Colonial Thanksgiving recipe – Mary Randolph’s Pumpkin Pudding

Mary Randolph, a relative of Thomas Jefferson, published her cookbook, The Virginia Housewife in 1838.  The volume is notable for its use of items native to the colonies, such as pumpkins, squash, shellfish and venison, and preparations familiar to English cooks.  In honor of Thanksgiving, I whipped up a batch of individual pumpkin puddings to take to my family’s Thanksgiving luncheon.

The first step in preparing the puddings is to make a “puff paste,” or pastry crust.  Ms. Randolph’s recipe:

TO MAKE PUFF PASTE.

Sift a quart of flour, leave out a little for rolling the paste, make up
the remainder with cold water into a stiff paste, knead it well, and
roll it out several times; wash the salt from a pound of butter, divide
it into four parts, put one of them on the paste in little bits, fold it
up, and continue to roll it till the butter is well mixed; then put
another portion of butter, roll it in the same manner; do this till all
the butter is mingled with the paste; touch it very lightly with the
hands in making–bake it in a moderate oven, that will permit it to
rise, but will not make it brown. Good paste must look white, and as
light as a feather.

I mixed the water into the flour in 3 tablespoon increments, mixing first with a spatula, then later with my hands as the dough began to come together.  Following Ms. Randolph’s instructions, I rolled out the dough, then smushed bits of cold butter into it by hand.  I modified the recipe at this point, down to one stick of butter rather than one pound.  This was because the dough got very moist and sticky very quickly and I wanted to make sure it stayed a bit flaky.  When I was done, I pulled off bits of dough, rolled them and flattened them by hand into two muffin tins.  I popped them in the oven and baked them off for about ten minutes, until they were a tiny bit brown.  On to the pudding!

The pumpkin was central to the diet of colonial settlers once it had been introduced to them by the native Americans.  Its thick skin and rich flesh, easily sweetened and flavored with staple spices of the time like nutmeg and mace, made for easy storage in the cold winter months and a nutritious and tasty dish when prepared in a pudding or pie.  The pumpkin pudding would have been an earlier use of pumpkin than pie, as pudding was a common and well-known dish from England.  Unlike today’s creamy dessert, a colonial pudding would have been closer to a thick, spicy custard.

Mary Randolph’s pumpkin pudding recipe uses typical colonial spices, nutmeg and mace, and includes brandy, which was also used in practically every colonial dish for a gentle, sweet flavor.  Ms. Randolph’s pumpkin pudding recipe:

PUMPKIN PUDDING.

Stew a fine sweet pumpkin till soft and dry; rub it through a sieve, mix
with the pulp six eggs quite light, a quarter of a pound of butter, half
a pint of new milk, some pounded ginger and nutmeg, a wine glass of
brandy, and sugar to your taste. Should it be too liquid, stew it a
little drier, put a paste round the edges, and in the bottom of a
shallow dish or plate–pour in the mixture, cut some thin bits of paste,
twist them, and lay them across the top, and bake it nicely.

I usually make pumpkin pies from homegrown pumpkins from my own garden, but I didn’t get my plants in the ground until late this year and didn’t have any pumpkins to harvest 😦

Settling for store-bought, I pulled together the other ingredients:

The recipe called for a whole pumpkin, stewed.  Since I used canned pumpkin, I adjusted the amount the amount of the other wet ingredients down to 5 eggs (instead of 6) and 1/4 cup of milk (rather than a pint).  I was glad I did once all the ingredients were mixed, as the batter was very liquidy.

Once the batter was all mixed, I poured it into the prepared pastry shells and baked them for about half an hour, until the edges started to brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of one came out clean.

These were delicious!  Everyone at Thanksgiving loved them.  The flavor is very light and not the traditional “pumpkin pie” spicy flavor.  The use of nutmeg, mace and brandy are very colonial, and also very yummy.

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