few years ago. It was in a November 27, 1895 NYT's article that included 'modern' Thanksgiving menus as well as fashions of times past. It was said of this pie that it "puts the modern pumpkin pie to blush for the simplicity of its construction. It gives evidence that the early American Thanksgiving day did not pass without some culinary pomp and display". How could I not want to make this pumpion pye? Before that could happen, a little translating was in order. I knew vergis was probably verjuice and remembered that caudle was a restorative egg noggy drink. I looked up the obscure froiz but had no luck. I was stuck on froiz which was a fairly elemental part of the recipe. No pumpion pye for me.
Luckily times have changed. This year I found the source thanks to an inspired online library system, Project Gutenberg. After about 5 Google searches i found that the original came from the 1656 The Complete Cook, published by Nathaniel Brook, authored by W.M., but there was a nearly identical recipe a few years later in Robert May’s 5th edition (although it was first published in 1665) 1685 The Accomplisht Cook:

Now, there's a discrepancy.  The oldest version says ½ pound of pumpion with no egg, Robert May's version says 1 pound with 10 eggs -- a very different animal altogether.  I chose to try the egg version for my first go at it.

 I also substituted my own pie crust when I read this in May’s book, assuming it would be tough:
To make a Paste for a Pie.
Take to a gallon of flour a pound of butter, boil it in fair water, and make the paste up quick
During the English Renaissance, much food was prepared in pastry 'coffins' (a Charles Addams image if ever there was one), created to contain the interior ingredients during the cooking process with a casket-like sureness. The crust had to have a ceramic durability. This was not going to be the tender flaky stuff that we spoiled moderns have come to expect. I chose to try the paste another day... perhaps with a nice 16th century 'chickin pye'

Although this recipe seems alien and is quite a departure from our modern pumpkin pies with creamy, custardy fillings, the layers of the dish are not unlike, say, eggplant lasagna where you must cook the eggplant first in an egg dip and fry before layering it with sauce and pasta. According to Mr. Johnson's 1825 dictionary, "froise" comes from the French "froisser, as the pancake is crisped or crimpled in frying. The froiz is like a omelette/pancake with sliced up pumpkin and wonderful spices and herbs - or it is spiced, sliced pumpkin - crisped around the edges. The layers of apple and currants and the froiz sounded bizarre but were quite good in the end. I made a little lid, inspired by some of the engravings in May’s book so it would be easy to pour in the caudle (wine or liquor and eggs made into a drink) after baking was done. I was pleased to have some verjuyce on hand(not the crabapple juice that the English may have used but a wonderful Madeleine Kamman recipe with honey and cider vinegar and Armagnac.)

I revisited this recipe this Thanksgiving with excellent results.  After many years of wrestling with old recipes, I realized that I hadn't given my interpretation of the old recipe as I came to do during the course of Lost Past Remembered and left readers to their own devices without much encouragement.  It is daunting to take this kind of thing on with the only measurement being the amount of pumpkin (which doubled in the years after the first was written).
Here's what I did - with measurements.  I tried something different than my first attempt because this time  I was struck by the phrase "mix and beat them all together".  The first recipe doesn't mention eggs blended with the pumpkin, the second says 10 eggs to 1 pound of pumpkin.  Both of these made me think the pumpkin is cooked through either before it gets blended with the eggs or before it gets pounded with the sugar and spices and herbs.  I thought I would cook the pumpkin slices in butter (it might have been previously baked before -- old recipes notoriously neglect important instructions -- I also didn't want to cook the egg to death).   I then mashed the pumpkin to a still chunky state, mixed all the rest of the ingredients together,  and slowly added the egg mixture to the mashed pumpkin.  I gently cooked and cooled it -- I thought this was delicious - the herbs are spectacular in the pie.  I also sautéed the apples till slightly softened but also had uncooked slices at the very top.   I think it would work equally well to try it the first way -- and just have spiced fried slices of pumpkin... the caudle would be the only egg in the pie.

Pompion Pye

1 recipe for pie crust (I used 1 1/4 c flour, 1 stick butter 2 T lard and 1/4 c water)
7 oz of pumpkin, sliced thinly
2 T butter
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
1 T chopped fresh  thyme
1 T chopped fresh marjoram
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/8 t ground cloves
1 t pepper
1/4 - 1/3 c sugar
1 T molasses
5 eggs, beaten (skip this if doing version 1)
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 apples sliced thin
1 T butter
1/3 c currants

2 T butter for putting on top of the pie before closing


2 egg yolks
2 T sherry, 1 T madeira with a splash of verjuice if you have it or a splash of sherry vinegar. 

Sauté the pumpkin in 2T butter till tender.  Let it cool and mash it.  Blend the herbs and spices with the eggs.  Mash the pumpkin with the egg mixture, blending slowly.  Warm butter,  pour the pumpkin mixture into the pan and cook on  a low heat -- turning it over to cook until softly scrambled (OR toss plain sliced pumpkin with the sugar and spices and skip the 5 eggs).  Remove from heat and cool. Sauté 1 apple in the butter and cool. Slice 1/2 apple and leave uncooked
Heat the oven to 400º

Put the bottom crust in the pan (I used a 6" bottom - 8" top cast iron skillet - smaller than a regular pie pan).  Lay the pumpkin mixture over the crust.  Sprinkle with currants and cover with cooked apples and finish with the raw apple slices -- dot with 2 T butter.  Put the top on the pie in such a way it can be removed to add the caudle.

Bake till crust is golden -- about 30 minutes - turn off the oven.  Take the pie out,  remove the top crust and pour the caudle in the pie (perhaps double the caudle recipe if doing version #1).  Put the pie back in the oven for 5 minutes.

Thanks to Tastespotting for publishing my pumpion pie post!!!


Chocolate Shavings said...

That's a great post - this old-world pumpkin pie sounds amazing!

Deana Sidney said...

Thanks, getting on Tastespotting was amazing. I look forward to
talking with many wonderful new foodies!

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic blog! I look forward to reading more. There is nothing I love more than combining history and food!!

Deana Sidney said...

Thanks so much, Emily. I hope to keep your interest in the future!

Zom G. said...

Fabulous adaptation...I'm being vexed by an ancient recipe myself..hieroglyphics anyone? Anyway, so glad to have found you through tastespotting!

Sara said...

This looks so cool! What a great idea of cooking up this antique recipe...a baking adventure! Yum. :)

Deana Sidney said...

Thanks Zom, you are one busy cook! What is your ancient recipe???

Deana Sidney said...

sara.. you are the queen of cooking with fruits and vegetables.. i bow to those cookies... pumpkin oatmeal sounds amazing?

Pam said...

Fabulous pics and story. It looks delicious!

Hels said...

Of all the centuries of written history, I am fascinated by this period in British history most of all. The civil wars, the puritan commonwealth and the restoration strike me as a critical time in which Robert May might have been writing The Accomplisht Cook.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Deana, the amount of research you do for your posts is so impressive and detailed! And pastry "coffins" is such a funny term! :D

Unknown said...

I love this blog! Wonderful information and food.

Juan said...

I came across this recipe the other day and am going to use it in a post tomorrow (1/30) on the son of Pocahontas, Thomas Rolfe in my blog Book of Days Tales ( In the process of searching I came across this post. Quite wonderful. I am going to provide a link to your post in mine and I have already included a link to your blog on my blogroll. I would like to ask your permission to post one of your photos -- naturally I will give full credit.