Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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“Hurrah” for the Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie, from

Pumpkin pie, from Scrumptious and good for you! Pumpkin pie is loaded with a healthful phytonutrient called beta-carotene. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you think of Thanksgiving, the pumpkin pie (aside from the turkey) first comes to mind. In fact, when else do you make a pumpkin pie even though canned pumpkin is available all year around?

In Medieval times, squash, gourds, and other fruits were stewed with sugar, spices, and cream wrapped in pastry. During the Columbian Exchange in the 16th century “new world” foods that included pumpkins, potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts, and corn were introduced into European cookery. Pumpkins became a favorite almost immediately whereas most other foods took several generations to be totally accepted. This was more than likely due to their similarity to “old world” gourds and squashes and they were easy to cultivate. They were called pompions, after French “pompon.”

Pumpkins were first cultivated in Central America around 5,500 B.C. The Northeastern Indians used squash more than other Indians in early America and did favor pumpkin the most. They baked them by putting them in the embers of a fire, then moistened them with maple syrup or honey or some type of fat and then turned it into a soup. It was likely that pumpkin was on the first Thanksgiving table in some form. By the 1700’s, it became a popular item to celebrate the holiday. In 1705, the town of Colchester, Connecticut postponed the holiday for a week due to a molasses shortage to make the pies.

Pumpkins have been in American history for centuries and recipes for its preparation began appearing in cookbooks. The first known American cookbook was American Cookery by Amelia Simmons in 1796 that included a recipe for “pompkin” pie. She made two versions. Both had pumpkin, ginger, and eggs. One used cream and sugar with Old World spices, mace and nutmeg; the other used milk and molasses with New World allspice.

Later in 1805, a recipe for pumpkin pie appeared in the Art of Cookery Made Plain and Simple by Mrs. Hannah Glasse.

“Take the pumpkin and peel the rind off, then stew it till is quite soft and put thereto one pint of pumpkin, one pint of milk, one glass of malaga wine one glass of rose-water, if you like, seven eggs, half a pound of fresh butter, one small nutmeg, and sugar and salt to your taste:”

By the 1800’s, pumpkin pie was a necessity at most Thanksgiving celebrations. If you have ever heard the famous poem about Thanksgiving by Lydia Maria Child in 1842:

“Over the river and through the wood, to grandfather’s house we go” ends with “Hurrah for the pumpkin pie”.

In 1929, Libby’s meat-canning industry made pumpkin preparation easier by offering its famous canned pumpkin with its traditional recipe on the label. My mother would have appreciated the Libby’s version. I remember her talking about making her first pumpkin pie and neglecting to strain the stringy pulp from the pumpkin itself. Needless to say it was a disaster. Next time you open a can, please think kindly of her.

The only problem is the sugar content found in pies – as for my pumpkin disaster, I forgot the sugar one year and it was awful. But who is counting sugar grams on Thanksgiving?  No one. (for the few that are – 1 serving has 253 cals, 3 grams of fiber, 32 grams of carbohydrate and about 19.7 grams of sugar (5 tsp).  Source: Libby’s recipe



Eating in America: A History, Waverly Root & Richard de Rochemont William Morrow, New York 1976, (p. 41).

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Mrs. Hannah Glasse, 1805 .

Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People, Linda Civitello, 2nd Edition, Wiley


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Designer Diets?

A very interesting study about personalized diets.  The results help to explain why nutrition research results are so often contradictory.  The article provides links to the details of the full study (which is quite complicated) as well as a summary article in the Atlantic.   The results defy our current thinking about diets in that all guidelines pertain to all people – in this study, one size does not fit all.


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FrankenSalmon Has Arrived?


Finally genetically engineered salmon is hitting the market but only in a limited way at first.  This company has been trying to get FDA approval for several years and they finally did.  Time will tell how it is accepted; however, labeling will not apparently happen, so we won’t know.  To my knowledge this is the first GM animal available for human consumption. Will others follow??


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The Success of the Ramen Noodle?

Have you ever lived on ramen noodles -perhaps as a cash-starved college student or you just wanted a  satisfying meal you could prepare simply and quickly?  This article reluctantly gives us reasons why this highly-processed product has gained so much success in our global food supply. Enjoy!!



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