You say Pumpkin, I say Squash…

Source: Excerpted with permission from Giving Thanks, Thanksgiving Recipes and History from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie, by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver and Plimoth Plantation. Clarkson Potter, October 2005.

“Pompion” is the common 16th and 17th century English word for what we now call squash and pumpkins. Squash, the shortened, English version of the Narragansett Indian word asquutasquash, first appeared in print in 1643. Confused? It only gets worse. In reality there is absolutely no botanical difference between squash and pumpkins. William Woys Weaver, in Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, explains that “pumpkin is merely a term of convenience, for there are only squash…pumpkins are really a type of squash.”

The Ancient New England Standing Dish
New World pumpkins and squashes were introduced into Europe in the late 15th century. By the time the colonists made their way to Plymouth, “pompions” had gained widespread acceptance in England. In New England, stewed pumpkin was common, everyday fare – a “standing dish”– particularly in the fall and winter. The lyrics to a song traditionally attributed to 1630, reveals the colonists’ dependence on pumpkins:

For pottage, and puddings, and custards, and pies,
Our pumpkins, and parsnips are common supplies;
We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon,
If it was not for pumpkin we should be undone.

Edward Johnson, who came to Boston in 1630, wrote “let no man make a jest at Pumpkins, for with this fruit the Lord was pleased to feed his people to their good content, till Corne and Cattell were increased.” Perhaps this passage was in response to the merry lyrics of the song.

This recipe for stewed pumpkin comes from John Josselyn, an early traveler to New England. His description of the common dish is full of wonderful details that provide both a sense of how the finished dish should taste (“tart like an apple”) and a vivid glimpse into a colonial kitchen (“stew them upon a gentle fire a whole day”). “The Ancient New England standing dish” is one of the earliest written recipes from New England.

The Ancient New England standing dish
But the Housewives manner is to slice them when ripe, and cut them into dice, and so fill a pot with them of two or three Gallons, and stew them upon a gentle fire a whole day, and as they sink, they fill again with fresh Pompions, not putting any liquor to them; and when it is stew’d enough, it will look like bak’d Apples; this they Dish, putting Butter to it, and a little Vinegar, (with some Spice, as Ginger, &c.) which makes it tart like an Apple, and so serve it up to be eaten with Fish or Flesh: It provokes Urin extreamly and is very windy.

– John Josselyn, New-Englands Rarities Discovered, 1672

Modern version
4 cups cooked squash or pumpkin, mashed
2 – 4 Tbs. butter
1 – 2 Tbs. of cider vinegar
1 – 2 tsp. of ground ginger (or any combination of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and or pepper, to taste)
1 tsp. salt

Place the squash, butter, vinegar and spices in a saucepan over low heat. Stir and heat until all of the ingredients are well combined and hot. Adjust the seasonings to your liking and serve.

Serves 8.

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