When I was growing up my family never had pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. We had a turkey with all the trimmings but dessert varied from year to year – chocolate, apple -whatever my mom was in the mood to make. It wasn’t until I became an adult and went to other people’s houses on Turkey day that I discovered the fixation with pumpkin pie. I asked my parents why we didn’t have the traditional dessert. Her response was ‘Your dad and I don’t really like pumpkin pie so we always made something else.” Maybe genetics is why I am not a big fan either. Don’t get me wrong, I love pumpkin and I make a great pumpkin pie. I can somewhat understand what attracts people but if it is on the buffet table it is one of the few desserts I will pass on. (Thank goodness there is at least one dessert I don’t feel obligated to try.)
The Pilgrims did have pies and pumpkin at their first Thanksgiving but the pumpkin wasn’t in the pie form we know today. They didn’t have many of the ingredients. In Colonial times autumn was pie making season. Pies were made to put away for later in the year. Cold cellars, acting as refrigerators or even freezers, would preserve pies for months. Mincemeat pie was popular because it preserved the meat. Today you don’t see it a lot of mincemeat on holiday menus but back then people were happy to have a way to stock up and not have their meat go to waste.
When Thanksgiving was first celebrated it was the major holiday of the year. Birthdays weren’t recognized and Christmas was for religious people. Religion was a big part of Thanksgiving with some people attending two sermons a day but it was also recognized in New England by Quakers and others who went to Meeting Houses and not churches. It was about giving thanks in general. Thanksgiving originally was not on a set day. A dignitary would select the day, anytime between the middle of October and the end of December. Each colony and then later when there were states, each state would celebrate when they chose to. Thanksgiving became a national holiday when President Lincoln decided it would be on the third Thursday of November.
We should celebrate the pumpkin this time of year as it is in season and grows locally practically everywhere. There are lots of wonderful things to make with pumpkin for dessert- cheesecake, cranberry pumpkin pecan upside down cake, pumpkin steamed pudding, pumpkin ice cream with caramel sauce. You don’t have to stop making pie, let’s just move beyond it and offer something new. Here’s a pumpkin recipe for something different. If you want to make pie, email me and I will send you a really good recipe. Even though it won’t be on my plate this year.
Cranberry Pecan Pumpkin Upside Down Cake
You can make this a day in advance. Store at room temperature wrapped in plastic wrap.
8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups cranberries
4 ounces (1 cup) coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper.
Melt the butter in a small saucepot over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour the brown sugar mixture into the bottom of the cake pan. In a medium bowl combine the cranberries and pecans. Place them in the pan over the brown sugar mixture.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, and oil.
Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture. Carefully spread the batter over the cranberry pecan topping.
Bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool the cake for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Place a large plate or platter on top of the cake. Invert the cake and plate together. Remove the pan. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.
Cool completely before serving. Serve with Chantilly Cream.
Makes 2 cups
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until you are ready to use.