Nov 12, 2021

Baking Pumpkins for Thanksgiving

November 12, 2021

This week I did my annual pumpkin baking. Every year about this time, I bake several pumpkins to puree for the year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas pies. It’s the culmination of nearly a year-long project starting back in the spring when I plant a few pumpkin seeds. After months of weeding, watering and watching the giant pumpkin leaves take over the entire garden, I bring in the pumpkins before the first frost. Then comes the cleaning out of the seeds from the middle of the gourds, following by the baking and pureeing of the cooked pieces.

It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. Messy, too. At least the cleaning out the guts of the gourds is.  So why do I do it year after year? Not because I don’t know about canned pumpkin. Not even to save money since those cans are usually cheap. To be honest, I’m not even sure it’s the taste of the pies. I doubt I could tell the difference between a pie made with my own pumpkin or one made with canned pumpkin.  The real reason is because of tradition.

Thanksgiving is one of the most traditional holidays of the year. Even folks who ordinarily wouldn’t touch mashed potatoes and gravy, not to mention gooey yams with marshmallows on top, pull out all of the stops for Thanksgiving. The gooier the yams, the more pies, the better. Calories don’t matter on that one day.

Thanksgiving is also the day that everyone reverts to tradition when it comes to the menu. I often see articles in magazines and online about how to “update” the Thanksgiving menu by doing something different with the old standbys of turkey, cranberries and sweet potatoes. The recipes sometimes sound interesting, but they’re never going to make my Thanksgiving table. No one in my family wants anything but the jiggly cranberry sauce that comes out of a can, served in the special cut glass dish that was my grandmother’s.

One year a new member of the family suggested tweaking the traditional stuffing to include corn bread instead of the usual white bread. You might have thought she’d suggested adding poison to the recipe based on the uproar that followed. Everyone wanted great grandma’s white bread with onions and celery stuffing – period, end of discussion.

As a genealogist, I love traditions. Many of the family stories that I cherish are the basis for the traditions my family follows for the holidays. So, of course, I raise pumpkins and bake them to make our pumpkin pies. Just like my grandmothers and great grandmothers did, before canned pumpkin was even a thing.

Nowadays, I don’t make the pumpkin pies. My son has taken over that job. His pies are better than mine ever were, but he still wants homegrown pumpkin for them. Last night he asked me if I’d baked the pumpkins yet. If not, he said he’d do it this week. It’s nice to think that the pumpkin baking tradition, messy as it is, will continue into the next generation.

We can’t all have the Norman Rockwell picture-perfect Thanksgiving dinner with the whole family gathered around. We can, however, continue at least a few of the traditions of our ancestors. Whether that entails getting out the heirloom silver or making the pies the way Grandma did, I hope that your holidays are happy.

Carol Stetser