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Victorian pumpkin pie

No Thanksgiving table is complete without a classic pumpkin pie. For a retro variation, try this recipe from the late 1800s.

By Kitchen Report / November 21, 2012

This old-timey recipe for pumpkin pie calls for little sugar, molasses, and (suprise!) no cinnamon.

Kitchen Report


On most American Thanksgiving tables, pumpkin pie is as much a presence as the turkey centerpiece. In modern forms it may appear as a flan, a cheesecake, or a frozen whipped delight.

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Kendra Nordin is a staff editor and writer for the weekly print edition of the Monitor. She also produces Stir It Up!, a recipe blog for

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In a Victorian-era cookbook, “The Art of Cookery: A Manual for Home and Schools” by Emma P Ewing, I found a recipe for a pumpkin pie that surprised me for two reasons: the heavy use of molasses and no cinnamon.

The cookbook belonged to Minnie P. Weygandt, the cook for Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of The Christian Science Monitor. Minnie had inscribed her name, the date (Aug. 24, 1899), and the place, “Pleasant View,” Concord, N.H., in the flyleaf. Pleasant View was the home of Eddy at the turn of the 19th century and one can assume that Minnie used this cooking guide quite a bit as she prepared meals for at least a dozen people.

Being a cook for a large household in the late 1800s was no easy task.

“When I was cooking for Mrs. Eddy then we did not have the convenience of a gas stove,” writes Minnie in her reminiscences that can be found in the archives of The Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston. “All the cooking was done on a very small coal range, which was later supplemented by a two burner gas plate kept on the end of the stove. Many times we worked over that inadequate stove until eleven and twelve at night during the canning and preserving season.” (p. 40)

That sounds like a nightmare.

As it was close to Thanksgiving when I asked the Mary Baker Eddy Library staff to bring me Minnie’s copy of “The Art of Cookery” from the archives, I naturally looked up the recipe for pumpkin pie.

I have pointed out before, molasses was a common ingredient in early New England cooking. And the use of molasses in pumpkin pie gives it a much richer, browner color.

Cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, or even pumpin pie spice is not present at all in this simple version of pumpkin pie. I was a little skeptical that I had copied the recipe down wrong when I saw “1 tablespoon ginger” in my notes, but I followed through. As most early recipes do not provide oven temperatures, considering the wide range of stoves in use, the recipe simply instructed, “Bake until pie is brown in the center.”

I consulted a couple of other cookbooks to come up with a satisfactory oven temperature, and used a knife test just to be sure the pie was finished after it had cooked for nearly an hour.


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