Monday, October 27, 2014

Pumpkin Bread, 19th Century Style

Pumpkin Cakes, c. 1839 Recipe

As it is the fall season, my daughters and their friends often request that I make their favorite Pumpkin Bread.  The recipe I use is from a modern edition of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer that I embellish by adding chocolate chips.  It is always a big hit.  

Of course, the food historian in me was curious to know if Pumpkin Bread was "a thing" in the 19th century, when Ms. Farmer's Cook book was first printed. What I found from the recipes I have on hand is that, not unsurprisingly, Pumpkin Breads and Cakes were different back in the 19th century.  19th century pumpkin breads seem often to have been made with cornmeal as opposed to wheat flour, yeast instead of chemical leavening agents, and they have little to no sugar. The recipes I found are mostly for batter cakes (pancakes), biscuits, and hoecakes rather than for a sweet quick bread, such as the one I make every fall season.  Indeed, 19th century Pumpkin Breads were actually breads, not sweet cakes like they are today.

Here is selection of 19th century recipes with a recipe adaptation for the first one from The Kentucky Housewife, 1839:

Pumpkin Cakes
Lettice Byan, The Kentucky Housewife. 1839

Having stewed a fine sweet pumpkin, mash a pint of it very fine, pass it through a sieve, and mix with it one quart of Indian meal.  Add a small dessert-spoonful of salt, two large spoonfuls of butter, two beaten eggs, and enough sweet milk to make it a thick batter.  Drop it by large spoonfuls on buttered tin sheets, and bake them a nice brown in a brisk oven.

Modern Recipe Adaptation
1 Cup Pumpkin Puree (canned is fine)
2 Cups of Stone-Ground Cornmeal (use a good stone-ground cornmeal; click here to read why and where to get it)
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Butter, Melted
1 Egg (no larger than large)
1/2 Cup Milk 


  1. Preheat the oven to 400ยบ F.
  2. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix together the pumpkin and the cornmeal.
  4. Add the salt, butter, egg and milk.  Mix together until well-blended.
  5. Drop the batter in 2 heaping tablespoon-sized rounds onto the parchment-lined cookie sheets.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and serve promptly as these are best hot.   Serve with butter, maple syrup, jam, apple butter, or molasses. 

Pumpkin Cakes Batter

Pumpkin Cakes Ready for the Oven

Enjoying Pumpkin Cakes with Butter

Pumpkin Hoe Cakes
Lettice Byan, The Kentucky Housewife. 1839

Mix one pint of stewed pumpkin with a quart of fine Indian meal., make it into rather a thin dough with sweet milk, and work it well with a spoon.  Heat your griddle rather brisk, place it over a bed of clear coals, grease it well with lard or butter, put on your dough in small thin cakes and bake them hastily turning them over once. As soon as both sides have a thin crust, and are of a light brown, send them to table, that they may be split and buttered while warm. 

Pumpkin Bread
Catherine Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book. New York: 1850

Stew and strain some pumpkin, stiffen it with Indian meal, add salt and yeast, and it makes a most excellent kind of bread.

Pumpkin Bread
Angelina Maria Collins, The Great Western Cook Book.  New York: 1857

Take two quarts of sweet pumpkin, stewed dry; two quarts of fine Indian meal, two tea-spoonsful of salt, a table-spoon heaping full of lard, and mix them up with sufficient hot water to make it of the consistence of common corn-meal dough. Set it in a warm place, two hours, to rise, and bake it in a pan, in a moderate oven. It will take an hour and a half to bake.

Squash Biscuits

Fannie Merritt Farmer. The Boston Cooking School Cook Book. Boston, 1896.

1/2 cup squash (steamed and sifted).
1/4 cup sugar.
1/2 teaspoon salt.
1/2 cup scalded milk.
1/4 yeast cake dissolved in
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup butter.
2 1/2 cups flour.

Add squash, sugar, salt, and butter to milk; when lukewarm, add dissolved yeast cake and flour; cover, and let rise over night. In morning shape into biscuits, let rise and bake.

Pumpkin Bread: (Pioneer.)
Martha McCullough-Williams, Dishes and Beverage of the Old South. New York, McBride, Nast & Company 1913.

Sift a pint of meal, add salt to season fully, then rub through a large cupful of stewed pumpkin, made very smooth. Add half a cup melted lard, then mix with sweet milk to a fairly stiff dough, make pones, and bake crisp. Mashed sweet potato can be used instead of pumpkin, and cracklings, rubbed very fine in place of lard. Folks curious as to older cookery, can even make persimmon bread, using the pulp of ripe persimmons to mix with the meal--but they will need the patience of Job to free the pulp properly from skin and seed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.